Train's Pat Monahan Talks 'Drive By,' Following Up 'Hey Soul Sister'

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In 2009, Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" became the little song that could, chugging from an initial landing in the Adult Top 40 chart toward a No. 1 spot. Now, the San Francisco band is polishing off its sixth album, a 13-track collection that frontman Pat Monahan says ranges from radio-friendly pop to "emotional" early Train and Rolling Stones-style rockers.

After the trio released first single "Drive By" earlier this month, Monahan talked to about getting motivated for the new album, making a Spotify connection and embracing the radio.

Billboard: You just released the album's first single, "Drive By." How has the reception been so far?

Monahan: It's been kind of weird [ laughs].

How so?

Well, we've had a lot of songs on the radio since the beginning of the band but never one that moved so quickly. It's kind of strange how Triple A and hot AC and pop radio are all embracing "Drive By" with this incredible enthusiasm. We're not used to that kind of thing. Usually Train is a very slow build. "Hey Soul Sister" and "Drops of Jupiter," "Calling All Angels," everything took a long time to manifest into hit songs.

Let's talk about making the new album. What was the experience like this time around?

It's a different kind of making the record than we've ever done before, because we've been touring this "Save Me, San Francisco" record for so long. I feel like I'm more motivated now than I've ever been. Every time we had a little break, I would visit my family and go to New York and write or San Francisco or L.A., it didn't matter, I just wanted to keep writing. I think "Drive By" was written in the course of touring Australia. I didn't spend 3 months or 5 months writing, I just wrote throughout the course of the last 3 years.

It was the smartest thing I could've done. I think I'm most creative when I do mundane things like washing the dishes. I got more of those moments to be creative at the right time.

What can we expect from the music?

When you listen to songs that become hit songs, they have one thing in common and there's only one thing I've ever seen in common with any of them: and that's the song you want to hear over and over again. We have 13 songs that we've recorded and I want to hear every single one of them over and over again. There's Rolling Stones-types songs on here, and songs that are very radio and dance-y and fun, like my wife and I would love to listen to on the radio. And then there's very first-record Train songs, that are like "Blind" and very melancholy and emotional. There's a song called "Bruises" that I think is really special. I'm going, "Man, I don't know if I'm going to be able to follow that up."

"Hey, Soul Sister" as well as singles such as "If It's Love" did very well for the band last time around. Did you feel any pressure to try to chase that success with these songs?

Not really… Now pop radio is like, "Yeah man, Train's got a new record, yeah let's listen to the band and then play it." That's a whole different attitude than it was the last time. But it wasn't an intention. I wasn't like, "Hey, let's write a bunch of pop songs." For some reason, it's where I'm at creatively and it fits on the radio right now. It might not fit on the radio next year or in five years or whatever.

It's not the easiest time for rock bands on the radio. Why do you think rock songs have had a harder time connecting with people than, say, a hip-hop song or a pop song?

When I listen to old Train, I go, "I can't imagine that being on the radio right now." And we've evolved: I really am a fan of what's coming out and what's new and what's fun. I think the best thing I've done in the last 10 years is change my attitude from, "Hey, I don't want to be anything like what's on the radio," to, "I want to do that, I want to know more about that," and I think having that attitude has helped me write things that are more currently accessible. Maybe some of the rock bands that are making music right now have some of that old-time mentality. You can sit and listen to a Katy Perry record and knock her all you want, but it's a pretty f***ing great song.

I try not to knock anything. I've changed my theory about radio. If there is something that doesn't hit me, I just go, she or he isn't playing to me. They're singing to somebody else, that's all. Instead of, "that sucks." None of it does. It's all pretty good. Some of it's great.

What's the plan for your release and hitting the road?

I just know that it'll be in the spring. We're trying to put together a late summer tour in the U.S. -- before that, we'll try to go to Australia, we'll try to go to Europe. I just heard today that "Drive By" was the most added song in Sweden and Canada this week, so -- looks like we're going to have to be on the road for a while again.

Is that something that you look forward to, or does it become exhausting to stay out for so long?

No, I love it. The only downfall is you don't get to see people you adore, your family, children. You don't get to see them as often. But the other side of that is, what a remarkably blessed life that we're able to be here in Tokyo or Jakarta or Oslo, singing to people who don't have English as a first language and they're all singing along. What a remarkably strange, beautiful life.