It’s difficult to turn on the radio these days without hearing one of Train’s hit songs, especially now that the remarkably melodic single “Hey, Soul Sister” has sold one million copies, and hit No. 2 on the overall iTunes chart.
Television viewers have surely found themselves humming to it as well. It’s played throughout commercials for “Ugly Betty,” as well as the Samsung 3D TV spot during the Academy Awards and on a recent episode of “Medium.”
It’s no surprise that “Hey, Soul Sister” and Save Me, San Francisco, the multi-platinum selling band’s fifth studio album on which the song is featured, have become big hits.
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Over a fifteen year career, Train has produced some of the most emblematic tunes to hit the air. Their Grammy-Award winning song “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” and chart topping singles “Meet Virginia” and “Calling All Angels” put their name on the map.
Since forming in San Francisco in 1994, they have sold more than four million albums in the United States. After one listen to Save Me, San Francisco it would be clear to anyone that Train is showing no signs of slowing down.
On the eve of the second-leg of their Save Me, San Francisco tour (which includes Capital One Theatre at Westbury on Mar. 19 and The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie on Mar.21), Train’s guitarist Jimmy Stafford spoke with TheImproper about the new album, life on tour and his very own soul sister.
IM: Tell me about your role in creating Save Me, San Francisco. How much writing did you do?
Stafford: I didn’t do a whole lot of writing on this record, actually. Pat [Monahan] wrote, as he always does, all of the lyrics and melodies, and he wrote with a bunch of different people including the band. We wrote over 80 songs for this record, but Pat also wrote with some outside writers, then we just kind of chose which songs we felt would make the best album. Unfortunately, not too many of the ones that I had written were picked, but that’s alright, our egos aren’t too involved in the record these days. It’s more about doing what’s best for the good of the whole thing, you know?IM:You’re obviously making good decisions about which songs are the best for the albums. They have all been so successful.
Stafford: This time we had a lot to choose from. And there were some really great songs that didn’t make the record, but maybe they’ll turn up down the road.
IM: Save Me, San Francisco refers to the band going back to its roots. Tell me a little bit about the road from San Francisco to your place in the music industry today.
Stafford: The band spent five or six years living together in San Francisco, and that’s where everything got started for us. We kind of felt like we needed to get back to what made us excited to be in this band in the beginning, and what made us happy to be doing this and working together, because you kind of take it for granted after a while. I think we had taken some things for granted and we weren’t really enjoying it as much. It kind of turned into work, you know?
So our goal with this record was to get back to our San Francisco vibe that we had when we made our first album. I think we’re happier than we’ve ever been, we’re more excited than we’ve ever been, and with that I think we’re all feeling a lot more at home. As far as my own roots, I still go back to Chicago a lot, which is where I was born and raised. I love Las Vegas, that’s where my daughter is, I spend as much time there as I can. We’re going to be on the road a lot this year, so I’m going to be taking her out on the road with me here and there.
IM: Is your daughter a big Train fan?
Stafford: Yeah, she is. She gets it more now that she’s nine. “Hey, Soul Sister” has really reached a much younger audience than we’ve ever had before. We used to be kind of considered an adult band, but these days the kids are buying that song a lot. They’re coming out to the shows. We’re having to play all-ages venues because all of the kids want to come out, and it’s really great. My daughter loves it. All of her friends know who her dad is now, where they didn’t on the last few records. I think she thinks it’s really cool, she can’t wait to go out on tour with me over Spring break.
IM: Describe a live performance with Train. What can fans expect to see?
Stafford: We’ve always been known as a live band, and we’re very energetic. I think when people that have bought our past records come out to see us live they are really impressed with how much the show kind of rocks, you know? And I think in the past a lot of women have enjoyed the band and have dragged their boyfriends out to the shows. Then the boyfriends always leave really impressed, so that’s always been nice.
These days the show has really developed because we’ve got so many albums and so many years of hit songs to perform. It’s hard to mix it up as much as we used to because there’s certain songs you have to perform every night, so there’s not a lot of slots in the show where we can kind of mix things up. But we do an acoustic segment, we try and mix that up every night, and we mix up our encores every night. We’ve got great lighting on this tour, video screens; we’ve got some really talented musicians backing us up. I think it’s our best show and best tour ever.
IM: Many musicians have rituals or good luck charms that they use before or during live performances. Do you, Pat, or Scott [drummer Underwood] have any of your own?
Stafford: We’ve all got our little rituals, mostly pre-show stuff. It’s a band rule that thirty minutes before the show everybody who is not a band member gets kicked out of the dressing rooms. Everybody has to leave so that the band can just kind of hang together for a little while. I know Pat likes to do a lot of push-ups, that kind of energizes him before he goes out. And he has these oils that he rubs on his hand, and he does this oil aromatherapy thing every night before he goes on.
Me personally, I kind of just hang out and I like to have a glass of wine before I go on. Just one glass of wine. I think everybody kind of has their little things. But mostly we just hang out and joke around and listen to loud, weird, music. On the last tour I know we were listening to Saturday Night Fever pretty much every night before we went on. That, and old Genesis. I don’t know what we’re going to listen to on this tour.
IM: So if your live audiences notice that Pat’s hands are shiny and you’re tipsy, we’ll know why…
Stafford: I’m hosting the Train Wine Club. I have a feeling there’s a lot of tipsy people on that site, though I’m usually not one of them! Just one glass of wine before the show, and Pat’s hands aren’t oily, I think he wipes them off…(laughs)
IM: Your music videos are really interesting and show your energy and good humor. I love the one for “Something More,” in which you’re an ice cream man.
Stafford: We were just talking about that the other day! The thing is, I really like that video. I think it was shot really well, and it’s really cool looking. I always loved that song. I was just joking that the other guys all got to be something really cool in that video, like Scott was the sexy mechanic and all dirty with his cowboy hat, and Charlie, he was a cook, but he still looked all sexy and rugged, you know? And then there’s me, with the dorky glasses. I’m like, “How did you guys ever talk me into doing that?” We were talking about doing our next video, and thought we should do something kind of funny again. I was like, “As long as I’m not the freakin’ ice cream man again!”
IM: Which of Save Me, San Francisco’s songs will be the next single?
Stafford: A couple will be released. The AAA adult stations around the country have already started playing “Save Me, San Francisco”, the title song, but with Top 40 I believe we’re going with a song called “If It’s Love,” and that’s what we would make the video for, and that’s what we’re remixing for radio right now. We’re starting to play it every night in the shows. It’s the second most downloaded song off the new album after “Hey, Soul Sister”. But I think it won’t be for a while yet, because “Hey, Soul Sister” is still climbing up the Top 40 charts.
IM: Speaking of “Hey, Soul Sister”, who is Jimmy Stafford’s soul sister?
Stafford: You know, I’ve been on a life long search for that person, and I’ve yet to find her. I have lots of soul sister friends, some really great friends in my life, male and female, that have been with me throughout my life and understand the craziness that I go through. They’re not high maintenance, you know, “Why don’t you ever call me?” They’re just people I can call once a year and we pick up right where we left off. But as for my true soul sister who’s like my mate- I have yet to find that person.
IM: In addition to being a musician and a wine enthusiast, you’ve also got the title of novelist checked off. Tell me about The Guitar on the Wall, your first novel.
Stafford: That’s something I did when the band decided to take a break. We took a three year hiatus which was much needed for our own health within the band. It was also to give our fans a break, because we had been going at it for years, you know? So during that break I was like, “Man, what am I going to do with this time?” I decided to write a novel, it was something I always wanted to do, and I just kind of sat down and did it. I always wanted to write it loosely based on all the memoirs that I used to write on the band’s Web site in the early days. It’s loosely based on old journals, but it is fiction. Actually, I kill the band in chapter one in a horrible bus accident! But it’s more of a coming-of-age story about this kid who is a writer and never knew his father. He gets to know his father, who is a guitar player in a famous rock band, by writing a book about him and interviewing people that knew him. It’s kind of a coming-of-age story for this kid as he’s writing. It’s a sweet, nice book. I plan on publishing it after the tour is done, because I have to focus on this right now.
IM: When does the tour wrap up?
Stafford: That depends on the success of the next couple of singles that we release, I’m guessing that we’ll be busy touring until this time next year. We have a lot of places to visit! We’re going to go to Europe a couple of times, and Japan and Australia and New Zealand, South America… We’ll do at least two or three more laps around the U.S. over the next year so we have a lot of touring to do yet.
IM: On your Myspace page under the heading of “Heroes,” you listed Kurt and Goldie as well as Larry, Moe and Curly. Why?
Stafford: Kurt and Goldie because of what we were talking about with the soul sister thing. I just think it’s really cool that they met, they didn’t need all the paperwork, marriage bullshit, they’re just kind of soul mates and they just share their lives together. They seem to have done it fairly successfully, I think that’s pretty cool. I wish I had that. I wish I had a Goldie! And Larry, Moe, and Curly is just a joke, although I was a big The Three Stooges fan when I was a kid. My daughter is my hero right now, she’s awesome.
Visit Jimmy and Train at their newly relaunched Web site, Trainline.