Train’s Pat Monahan says that whatever sounds like Stevie Wonder is great


By Steve Newton

It was on the strength of adult-contemporary hits like “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” and “Calling All Angels” that San Francisco’s Train managed to score Grammy Awards and multiplatinum sales in recent years. So it’s no surprise that, when Train singer-lyricist Pat Monahan rings in from L.A., he’s about to lead his band in a taping of The Ellen Degeneres Show, where they’ll perform their current AOR single, “Cab”.

“We’ve done a lot of television for this song,” says Monahan, “but we’re wrapping it up right now. We go to Colorado to do a VH1 show, and then we get on tour, so it’ll go from television stuff to bein’ on the road.”

That road takes Train to the Commodore on Wednesday (March 22), where the band will play “Cab” and other easily digested ditties from their latest CD, For Me, It’s You. It’s the quintet’s third Brendan O’Brien-produced disc, and the first featuring former Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt.

“Being around him is a great change from what we had been going through,” Monahan reveals, “because he’s a really healthy guy, both physically and mentally. Musically, he’s a great bass player, both as a rock/blues player and also a finesse guy, and I think the writing has gotten more rock because of him.”

Monahan goes a bit overboard in emphasizing his group’s current rockingness. Train may cover a Bob Mould song on the new CD, but the brunt of the material is the same brand of accessible soft-rock the band is noted for. The mellow tunes were inspired by what Monahan has experienced in his personal life recently, including losing a close friend to suicide, going through divorce, and then finding love again.

His sensitive approach is exemplified by “Skyscraper”, which he wrote for his kids, aged eight and 13. “It takes a lot of people to build a skyscraper,” he relates, “and it takes a lot of people to create a great human being. I think of my children as the skyscrapers of my world; you know, they’re a huge part of me, and it takes a lot of work to be a parent.”

Monahan says he’s been listening to new bands like the Fray and Athlete lately, but it’s clear from his soulful phrasing on tracks like “Explanation” and “Always Remember” that Stevie Wonder is his biggest influence.

“Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest singers ever,” he stresses, “so having listened to him my whole life, I take that as a compliment. To me, whatever sounds like Stevie Wonder is great!”

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