As Train hits the concert trail this summer and prepares to release its latest album, “Bulletproof Picasso,” in September, the group is down to two original members.
Drummer Scott Underwood quit Train in June, leaving singer Pat Monahan and guitarist Jimmy Stafford as the remaining members in a revamped lineup that now also includes guitarist Jerry Becker, bassist Hector Maldonado (they both became touring members in 2009) and new drummer Drew Shoals.
But don’t get the idea that, even though Monahan and Stafford are officially the only full-fledged band members, that Train has become a group in name only, according to Stafford.
“We don’t want to appear like Tears for Fears (which essentially was Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith). We’re not Tears For Fears,” Stafford said in a mid-July phone interview. “We want to feel and look like a band, so we include those guys in everything. They’re in the new band photos. We treat them like equals. We ask their opinions. We ride on the same buses with them. It’s not like Pat and I are flying around in private jets and those guys are in a van.”
In fact, Stafford says the current lineup is especially cohesive and tight knit.
“We’re having a good time on stage and I think the crowds can see that, and I think it comes across in our music as well,” he said. “But you know, there have been pluses to every formation of the band throughout the years. The original five guys, we had a thing. We had a, you know, we just kind of had a vibe and a thing that attracted people to us in the beginning. But we had to move on from a couple of those original members. Then we had a couple of new people in, Johnny Colt and Brandon Bush, for awhile, and that was cool time, too, and we wrote some cool songs together. We had a really good time during that period as well.
“I think we’re just in a really good place right now,” Stafford said. “We’ve got awesome musicians, just everything feels really good and really solid and really positive right now for the band.”
Obviously, long-running bands usually go through changes, and Train, which celebrates its 20th year as a group this year, is no exception.
The original lineup – Monahan, Stafford, guitarist Rob Hotchkiss, bassist Charlie Colin and Underwood – made three albums together – scoring hit singles with “Meet Virginia,” “Drops Of Jupiter” and “Calling All Angels,” among others. Colt and Bush replaced Hotchkiss and Colin for the fourth album, 2006’s “For Me, It’s You,” before they departed and Monahan, Stafford and Underwood decided to move on as a trio for the 2009 album, “Save Me, San Francisco.”
But the change that may have had the biggest impact at that point was the decision that Monahan would work with outside songwriters instead of keeping songwriting within the band – a move Stafford endorsed.
The shift in the songwriting approach worked like gangbusters for the newly slimmed down edition of Train. “Save Me, San Francisco,” produced a blockbuster hit single in “Save Me, San Francisco,” and Train was again a force on pop and Top 40 radio.
For the 2012 album, “California 37,” Monahan worked with many of the same outside writers – most notably Espen Lind and Amund Bjorklund (known collectively as Espionage). Once again Train hit paydirt with the multi-format hit single “Drive By.”
Now comes “Bulletproof Picasso,” which like “California 37,” was produced by Butch Walker. Its first single, “Angel in Blue Jeans,” is another collaboration between Monahan, Lind and Bjorkland (who also co-wrote “Hey, Soul Sister” and “Drive By”).
“Bulletproof Picasso,” Stafford said, fits the mold of other Train albums, while offering a few shades of difference.
“It’s pretty diverse, and there are some acoustic type ballads and then there are rock tunes. There’s almost like a little Western flavor that runs through the album,” Stafford said. “I think production wise, it was produced really well by Butch Walker. And I think these are Pat’s best lyrics, in my opinion. It seems like more mature lyrics. You know, he’s had a thing, it’s almost Pat’s style in the past to throw some quirky lyrics in here and there in some songs. This record is a little bit less of that. It’s just a really strong lyrical album, great melodies.”
Fans, though, won’t hear much of “Bulletproof Picasso” at Train concerts this summer. That’s a bit frustrating to Stafford, but he understands the situation.
“We can’t play too much of the new music because people won’t be familiar with it,” he said. “And we’re dying to play the new songs. We can play the new single (Angel in Blue Jeans”), and the past few nights we’ve started slipping in one or two new songs during every show. But people just, they’re not familiar with it, so it’s tough until the album comes out in September.”