Pat Monaghan talks upcoming Train tour, new album

  • Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

When it was time for Train to go into the studio to record their tenth studio album, frontman Pat Monaghan sought out the help of a team of young songwriters and producers like Will Larsen (Florida Georgia Line, Kygo) and Jake Sinclair (Panic! at the Disco, Taylor Swift, Weezer), a process that led to the GRAMMY-winning group’s latest Billboard Hot 100 single, “Play That Song.”

The Recording Academy caught up with Monaghan to discuss leaving his songwriting comfort zone on A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat, and what fans can expect from the band’s upcoming summer tour.

What was the inspiration behind A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat?

I was wondering what we should call this album because it sounded like you should be on a boat with your loved one and have a bottle of wine. I decided that was what we should call it – A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat.

What did you do differently in the studio this time around?

I wanted to get in the studio with people that I had never met before. And I assumed, the younger the better. The joy of youth is really fun to be around. It was really inspirational.

Are they songwriters or producers?

They do it all. They write it, they produce it …the sound has so much to do with the actual writing process.

How did you hook up with these guys?

I told my manager I wanted to meet some new people and these people are all well-known songwriters in LA and New York. So when I met them, …[a]nd the ones that I clicked with, it worked over and over and over again.

In what ways did they push you out of your typical songwriting process?

The way I started writing songs is like, “here is an acoustic guitar. Here are my 3 parts. Here is a verse, a chorus, and a bridge.” And now, it’s like “here is a guitar riff over and over again.” And then you write 4 or 5different melodies over it. It’s just a whole different kind of vibe.

You’ve had so many hits over the years. What is the secret to creating a chart-topping song?

I do feel that when you feel like you have something special, you need to try it on your small circle and then let the circle get a little bigger -- but slowly. And your circle meaning your family and friends and people that work with you like your managers and people like that. If they are all having the same feeling, then it’s probably pretty accurate that it will be that way around the world.

You sampled from the 1938 standard “Heart and Soul” for the album’s first single, “Play That Song.” How did that come about?

[Will Larsen] had this guitar bit with a piano bit on it.

I was like, “Hey man. I’ve got all the parts but this melody on the chorus is one of the great melodies of all time.” And he’s like, “just do it man. Just do it. we’ll figure it out later.” And so I sent the finished project to my managers and they didn’t get back to me right away because they loved it and they were very excited about it but we were like, “Man we gotta see if we can get the clearance on this.” So they got in touch with the Heart and Soul community and they loved “Play That Song” and now Heart and Soul gets a whole new life.

Last year, you released Train Does Led Zeppelin II and covered the whole album. What was the inspiration behind that?

The decisions I make are pretty polarized and that makes it fun for me.

I admire Led Zeppelin but I also have a band that has evolved into an exceptionally good group of musicians. And I want people to hear how great they are.

Was it nerve-racking to take on such an ambitious project?

It wasn’t nerve-racking at all. It was just pure joy. All we wanted to do was give it to Train fans as a gift. And then my managers heard it and they were like, “This is really good. "Let’s take this to Led Zeppelin’s record label and see what they think of it.” And then Atlantic was like, “We love this idea. It’s super cool. We’d love to put it out.”

[Then] Led Zeppelin gave us their blessing and we got to put it in the hands of people. The money that it did raise all went to our charity in San Francisco called Family House.

And you can die happy now that you have received Led Zeppelin’s official blessing?

I don’t know that I can ever die happy, unfortunately. I have this craving inside me to be better than maybe I’m even capable of. So we’ll see.

You wrote a tune for Kris Allen a while back. Are you writing for anyone else these days?

I never write for other people. Sometimes songs don’t fit what I do and so they work for other people. I have a song right now that didn’t fit for this record but I think it’s a really good song. We’ll see if it can get into the hands of the right person.

How do you know that it’s time to give a song away?

It’s a group decision usually. It’s a bunch of people listening to a bunch of songs and then prioritizing. Sometimes you have to weed them out. I don’t want to put a 17-song record out.

It takes me 2 years to write a record. And if you have 17 amazing songs after 2 years, you are Ed Sheeran. And I’m not. So it usually is around 10 or 11 songs that feel like one album.

You are currently out on the road in support of the new album. How is seeing Train live in this day and age different from back in the day?

We incorporate some music that has inspired us through the years. So you’ll hear songs that we’ve never played before that are not our own. And then we’ll join OAR and Natasha on stage for some time and it will be a lot of fun for us. And then we’ll do our hits, which is what people mostly look forward to.

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