Q&A: Train’s Pat Monahan on New Music, ‘Mermaids of Alcatraz’ & the Likelihood of Going Country
By Annie Reuter
Pat Monahan doesn’t want to go home. While Train’s Mermaids of Alcatraz Tour with The Script, Gavin DeGraw and Ashley Monroe will come to a close Aug. 14, Monahan checked in from the road with Radio.com to discuss “the funnest tour we’ve ever had,” what to expect from Train’s next album, the possibility of a country-leaning solo album, and his approach to songwriting.
Radio.com: Tell us about your Mermaids of Alcatraz Tour. Have fans really been dressing up as mermaids every night?
Pat Monahan: It’s really fun. Our greatest gift is that families like what we do. Kids don’t have to drag their parents and parents don’t have to drag their kids. They all want to come. We try to make it an old school family event. What would people do if they were going to the Grateful Dead or The Rocky Horror Picture Show? We called the tour the Mermaids of Alcatraz Tour to give it a little edge and include guys. Hundreds of people are dressing up every night and it’s so fun. They come up onstage for “Mermaid” and the winners get upgrades of their concert tickets. I love seeing that because some of these kids are way back on the grass and then they get to be way up front.
How do you select which fans make it on stage during your performance of “Mermaid?”
We actually have one guy who we hired to be the judge of it. He has a booth, it’s the mermaid booth. You sign up; he’ll take pictures of you. Most of these events there’s an obvious winner; there’s a family that’s really decked out. The other day there was a guy with a convict outfit on with stripes. It looked like he just escaped Alcatraz and then he had his wife and daughters all dressed as mermaids. It was pretty great. He was the obvious winner. Some people come with tails that they can’t even walk in so their boyfriends or husbands have to carry them. Or they get wheeled in on a radio flyer wagon, we saw that the first night, that was crazy.
Your single “Bruises” with Ashley Monroe is doing well on AC radio right now. Can you tell us the story behind the song and how you teamed up with Ashley?
Ashley’s been a friend of mine for a long time. I met her when she was 19. The guy that used to run Columbia Records introduced her to me because she wanted to write with me. When I met her I realized that I was the lucky one to be in the room with her. She’s a great writer. She has written a lot of hit songs in Nashville for a lot of other artists. Now she has a new album out now called Like A Rose, which I think is going to be a favorite record if you get it. I wrote the song in New York. It was just real easy. I run into people I went to high school with and realize how much older we are, and how much more we’ve been through and a lot of it isn’t all that fun and it makes us more beautiful if you can see it that way. That song was really easy to write because it is a very true story and Ashley was the perfect girl to sing on it.
You seem to fit in well with the country community. Do you have any other country collaborations in the works?
I think maybe a smarter thing for me to do would be to write in Nashville, which I plan on doing for myself and other people. If and when I create a solo album, somewhere down the line, or a solo project, maybe it would be more country leaning. I think at this point we have to stick to who we are. I’ve seen a lot of people try to make that switch and it hasn’t gone well. The Nashville community, you can’t slip something by them. They know if you’re for real or not. I think I write that way naturally but I wouldn’t want them to think I’m trying to sneak into their community without a formal invitation.
So in a few years we may hear a country-tinged solo album?
Maybe. There’s always something country on every Train record. “Bruises” is country leaning I think on some level. A song called “Feels Good At First,” which I think may be the best song on the record for some people, that’s country leaning. There’s always going to be something but to make a full-blown country record might be a little while.
How did “Feels Good At First?” come together?
I wrote that song with Allen Shamblin outside Nashville, Tennessee. Somehow Allen inspired that vibe in me. It’s a definite truth, that song. I sent it to my manager in New York and he was like, “How did you think of this? Actually, the better question is, how is this the first time anyone has thought of this?” He said, “It’s so simple. It’s so true. Love feels so good at first and then it starts to get funny and complex.” I don’t know why that song got written but it’s definitely a real place inside of me.
Is there any chance you’ll release “Feels Good At First” as a single?
That would be amazing. If you said to me, “Hey, is there a dream song?” That would be it. My manager is so a believer in that song that he had us do a video for it to put it out on YouTube and get wheels rolling. When we do that song in Europe I don’t even have to sing it, they sing every word. That’s my dream-come-true song if we can get that on the radio somehow.
You mentioned you’re writing a lot. Is there a new album in the works?
Yes. I’m going to spend the whole fall tightening up what I started and creating everything that I’ve wanted to. San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Nashville will be the main places I’ll write it.
Any specific new songs you can tell us about?
There’s a song called “Angel In Blue Jeans” that is sort of a country title but it’s not really a country song. I think that song has the makings of something that you’ll hear.
In an interview years ago you said that the lyrics in many of your songs are “about love in every way you can think about it.”
That’s all music is. That’s all movies are. That’s all anything is. When you look at all things in this world, everything is about love. Why do you need a nicer kitchen? Because one of you wants a nicer kitchen and you’re part of a relationship. Or you’re a guy who needs a nicer kitchen to attract the right woman. The real trick I think of songwriting is, how can I say something that hasn’t been said before? How can I say the same thing, but in a way that you haven’t heard it before? That’s the real challenge in songs. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hip-hop song that makes you want to dance or makes you want to cry because it’s about… like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. You know that song, that’s a classic. I just think of all things as being about love, loss, gain or wanting.
Is there a song that means more to you now than when you first wrote it?
“Drops of Jupiter” and “Marry Me,” I think those two songs. When you’re writing, I don’t know how other people are, maybe some people hear what they’re writing and they’re like “This is real serious,” but I don’t. I don’t know. I’ll write something and I’ll be like I have no idea. Then years later you’ll know. “Marry Me” is a really special song. I heard it at a wedding. They played my version at a wedding and I had no idea that that’s what she’d walk down the aisle to. I don’t go to many weddings. It was a friend’s wedding and they started playing that song and I started to cry because it was so moving. I could hear it from someone else’s perspective. That was a special thing.
“Drops of Jupiter,” I think that was a gift from my mom. I think she sent me that song. She was like, “Here you go. I can’t help you from this side, but I can help you from over here. Check this out.”
Many songwriters can’t explain why sometimes a song will come to them in an hour and other songs can take months.
There was an interview with Tom Waits and he writes a lot of songs. He said that songs come and find him and sometimes he’ll have to tell the songs “Not now, I’m with my family.” It’s interesting because I think that sums it up.