In 1996, Train were decisively rejected by Columbia Records. According to frontman Pat Monahan, with whom I spoke over the phone last week, the Columbia label executive the band auditioned for said he didn’t see anything special.
Fast forward two decades, however, and Train have sold more than 10 million albums and won two Grammy Awards. So what happened?
For Monahan, the rejection presented Train with the opportunity to decide whether they really wanted to be a band. And they did. They borrowed $25,000, made a record and proved to Columbia that they were special.
“They were right both times,” Monahan said of the whole experience.
The tension between rejection and success and the balance between teamwork and leadership are things with which all bands struggle, and what determines a band’s longevity is how well they work through those struggles.
In 2003, bassist Charlie Colin’s substance abuse issues came to a head, as Monahan described, “Charlie is one incredible bass player, but he was in a lot of pain, and the way he was dealing with it was very painful for everyone else around him.”
In response, Monahan called a band meeting and told everyone they would essentially have to choose between their bass player and their lead singer.
“They weren’t happy about the choice. They were very clear that I put them in a very tough position,” he said.
But because he had grown up around substance abuse, Monahan knew that the band would probably not survive with Colin still in it. Thus, for the sake of the collective, Monahan had to really assume the role of leader -- no matter how difficult it was.
While Monahan wonders sometimes what it would be like to just be a solo artist, in the end he’s a family man: “I get to win with a team and lose with a team. When you lose, having those people around you is really important.”
Sure, Monahan’s Robert Plant-inspired sensibility is irreplaceable when it comes to the integrity of Train, but in the end, it’s the group dynamic that has allowed them to keep going, to find success in the face of adversity -- to keep chuggin’ along.
See Train at their very best at Mattress Firm Amphitheatre on Sunday, May 14. There will be some Led Zeppelin covers, some new songs, all of the hits and Monahan’s self-described “sweet dance moves and pyrotechnics.” And it’s just in time for Mother’s Day.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.