If You Go
• What: Train, in concert with Gavin DeGraw and The Script.
• When: 7 p.m. Aug. 13.
• Where: Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road.
• Cost: $28 to $86.80 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or http://ticketmaster.com
• Information: 360-816-7000 or Sleep Country Amphitheater
For Train, making its latest CD, “California 37,” could have turned into an experience similar to a scene from the movie “Groundhog Day.”
The band was coming off of a huge hit single in “Hey, Soul Sister” from the 2009 CD, “Save Me, San Francisco.” But twice before in its career, Train had scored blockbuster hits, first with “Meet Me Virginia,” then with “Drops of Jupiter.”
The aftermath of those previous smashes created issues for Train, namely how to come up with another hit that would rival what those songs had done.
The challenge in following up “Meet Virginia,” a song from the band’s 1998 self-titled debut, was to become more than a one-hit wonder.
“After your first hit (or) your sophomore record, that’s usually when a band disappears,” Train drummer Scott Underwood said in a late-July phone interview. “That’s the challenge, is to stay relevant. And then we luckily had ‘Drops of Jupiter.’ ” It is the title song of Train’s second album, released in 2001.
That was fine and good, but “Drops of Jupiter” also created another round of the kind of pressure the band felt when trying to come up with another “Meet Virginia.”
And this time, in Underwood’s view, the band did not react the right way to the success of “Drops of Jupiter.”
“It was such a big song around the world that we were told by everybody in the music business it’s going to eclipse the rest of our career,” Underwood said. “So what we started working on was trying to write a bigger hit than ‘Drops of Jupiter.’ And all of our focus and energy went into that. And that’s the wrong path to go down.
“We were a band trying to write a big hit song to beat ‘Drops of Jupiter’ instead of being a band who was just working on writing really great material and putting together a really cohesive collection of 11 songs onto a record,” he said. “And so our focus and direction kind of got on the wrong path at that point, and we made (the next two albums) ‘My Private Nation’ and then ‘For Me, It’s You.’ And then the band started breaking up, and we hired two members. We made all these changes. By the end of ‘For Me, It’s You,’ we were just at the dead end of a bad path.”
That’s when Train went on hiatus and took time to decide what its next step should be.
By the time Train reconvened to make “Save Me, San Francisco,” it was down to its three core members: singer Pat Monahan, guitarist Jimmy Stafford and Underwood. The band also switched management and changed producers from Brendan O’Brien to Martin Terefe, while Monahan had begun collaborating with songwriters outside of the band.
Perhaps the biggest change though was in the mindset that Monahan, Underwood and Stafford took into “Save Me, San Francisco.”
“We had a new attitude,” Underwood said. “We weren’t focused on ‘what’s the (next) hit, what’s the (next) hit?’ The business guys can focus on that. We focused on ‘let’s make a great record and enjoy doing this.’
“So this record (“California 37”), this is almost like a sophomore record again, because we’re following up such a big hit with ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ and such a big record,” he said “But we’re taking what we’ve learned in the past and applying it to this record. So when we went in to make this record, we were like, ‘Let’s still stay focused on making the best record we can make.’ ”
“California 37” reflects that outlook. It has songs that seem suited for pop radio (“Drive By” and “You Can Finally Meet My Mom”), but it’s arguably the most diverse Train album yet. It has a song that’s nearly solo acoustic (“Feels Good At First”), a rocker (“We Were Made For This), a tune that builds mariachi horns into its rocking pop sound (“50 Ways To Say Goodbye”) and one that mixes hip-hop and pop (the title track).
“We’ve been calling this a very eclectic record for us,” Underwood said. “I credit our management in a big way for that because they’re really involved in it. … And their idea was to make an eclectic record.”
Train’s success with “Save Me, San Francisco” has allowed the band to step up its live show with a new stage and other visual touches. But the band’s growing number of hit songs has made putting together a set list a challenge, Underwood said.
“We have some … fans (of older songs) who have been with us since the beginning, who want to hear a lot of the old stuff,” he said. “But we have a lot of new fans who really, their first Train song was ‘Hey, Soul Sister.’ It’s a younger audience, so they want to hear all of the new stuff. So what we have to do is cram in a bunch of old stuff among the new stuff. And we’ve worked really hard on that.”