By MIKE CHAIKEN
Train’s most recent single, “Play That Song,” worms its way into your ear and embeds itself into your brain.
Part of the reason the tune is so infectious is that the melody is so familiar.
And that familiar melody was crafted that way on purpose, said the band’s leader and primary songwriter Pat Monahan. The melody, he explained, is based on the song, “Heart and Soul” by Hoagy Carmichael.
Other songs on Train’s latest album, “A Girl A Bottle A Boat” also have that familiar ring to it. Again, it’s all a deliberate ruse on the part of Monahan.
And if the line between the Train tracks and the source tracks is a bit fuzzy on record, Monahan—calling from the left coast—said he’ll make the map much more clear in concert during its Play That Song Tour, which comes to the Mohegan Sun Arena on June 13.
All of the songs on the new album are related to songs Monahan already loved, he said. You may hear snippets of “The Girl from Ipanema,” Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me, Al,” and echoes of the Drifters on the tracks within.
When Train hits the stage, Monahan said, he intends to play the new songs and follow them with the related songs.
Or at least, when he was interviewed, that was the intent he had heading into rehearsal.
How did this idea come about?
Monahan said he was having a conversation with his manager, who noted that Train can play cover versions of songs like no other band around. Heck, the group recorded its own version of “Led Zeppelin II” and does great doo wop renditions.
Train’s manager said the band should show audiences where these songs came from—not with video or photographs, but with music., said Monahan.
Monahan said the effort of connecting the musical dots is about stirring things up for the band.
“A Girl A Bottle A Boat” finds the band playing with energy and purpose. And for Monahan, that energy is important because he fears two words, “Heritage Act.”
“I am so deathly afraid of becoming that,” said Monahan.
The band has had a good deal of hits for its lengthy career, but Monahan said he wants more. He doesn’t want to be one of those bands living off of a couple of songs. “I’m not ready for that.”
Monahan said artists like Tom Petty or Billy Joel can get away with stocking their set list with older songs because they have so many hits.
Monahan said he wants to continue to pull in the hits so one day he can put on a two hour show where’s there’s not a boring moment over the course of two hours.
“A Girl A Bottle A Boot” has a definite contemporary feel. That feeling of “now” happened organically rather than a deliberate effort by Monahan to keep up with younger artists.
For this album, he brought in younger artists and writers to connect with creatively. “I need to be around someone who can spark something in me to make something happen.”
Monahan said the predecessor to the latest album, 2014’s “Bulletproof Picasso,” was torturous for him to make, although fans liked it. He recorded it, he said, because he knew he needed a new album. But the songs didn’t resonate with him.
For “A Girl A Bottle A Boat,” Monahan said he pulled in younger artists to see what they could do for him and what he could do for them. The initial gatherings were manufactured. Bu what happened along the way—as the songs took shape— was organic, he said.
“It was an awesome process,” said Monahan
Train has always been a band that has a broader appeal to fans, and has been dismissed by many critics.
That’s fine for Monahan.
“Critics don’t buy records or seats for concerts,” said Monahan. For Train, it’s never been about seeking the favors of critics.
And Train has great love for its fans.
Monahan said he remembers a time where he was disrespectful to a fan. And his own father blasted him for it. “He made me feel very small about it.”
And Monahan said he learned his lesson—fans come first.
Earlier this year, Monahan had a chance to induct into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame another band that was popular with fans but rarely praised by critics.
Monahan said when he heard that Journey was going to be inducted, he asked his manager right away to see if the hall would allow him to lead the induction.
After all, the pairing made sense.
Both Train and Journey, besides being based in San Francisco, followed similar paths, said Monahan. Even though they were based in the Bay Area, the members for the most part were migrants to the city. For instance, Monahan came from Pennsyvlvania.
“I knew I would be able to induct them as a fan,’ said Monahan.
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures,” said Monahan. “You either like it or don’t. But never be ashamed of it.”
Someone may go into a record store and buy the latest critic’s darling, and someone else may buy a Journey record. Who is to say who is making the right or wrong choice, said Monahan.
In addition to a set list featuring the new songs and their inspirations, Monahan said the current tour will have a different production than previous tours. “It’s more exciting.”
In addition, he said, fans should expect some of the best musicianship they have ever heard from Train. The current band, he said, “has been something else.”
Also, Monahan said he loves to pull his openers onto stage for a song. And this time, he is touring with O.A.R. and Natasha Bedingfield. So expect them to stick around and make a return to the stage in Uncasville that night.
Train performs Tuesday, June 13 at 7 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville. Tickets are $70, $50, and $30.
For more information, go to MoheganSun.com or SaveMeSanFrancisco.com