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Q&A: Pat Monahan of Train

Yeah, he’s heard the Matchbox comparisons, but Foo Fighers are more his thing

Pat Monahan

Pat Monahan

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

IREMEMBER TURNING ON MTV and seeing Kurt Cobain sing ‘Teen Spirit,”’ says Train singer Pat Monahan, 34. ”And I just thought, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got to do that.’ ”By immersing himself in booze and drugs while still living in his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, Monahan mistakenly thought he would reach a creative nirvana. He was wrong. Years of frustration followed, during which he kicked his habits, moved to San Francisco and hooked up with Train. Their second album, 2001’s Drops of Jupiter, has sold 2 million CDs and won two Grammys. ”Before, I was trying to be a genius and get people to pay attention,” Monahan says from a tour stop in Amsterdam, where Train are supporting their new album, My Private Nation. ”Now, having had success, I can be myself more than ever.”

When you were growing up, what music did your parents play around the house?
I was the last of seven kids, and my father was so obsessed with music that I’d walk in from school and he’d make me listen to records — make me listen to why a song was great. Stan Getz and Cal Tjader and Milt Jackson … He was very into words. Songs like ”Jeepers Creepers” — it’s fucking good — and ”Moon River,” where I think the words make the melody so amazing.

What was the first song you sang in front of anybody?
I was in ninth grade, and I was playing drums, and then I realized I was probably a better singer than a drummer. So I wrote this song with another guy called ”Black Cat.” Man, it was so bad. ”Black Cat” was all about explaining how a woman was bringin’ me down, man! [Sings] ”Why does everybody have to come down on me?/Black cat!”

In one of your new songs, you say that you’ve ”got dance moves like Patrick Swayze.” How do you like to get down?
I think of Patrick Swayze as an uncool dancer. You know who I think is an incredible dancer? Usher. But I ain’t no Usher. You ever see that guy in the club who should get off the floor, but, hey, fuck it, man, he’s having a good time? I’m that guy.

Do you buy music for your kids?
I’ll play them music that I think is great, and they’ll be like, ”I hate this.” But sometimes my son will really freak me out. We saw Wayne’s World, and now he’s the biggest Jimi Hendrix fan that ever lived. So I got him Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, because if you love one great guitar player, you’ll love David Gilmour. But that just wasn’t where he was at.

What’s the most hurtful thing someone could say about Train?
To be called ordinary. We get lumped together with bands like Matchbox Twenty and Dave Matthews Band. I’m not offended; I like those bands. But I don’t think I write like I’m ordinary. I think we write like we’re extraordinary.

What did you do with your first royalty check? How big was it?
The first time I ever got paid was with ”Meet Virginia” [from Train’s 1998 debut album]. I think it was for $30,000. That check paid off all my bills. It was the most liberating moment of my life.

Where’s your Grammy?
It’s on the hood of my car! No, I just actually took it out of its box about a month ago. Having a Grammy in your house is a little bit weird. I don’t want to ever own anything that I can’t part with, but I don’t ever want to part with the Grammy. People come over to my house, and I’m like, ”Don’t even look at that, man, ’cause I know you’re gonna try and steal it.”

What’s your favorite rock & roll album of all time?
It would have to be Physical Graffiti. To me, Led Zeppelin are the ultimate rock band of all time. There was this guy, Dave, who turned me on to early ZZ Top and badass rock like Bad Company, and I remember after I got Physical Graffiti, I ran over to his house and turned him on to it. We sat in my car, smoked a joint. It was the greatest moment in my life.

What song from the last couple of years do you wish you’d written?
The Verve’s ”Bittersweet Symphony.” And the Foo Fighters’ ”Times Like These” — Dave Grohl wrote a great lyric. I also wish I wrote [Santana’s] ”Smooth” so I could’ve gotten the royalties.

That’s a Rob Thomas song. I thought you were trying to avoid the Matchbox comparisons.
Yeah, right. I’d like to cash that check, that’s all.

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