Posted July 15, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Scott Underwood: Any problems with Train are good ones


Since forming in 1994, the pop rock act Train has consistently released albums that sell by the truckloads. Their latest album, California 37, is no exception. The band just reissued with three additional studio recordings, including “Futon,” “To Be Loved” and a cover of John Lennon’s iconic, “Imagine.” Drummer Scott Underwood phoned in from a Virginia Beach tour stop to talk about the summer tour, which includes headlining slots at some of the country’s biggest outdoor venues.

Was San Francisco a good place to form a band?
It was the best, dude. It was during that .com boom. San Francisco was overpopulated with young, cool people with disposable incomes. The band scene was really thriving. We happened to be there at the perfect time. We played everything from little coffee shops to full-on venues. Over the course of the first 10 years we were together, we played the top venues like The Fillmore and Slim’s. We worked our way up to becoming one of the bigger bands.

Would you go back and change anything?
It’s hard to say that when it’s gone so well. We definitely made mistakes. It’s hard when with your buddies and playing music and it becomes a money-making business. You have to learn to deal with large sums of money with your friends and divide it up and those things were tough for all of us. Now the three of us just know how this whole thing works. We learned it through the bumps in the road. We just know how to do this. We know how to deal with the business guys and the radio people and also still have a really good time and enjoy the music.

Looking back on it, did you know “Meet Virginia” would become such a big hit?
No. Not at all. I don’t think any of us have a good sense of that.

What was the key to making Drops of Jupiter and My Private Nation into hits?
We had that feeling with “Drops of Jupiter.” Pat brought it into us. It was a just a cassette of him singing. It was a scratched demo. But we had no idea just how big it would get. Another example of that is “Soul Sister.” That almost didn’t make the record. When we were first laying that down, we thought it was a charming song. It was really uplifting and positive. We thought it was a cute little number. When the label heard it, they were like, “That’s the fucking song.” We were like, “Wow. Okay. Go for it.”

[‘Soul Sister’] almost didn’t make the record. When we were first laying that down, we thought it was a charming song. It was really uplifting and positive. We thought it was a cute little number. When the label heard it, they were like, ‘That’s the fucking song.’

For Me, It’s You didn’t sell like other albums. I listened to it a bit the other day and I think it’s strong. The title track, in particular, is really soulful. What’s your perspective on the record?
It’s hard. The strange thing about that record is that it was a tough period in the band. We were not getting along. Charlie and Rob were not in the band. We had two new guys who were dominate players. Pat’s the dude. There’s no denying that. But he likes my and Jimmy’s input and relies on it. With the other guys leaving the band, that chemistry was lost. I’m not blaming it on them, but Pat and Jimmy and I were lost as a band. That’s why we took that three-year break. We weren’t getting along or enjoying what we were doing. Maybe that record reflected that feeling. I think it was a good album, but it did get recorded during a tough patch.

Talk a bit about California 37. What’d you try to do differently this time around?
Well, we made the big paradigm shift when we made [2009’s] Save Me, San Francisco. That’s when we sat down and had a meeting about what we wanted to get back to as a band. We talked about that rough patch. We had to have a therapeutic talk. There were some apologies. Shit like that. We said, “Let’s make a record we love.” Pat’s quote to us was “I want my band back.” We were at the bottom again. We got new management. We wanted to re-embrace San Francisco as a city. We felt like we lost touch with our roots. That record did really well and based on the momentum, we knew what we were. We loved being a San Francisco band. We just have this whole new focus. Our focus is more focused.

We just have this whole new focus. Our focus is more focused.

The writing process was a little bit different this around, wasn’t it?
I write music [but] it’s hard to keep up with these world-class writers who are writing for Rihanna or whoever else. . I’m dying trying to get Pat material. It’s pretty good but not as good as these other guys. Those guys are pros. We decided we needed more material. We decided to put our egos aside and work with these other guys. And man, it’s so much fun. They’re so much fun. They give us a great tune and we make it our own and put a lot of work into it and make it a Train song.

Talk about working with Butch Walker, who produced most of the songs.
Butch is the best. We want to make our next record with him. He’s such a rock ’n’ roll guy and he pulls that element out of us. He’s just a great dude. We love him a lot and we are always in touch. Producers sometimes feel like they’re the smartest guys in the room and you have to show them a lot of respect.  He’s a smart guy and a great musician, but he’s an equal. He feels like a peer.

I love the opening track, “This’ll Be My Year.” What inspired it?
[Pat will] just come up with a concept for a song. He thought of a Billy Joel song where he goes through a timeline. Pat just said, “I’m going to write one of those.” He also talked about his own life and Train’s life and it’s a cool concept for a song. Pat is a good lyricist. I love his lyrics. He can tell a joke or be funny and the next line can be very serious.

You cover John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the reissued version. Talk about Lennon’s influence.
The thing we originally related to was our love of classic rock. We’re huge fans of Led Zeppelin. We love covering their songs and still do. The Beatles are the best band that ever lived. I love their entire career. We did “Imagine” for the New Year’s Eve ball dropping in Times Square. It’s a special song. You can’t fuck around with “Imagine.” It’s not cool to mess with that tune. It’s a legendary song. It was a good time recording it. We might even play it live a few times on the tour because it’s just such a beautiful song that everyone loves.

You playing any Zeppelin?
Not this summer. We have so much material that we have to perform live that we can’t squeeze in too many covers.

It’s a good problem to have.
I know. We’ve said that. For years and years, we would have one song that everybody wanted to hear. You had to play it last and you hope they liked the rest of the material.

Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates 

July 17

July 18

July 19

July 21

July 23

July 24

July 27

July 28

July 30

July 31

August 2

August 3

August 6

August 7

August 9

August 10

August 11

August 13

August 14

Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI

Klipsch Music Center, Noblesville, IN

First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL

Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, NY

Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ

Comcast Center – MA, Mansfield, MA

PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Charlotte – NC, Charlotte, NC

Aarons Amphitheatre At Lakewood, Atlanta, GA

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Spring, TX

Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas, TX

Isleta Amphitheater, Albuquerque, NM

Desert Sky Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ

Verizon Wireless Amphitheater – CA, Irvine, CA

Sleep Train Amphitheatre, Wheatland, CA

America’s Cup Pavilion, Daly City, CA

Sleep Country Amphitheater, Ridgefield, WA

White River Amphitheatre, Auburn, WA


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.