Writer’s Block: Train’s Pat Monahan Says “There’s Plenty of Sadness and Rage Left in Me”

“If you make movies for the box office, you’re dead,” said Monahan, referencing the curt, yet sage advice once shared with him by his manager. Monahan always believed the same rule applies to songwriting. “If it doesn’t do well, and you didn’t do it out of love, then it’s a loss,” Monahan told American Songwriter around the release of Train’s 11th album, AM Gold, a throwback collection of songs capturing disco and R&B and some good, old American 1970s and ’80s yacht rock.

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“If you make a movie, and you love the movie, and it doesn’t do well, you still win because you love the movie,” adds Monahan. “I feel like that with this record [‘AM Gold’]. I love this record and listened to it a lot, so if people don’t love it as I do, then it’s still a win for me anyway.

Love has continued to pay off for Monahan and Train when it comes to songwriting. Along with American Music Awards, an ASCAP award, and other accolades and awards throughout the years, the band earned two Grammy Awards for their breakthrough 2001 album Drops of Jupiter—Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Song for the title trackand again in 2011 for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “Hey, Soul Sister,” off the band’s fifth album Save Me, San Francisco.

Aside from Train, Monahan has even written with other artists, co-writing the tracks “It Would Be a Crime” and “I’m Ready” with Guy Chambers for the 2008 Tina Turner hits album Tina! Her Greatest Hits, as well as his co-write on “Babe,” recorded by country duo Sugarland. The song was originally written for Swift’s fourth studio album, Red in 2012 but never made the cut, but she later recorded and released the track on Red (Taylor’s Version) in 2021.

Nearly 30 years since Train formed in San Francisco and more than two decades since their 2001 breakout release Drops of Jupiter, Monahan still feels a connection to every song he’s written, personally and through fans. “Some people pulled me aside and said, ‘you made my life better,’” shares Monahan, remembering a recent AM Gold listening party when some fans shared with him Train’s earlier songs impacted them. “What a great opportunity to be in people’s lives in a positive way.”

Monahan, who was featured in the recent cover story in the June digital issue of American Songwriter, shared some songwriting secrets, why he likes The Dip, and how writing music for a Broadway musical was “brutal.”

American Songwriter: Now three decades in, what kind of songwriter are you these days?

Pat Monahan: I still don’t know how songs come. Chris Martin always feels like he is a vessel, and that songs travel to him through whatever space and time and he writes them, and they are what they are. I have had those feelings as well, but there’s also the grind of songwriting, like trying to continue to make things better and better. Some songs come very quickly and some take a minute, but the process has been really interesting for me lately because I’ll go someplace for the weekend and get a bunch of ideas and sing them in my voice notes. Then I’ll send them to my guys and come home and I’ll have music beds to sing those melodies on. That was a really interesting new process that I enjoy a lot. Some of them made the [new] record while some of them didn’t.

AS: You’ve shared so much through your songs over time. Do you ever find yourself at a loss when it comes to digging up more of those deeper, personal stories to tell? 

PM: There’s a woman who has been coming to Train shows for 20 years. She said, ‘Pat, I’m really happy for you that you have such a good life and a great wife and all that stuff, but when are you going to get back to those heartbreaking songs some of us need right now?’ That was very influential for me, because there’s plenty of sadness and rage left in me. There’s a never-ending supply of that, so I dipped into my life, and where it came from and where it’s headed. There’s a song on there [AM Gold] called “Bettin’ on Me,” which is really very autobiographical. At the time, when people move on from you, it seems like they’re making a good decision for themselves, but I’m betting on me on this song.

AS: The essence of AM Gold is more of a throwback, but is there any particular artist, or music, you’ve been gravitating toward recently—past or present?

PM: I really like a lot of the new artists that are out there. One band that I love is The Dip. I didn’t realize they were young guys, because hearing their music is like a throwback.

AS: And now you’ve written a musical. How was the transition from writing songs for Train to composing for Broadway?

PM: When we were recording all of the demos of AM Gold, I was finishing writing a musical called Begin Again. It was a movie that they’re turning into a Broadway musical, and they asked me to write the music, and so I did that for the last 18 months. It was very difficult but very fulfilling, and it taught me a lot about writing from other people’s perspectives because you have to be the character. At times, it was brutal, but it was an interesting process for me that I think might help me or hurt me in the future. I don’t really know yet, but I think to be able to come from a perspective that is not my own could be helpful.

Read the full interview with Pat Monahan in our June Digital Issue cover story here.

Photo: Brooke Clark

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