Train does it the old-fashioned way.
In an era when many bands struggle to find record deals or they're forever shopping for them after getting dumped in industry purges, the San Francisco group that comes to Toledo Wednesday is comfortably nestled in the Columbia fold.
During a time when songs are disposed of as quickly as it takes to download another one off the Internet, the group has a knack for enduring melodies and radio hits like "Drops of Jupiter," "Meet Virginia," and "Cab" that are refreshingly gimmick-free.
And its continual stream of popular songs easily crosses over from adult contemporary to rock and Top 40, demonstrating a remarkable flexibility that counters the niche-heavy marketing that tosses even the best songs into narrowly defined stylistic ghettos.
Finally, Train's a veteran band that's been around 12 years, withstanding a couple of personnel changes and numerous musical trends that have come and gone since the mid-'90s.
"People are saying that we resemble the old-fashioned classic rock bands," said guitarist and original member Jimmy Stafford in a phone interview. "It was nothing intentional. It is just all about the music for us and that's where our roots are and that was our idea: write good songs and play shows and do the old-fashioned rock-band thing."
The band's most recent disc, "For Me It's You," brims with tracks that seem ear-marked as quintessential summer hits, whether it's the introspective piano ballad "Cab," the lovely breakup anthem "All I Ever Wanted," (which features a tremendous guitar line from Stafford), or a pop rocker like "Give Myself to You."
At the center of it all creatively and musically by virtue of his role as front man and lead singer is Pat Monahan.
Major life changes, both good and bad, brought Monahan to the studio last year loaded with good songs, Stafford said.
"Changes in life and misery and pain work really good for lyricists," he said, laughing. "Lyricists that are happy usually aren't the best lyricists, and Pat went through a lot. He went through a divorce. The band lost a personal friend to suicide a year ago. But on top of it, he found, for what he said is the first time in his life, real love."
The record came together easily, especially compared to its predecessor, 2003's "My Private Nation," Stafford said. The band's lineup was solidified on the new disc, with original members Stafford, Monahan, and drummer Scott Underwood being joined by bassist Johnny Colt (formerly of the Black Crowes) and pianist Brandon Bush, who played with John Mayer.
In addition to the personal issues, the band also found itself in the enviable - but scary - position of having a history to live up to. "Meet Virginia" from their 1998 debut reached No. 1 on some Billboard charts. Train's 2001 release, "Drops of Jupiter," sold a couple million copies and won two Grammys, including one for Best Rock Song.
"My Private Nation" included "Calling All Angels," which also was nominated for two Grammys.
Stafford acknowledged that the band felt some pressure, but it was coming from within rather than from external forces.
"Once you have some success like that, you want to keep it and it's not easy to keep. We don't take this for granted, that it's going to be here forever for us," he said. "And once you taste a little bit of that success, like we did with 'Meet Virginia,' it's like, 'This is good, we can do this and we want to keep it.'"
He credited the band's run to Monahan's knack for coming up with inventive lyrics that fit well with the rest of the band's musicality. The key is simplicity and the ability to craft songs that sound vaguely familiar to listeners even though they've never heard them before.
"In my opinion, it all comes down to lyrics and melodies, because music is just music and it's not rocket science," Stafford said. "There's only so many chords you can use, that are available to play, and there's only so many ways to put them together when you're writing pop music, and the Beatles pretty much covered it all. They pretty much covered every chord progression available. We're all just doing different versions of those chord progressions."
He said "Meet Virginia" has only about three simple chords in a pattern he came up with during a sound check. Monahan began making up words to go with it, spontaneously ending the lines with the phrase "meet Virginia."
They recorded the rough version and Monahan took it home to come up with lyrics, returning with a literate, oddball song about an intriguing woman who "drinks coffee at midnight" and "wears high heels when she exercises."
"The lyrics are so quirky I think it might have helped the song stand out a bit from other songs at the time that were on the radio," Stafford said. "People were like what ... is this, he's wrestling alligators and working, you know, on carburetors. People don't sing about that stuff."
Which goes a long way toward helping explain Train's appeal: inspiration coupled with old-fashioned hard work.
Train appears at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave. Tickets are $32.50 from the box office, 419-321-5007, and Ticketmaster, 419-474-1333.
Contact Rod Lockwood at firstname.lastname@example.org