In late 2006, Train left the tracks.
After eight years together, the Grammy Award-winning pop-rock band nearly called it quits.
Three years later, however, Train regrouped. Since then, it has released two albums that generated its biggest hits ever and built a large, now worldwide fan base.
“Bands usually come and go, and if they’re lucky, they have a hit song or two to leave behind,” said guitarist Jimmy Stafford. “We’ve kind of come and gone and came back again.”
Formed in San Francisco in the mid 1990s, Train broke out with its self-titled debut album, initially released independently, then picked up by Columbia Records. The 1998 record went platinum, selling more than a million copies and setting the stage for 2001’s “Drops of Jupiter,” a double-platinum, double-Grammy winner for the single “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me).”
Two more albums followed. By the time Train finished touring behind 2005’s “For Me, It’s You,” the band had had enough.
“We’d been on the road touring and making records for 10 years,” Stafford said. “Frankly, we were sick of each other. It wasn’t fun anymore, and we didn’t want to do it. We thought we’d take a break, and get back together if we really wanted to do it again. It took a few years. But when we got back together, we made a bunch of changes.
That started with getting back to the three core members of the group -- Stafford, singer Patrick Monahan and drummer Scott Underwood -- and extended to making changes in management and in the approach to recording.
“We decided to make a record we loved and kind of screw everybody else,” Stafford said. “I think that kind of shows on the record. When you do things for the right reasons, good things can come out of it. That’s what happened. We had our biggest hits ever.”
The album “Save Me, San Francisco” contained “Hey Soul Sister,” which became a massive worldwide hit. Now the most played song in Australian radio history, “Hey Soul Sister” was the most downloaded iTunes song in 2010. Also, it is the best-selling single in Columbia Records history, won a Grammy for best pop performance by a duo or group and has been certified quadruple platinum, selling more than 4 million copies.
“Save Me, San Francisco” generated two more hits with “If It’s Love” and “Marry Me.” “California 37,” released this year, has already contributed a hit with “Drive By,” and the single “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” is getting airplay.
Train’s now back on the road and will stop at Pinewood Bowl Thursday with a show that Stafford said is the best the band has produced.
“It’s a big show,” Stafford said. “I finally feel like we’ve put together a stadium, arena-type show. Our lighting director is a Train fan from the first album, so all the lighting cues are perfect and right on and it’s a great light show. We’re playing the new album, but we also go back to do everything.”
For the tour, Train is employing a horn player and two female backing singers. But Stafford said there’s really not much difference in the way the band plays on the big stages than in far smaller venues.
“We started this tour with all the same people with a week of shows in small clubs in San Francisco, places we used to play in the old days,” he said. “We’re kind of rocking in the same way in the big venues. It’s the production that goes around it that makes the big show.”
The 4,000-plus-seat Pinewood Bowl is nearly sold out for the Train show. Told about the Pioneers Park venue, Stafford said it is very similar to the other places the band has played on its “California 37” tour.
“Really, that’s about the same size venue we’re doing on this tour,” he said. “We learned from the last record that if you have hits on the record, it keeps you on the road. And that album just kept going. It’s a non-stop thing for a couple years if you have two singles on the record. We’ve had two singles on this record and they’re planning two more. So we wanted to build it slowly. So we’re doing smaller, like 5,000-seat places to set the scene and build from there.”
There’s been one more major change at Train shows of late -- a direct result of having a handful of hits in three years.
“What’s happened since ‘Hey Soul Sister’ became such a monster song around the world is our audience has expanded,” Stafford said. “There are 5-year-olds to 65-year-olds now. They might come for one or two songs. But they find out we’ve got songs they’ve heard for years. It’s kind of a family show in a way, an all ages event. We like that. We think it’s a very cool thing that so many people are attached to our songs.”
Once touring for “California 37” comes to a close, probably next year, look for Train to take another year off. There’s no threat of a permanent breakup this time.
“We’re going to take a year off for ourselves and for the fans,” Stafford said. “Maybe we’ll put a greatest hits album out or something. But we’ll be back. We know that.”