Train’s Pat Monahan Talks About Performing ‘Led Zeppelin II’ at Mountain Jam: Exclusive Interview
As Train’s debut at this year’s Mountain Jam in June draws closer, singer Pat Monahan is looking forward to finally sharing a bit of time with Warren Haynes, one of the founding organizers of the annual festival, which returns to Hunter, N.Y., June 2-5.
“Warren, he’s a bad motherf----r,” Monahan tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “That guy is a super lovely guy. He asked us if Train could play his charity [last] year, but we got wrapped up [working on our] Christmas album and then our dates were conflicting, but I’d love to do some stuff with Warren. I think he’s a great guy. And the Mountain Jam just sounds like a fun event.”
Monahan and the members of Train will come to Mountain Jam on June 2 to play the Led Zeppelin II album in its entirety. The San Francisco-bred band has been working Led Zeppelin covers into its sets since the earliest days. When they decided to tackle doing a full album from the classic rock legends, it wasn’t a decision they really had to wrestle with when it came to deciding which one.
“When we learned Led Zeppelin covers in the past, the three that we would do normally, two of them were off this record -- ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ and ‘Ramble On,’” he says. (The other number is "Going to California" from Zeppelin's fourth album.) "We were just like, ‘Hey, we’re two [songs] in on a nine song album, let’s just learn the rest.’”
But they took it further than just learning the album to play it onstage. This past winter, the band went into the studio and knocked out instrumental tracks of the whole LP in four days. Monahan laid down his vocals in another three, and after a week, they found themselves with a full recording of Led Zeppelin II in the can.
Train Does Led Zeppelin II will be released on June 3 on CD, digital download, limited-edition vinyl and all streaming services. The band will donate 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of the album to San Francisco’s Family House, an organization that provides temporary housing to families of ill children receiving treatment at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital.
The process of recording their versions of the classic songs was something that they took very seriously. They wanted to make sure they got it right. “We went in and really learned, the best that we could, all of the things that they did,” Monahan explains. “In fact, we even went to YouTube and listened to lone vocals that we could find. ... It was pretty interesting.
“Every part of it was challenging. I think that my band did an incredible job, I mean, even getting tones and everything right. The challenge is just to do it and then to try to cut vocals and have enough in me to do several takes at a time. I don’t know how [Robert Plant] did it -- and he’s so great.”
The band presented its take on Led Zeppelin II for the first time live earlier this year during the annual Sail Across the Sun fan cruise. Monahan says that it was quite a workout for him vocally. “I don’t know that I could do it every day," he notes. "I feel like I could do it every other day if I was healthy. But it’s pretty intense. We love Led Zeppelin and they were our heroes, so we just figured that we would do it.”
It’s hardly the first time that Monahan has taken on the Zeppelin challenge: Back in his bar band days, he regularly performed a full set of Led Zeppelin songs, and long before the beginnings of Train, his ability to kick out a solid Zep cover was well-known. “I was in a cover band that did three sets a night, and then the last set was the Zeppelin set,” he recalls. “That’s when everybody would show up to see us, and we never got it through our thick heads that maybe we should just do all Led Zeppelin and then they could have shown up earlier.”
He has fond memories of those days when he first started to explore the band’s music. “I feel like I was the one who turned all of my friends onto Led Zeppelin,” he remembers. “I don’t remember how I heard it for the first time, I just remember turning all of these guys on and listening to [their music] in old Dodge cars with cassette players in them and bad weed.”
Monahan knows the band has its critics. He’s not expecting Train’s version of Led Zeppelin II to necessarily turn things around. “Maybe one day, when I’m just a thought in somebody’s head and I’m not here anymore, somebody will come around and say, ‘Man, that guy did some good stuff,’" he says. "But I think that for some reason, we’ve been a band that certain people have fun not liking, and it just makes it more fun for the fans that I do have that are lovely people -- they don’t fit in some of the situations around them either. So we’re all kind of misfits together.”
Train will be on the road playing some shows in August and September, as well as maybe a fall tour. There will also be new music in the future. Monahan has been working steadily over the past few months on writing songs for the next Train album, which will be the follow-up to Bulletproof Picasso, which was released in 2014.
“I’m having the time of my life writing these songs right now," he says. "I’m writing with people I’ve never written with before, for the most part. I think these songs are just so good, and they’re so simple. There’s not a whole bunch of production on it -- they’re very simple tracks.
"I think this is a super-cool record," he concludes. "I think Train fans are going to [like it]. Here’s the idea: I don’t ever want to make a record that I don’t lose some fans. Because that means that you’ll gain some and you’ll win some and you’ll keep some, and that’s just the evolution of music. If everybody got what they wanted every time, that’s not what people really want.”
Led Zeppelin Albums Ranked Worst to Best