“Before we started making this record, I was at the worst point in my life," states Steel Train's lead vocalist and songwriter, Jack Antonoff. "I was developing a terrible panic disorder. I felt awful all the time and it got to the point where I didn’t want to do anything. Then I started writing songs again, and instead of falling apart, I tried to find a way to turn it all into something that mattered.” To understand where Antonoff was coming from, it’s important to know what he went through. In a short period of time, his sister died, his cousin was killed in Iraq and he broke up with his girlfriend of many years. The confluence of tragedy left him feeling frustrated and alone.
Through songwriting, he was able to reconnect with one of his greatest passions and lift himself out of his depression. Gradually, his spirits improved and his personal and professional life began to take off, inspiring him to create the life-affirming sounds of Trampoline, the ambitious sophomore effort from New Jersey quintet, Steel Train- a majestic, buoyant album that conjures the sounds and spirit of some of the band’s favorite music styles, including British and American classic rock, folk-rock, psychedelia, pop and alternative.
Filled with huge hooks and quirky instrumentation, Trampoline takes the band to a new level of songwriting and musicianship. But while the songs sound consistently joyous, the lyrics are hyper-realistic addressing the events that can shatter our world and break our hearts as well as focusing on the forces that lift us up and offer a second chance. Throughout the album, urgent guitars, euphoric melody laden keyboards, and yearning vocals cut through on tracks like "Alone on the Sea", "Kill Monsters in the Rain", and "Black Eye". However, the band agrees that the track which embodies the album is “I Feel Weird,” an energized pop number full of piano, and xylophones, in which Antonoff lays his heart in his palm: “When I was 18 everything was alive/ Then the planes hit the towers, then she died, then he died/ A part of me disappeared, six feet in the ground, a million miles in the sky/ a fire burns, a fire burns, a fire burns and it’s mine.”
“The whole song recaps the last five years of my life leading up to right now,” Antonoff explains. “The music is almost like Bruce Springsteen pop. It’s so to the point, but on the other side, the lyrics are really morbid, and sentimental, and uplifting, and the message in the end is that everything will be alright. And that’s really how I feel now.”
Steel TrainThe band which features original members (bassist Evan Winiker and keyboardist Scott Irby) as well as two new arrivals (guitarist Daniel Silbert and drummer Jon Shiffman) had the chance to develop the new material naturally on the road before heading into the studio, giving them the opportunity to see what songs stood up live that a studio may or may not bring to life. As well, Antonoff recorded demo after demo in his New Jersey home to make sure that the new songs were ready for the studio.
In late May of ’07, the group entered the studio in Eagle Rock, California with producer Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, Rilo Kiley) who helped fine-tune their arrangements, bringing out the band’s strengths and musicianship. Two months after they began, the record was completely tracked.
The end result is a rare, wonderfully layered and versatile album that reveals the uplifting, self-medicating message of an emerging songwriter as well as the solidarity of a focused rock unit – a record that introduces fans to a fuller sound and rich complexity only hinted at in the band's earlier work. Trampoline is a bold departure from the band’s past excursions, and showcases a new Steel Train, musically and philosophically.
Live On Stage:
Steel Train make their return to Manchester, having previously played the fest back in '06. The only thing that I really know about these guys is that their lead singer dated Scarlett Johansson when they were in high school and he penned a song about her called "Better Love". Other that that little US Weekly factoid from what I've read they started out as a emo-pop-rock band, but then discovered jambands - so make what you will of that. Here's their ode to ScarJo...
Here's some more Steel Train for your listening pleasure...
No official music videos, but this is the best I can find...
"Black Eye" (Live)
For more on Steel Train, including a full stream of their latest album, head on over to their official site.
Saturday, March 8, 2008