Interview with Rob Hotchkiss
by: Mike Farley
Singer/songwriter Rob Hotchkiss is best known for
being a founding member of one of the most successful bands of the last decade,
Train. Hotchkiss left the band shortly after the release of Trainís third major
label record and has just released his debut solo album,
Midnight Ghost. I got to catch up with this incredibly talented artist by
phone from his home in the Pacific Northwest.
Mike Farley: Most people know you as one of the founding members of
Train. Was the separation from the band your decision?
Rob Hotchkiss: Absolutely, yeah.
MF: Speaking of Train, you wrote one of my favorite tracks off the last
record, ďItís About to Come Alive.Ē What other notable Train songs did you
RH: The way they split up those songs on that record was kind of old
school. I would have been the second side, and I was excited to do it that way.
Really, the straw that broke the camelís back for me could be narrowed down to
one song, ďAll American Girl.Ē
What happened was, in the beginning, I was basically the music writer. As the
band evolved, that became shared among all the band members. For me, it was
something I had to get used to, but for a band it was a positive thing. But then
Pat (Monahan, lead singer) began writing with the producer and was cutting the
band members out, and at that point it was no longer a band. And when I heard
that song, I didnít like it, and I started to feel like a backup player in the
ďPat Monahan Show,Ē and thatís not why I got into it in the first place. There
were just songs on that record that I wasnít going to be comfortable playing for
the next year and a half. So for me, I was getting off the boat just as things
were really about to get huge, at least in the eyes of the band and the record
label. I figured Iíd be losing out on some money, but I felt like my sanity was
MF: Were you the only one that left?
RH: I left, and Charlie (Colin) ended up being let go about a year later.
MF: So you left pretty much right when that album came out?
RH: I left when I thought we were done, when we handed in the record we
wanted to make, and before we were told we had to write three more radio
friendly songs. So it was me putting my creative foot down. I thought Train at
that point had the potential to be an important band, one of those bands that
might purposely make a record that had no radio songs on it. The band went the
opposite direction, so thatís why I lost interest, and maybe thatís when Charlie
lost interest, and why he ultimately ended up being let go.
MF: Letís talk about your album,
Midnight Ghost. Did you or are
you pursuing a label for distribution, or are you doing it all on your own?
RH: We started off doing it on our own, and have recently gone with
Burnside Distribution just to get the record in some indie stores. But on no
label. [My wife] Pam and I are doing it ourselves, basically -- selling it off
our website, and on Amazon and CD Baby. I think what weíve done so far is tell
our friends that we have a record out. Weíve sold a few, but I havenít made my
money back yet, letís put it that way.
MF: And do you have any plans for touring?
RH: No. I feel like going around the country as many times as we did,
radio is what drove the success of Train. Press was non-existent in terms of
what it could have been. Anything we get in terms of press now will be icing,
and Iíve heard Pam talk to people explaining that this isnít Train, itís more
what I hoped Train would be. If we get some success in radio, I havenít said no
to touring. But Iím at a stage in my life where I donít want to drive the
success of this record. If we had success, and then I went out and toured, and
there were rooms full of people who knew the record and were excited to hear it,
that would be fun for me. But to get out in a van and try to make that happen,
Iíve done that and I donít really need to do it anymore.
MF: Itís better for 20 year olds.
RH: It is, and not having fans is different. Trying to make them on the
road is tough, but having them waiting for you is what makes the shows fun.
MF: I hear a lot of Neil Finn in your voice and in your songwriting. Is
he an influence?
RH: I wouldnít say heís an influence. Thatís just a coincidence. Iíve
always liked Crowded House, but I donít think I tapped into them early enough to
have them be an influence like the Beatles, or the other bands I grew up with.
But I think we do a very similar kind of thing, and maybe itís the sweetness in
the vocal or whatever youíd call it, thatís just how it comes out when we sing.
MF: And what are you listening to now?
RH: Nothing in particular. I kind of overloaded on music for a while, so
Iím doing more reading and stuff. I listen to classical sometimes.
MF: So whatís a typical day in the life of Rob Hotchkiss like?
RH: It depends what phase you catch me in. There were six months or so
when it was totally music, and I didnít come home for days at a time. But now
Iíve overloaded on it, so Iím hanging out with the family again, doing a lot of
reading, and really to be honest, kind of not paying attention to the success of
this record. Iíve had friends tell me to stay out of Pamís way. She has all
kinds of energy, but for me, I love this record and I needed to make it. Iím
successful already with it and if she wants to go out and sell a bunch of them,
that would be great. If not, I have to divorce myself from it spiritually,
because I think selling your art feels like selling your soul. Iím too attached,
so my success is already cemented because itís the first piece of music that is
a total collection of my own stuff.
MF: If you could meet one musician, dead or alive, who would it be and
RH: Iíd like to meet Cat Stevens, because I always thought what he did
with his career was interesting. He got to the top and said, ďIím going to do
something else.Ē And maybe thatís kind of where Iím at right now. Iíve done the
music thing, Iíve had the superficial success that I probably wanted after
starting at age 12, but Iím looking more inside right now. Iíd also like to talk
to him because there is all this tension in the world between two different
ideologies, and it would be interesting for he and I to sit down and figure out
what musicians could do, to get musicians from different cultures to sit down
and do some good, rather than just all the focus being on how much money we can
make or how many chicks we can see after the show. Turn it into something really
positive. But I think heíd be a real interesting guy to sit down with.
MF: And what kind of goals do you have for the next five years?
RH: Not sure. Thereís a soundtrack that Iím probably going to be doing,
which would be an interesting new musical venture for me, and itís a major
movie. I never believe in things until they happen, but laying down music for a
movie would be interesting, so Iíd have see where that takes me. Iíve never been
a visualizer, I usually do the work and for better or for worse, itís led me
where itís led me. But if this soundtrack does indeed happen, Iíll start doing
MF: Like music supervisor work?
RH: It would be more of writing the music, but supervising it also. Itís
almost classically leaning stuff. But where Iím going to be in five years, I
could not be doing music for all I know. Itís very open and Iím in a
MF: You live in Washington state now?
RH: Yes, southern Washington, just north of Portland.
MF: What made you decide to move from California?
RH: Weíve just kind of consistently moved further out from civilization.
Itís just gorgeous up here; I look out my window and see trees and hills. Itís
cheaper too. California got to be too much for me; itís overcrowded and
overpriced. Iím also weird in that I love the rain. When I know itís going to
rain, I sit out on my porch and thereís nothing Iíd rather be doing. But when
you live in California, people want it to be sunny all the time, but I just
didnít. If I had my way, Iíd move further up, to British Columbia or something.
MF: Did you live in San Francisco?
RH: Yeah, thatís where Train started.
MF: The music scene in San Francisco, from what Iíve seen, seems to be
overflowing with talent. Would you agree?
RH: I wouldnít know anymore, but Joe (Schuld, radio promoter) sent me
Megan Slankardís record (Freaky Little Story) and I really like that. So
I have a feeling somethingís going to happen with her. And thereís a lot of
talent up here in Portland as well.
MF: You also mentioned in your bio that you wanted to be a baseball
player at a young age. Do you still follow baseball and if so, who is your
RH: Yeah, thatís sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. The Mariners, since
theyíre on TV up here all the time. I was crazy about following Ichiro this
year, and I see that game as an art form.
MF: Who do you like in the playoffs?
RH: Iíd love to see the Yankees lose. The Yankees and Braves could both
lose and Iíd be happy. I would have liked the Giants; they are my other favorite
MF: What are some other hobbies and interests you have?
RH: Reading is something I do a lot of. Just getting out into nature is
important, so hiking and things like that. I guess I canít call music a hobby
anymore. Sports are less a part of my life, but if I had someone to play tennis
with that would be fun. Iíd say I spend most of my time reading.
MF: Anything interesting youíve read lately?
RH: I read a book called "The Power of Now." Itís a spiritual kind of
book. That might sound hokey or new agey, but the guy kind of got it right. So
thatís the stuff Iím gearing toward now, but typically Iím more of a fiction
MF: Take a look at Bullz-Eye.com and tell me who your favorite girl is.
RH: I did, and Iíll take my wife over any of them.
MF: Anything else you want to plug besides the record?
RH: No, I just feel like if enough people find out about the record, we
really made something good and special, so itís just a matter of getting the
word out to enough people and maybe hitting some sort of critical mass. I made a
record that comes from the soul, and itís a little piece of me. Thatís rare
these days, for better or for worse. But if youíre kind of jaded and donít care
about the state of pop music anymore, maybe this will bring some life back into
the whole thing.
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