November 07, 2006

Westbound Train

I have to admit to an instant love of Westbound Train's third album, Transitions. On first listen, I was immediately reminded of the classic English Beat, which, as you will read below, is understandable. Their record is more than a mere imitation, though; it's a pleasing, hard-to-dislike record that's mature and mellow and, ultimately, was one of this year's best releases. And I have to hand it to lead singer Obi Fernandez; he is an excellent singer. I also have to give him some credit for talking to me when he did. After a month and a half of missing connections with him, when I finally did get a hold of him, he was suffering from laryngitis, and he sounded terrible. If the interview below seems a little stiff, please forgive him; he was kind enough to speak to me, and what he had to say was quite interesting. I thank him for sacrificing his voice a little bit just to talk to me. Go check out their record; I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Transitions was the first time I had heard Westbound Train, and when I did, my very first reaction was, "Wow, these guys remind me of English Beat!" Then, when I looked at your Myspace page, I thought, "I'll be darned, they're actually touring with English Beat!" How was it, touring with them?

(Laughs) Touring with them, I can honestly say that it was the most fun tour I have ever been on so far, and for many reasons. A: Being on tour with English Beat. B. Not just touring with Dave Wakeling, but also The Specials' Lynval Golding and Selecter's Pauline Black. Just being on tour with your heroes, people who influenced you, it really couldn't get any better. Every day was really incredible, just getting to share the stage with them.

Considering the major influence they have on your music, I'd imagine playing with Dave Wakeling was like a dream come true. Did he give you any advice or life lessons from his years of experience?

Oh yeah, he taught us a lot of things. He showed us his styles; he talked about going out every night and doing our jobs. He talked a lot about going out and making things happen for ourselves, not to depend on other people, and that if you want something, then you should just go out and get it done.

When I think of ska, I'm usually reminded of the ska-punk trend of the mid-to-late 1990s, which was really youth-oriented. But your sound is much more mature. Do you find that your audience is older, or are ska audiences a bit older now?

I think that when we play shows on our own, we'll see an older crowd. But we've been playing a lot of package tours and playing to an audience that's a lot younger. I think it just depends on where we are playing and what's going on.

On Transitions I noticed that almost every song starts with an apology or a defense or some form of contrition. Even the title, Transitions, reflects change. Was this a really personal record for you to write?

Yeah, it was a deeply personal record for us to write. Transitions, I think, was possibly the most descriptive title for not just myself, but for the rest of the band as well. We went from being a band that only toured a little bit, with all of us trying to finish up our educations first to being a band that was on the road a little bit more, and then suddenly we were a band that was on the road full time. A lot of stuff happens to you when you make that jump in commitment to the road. Not just in my personal life, but in everyone's personal lives. The cool thing about Westbound is that we're all really, really close; we're all really good friends, and we have a big family vibe, and we have a connection. With Transitions, I had a lot of songs that detailed these feelings, and I just tried to write about what was going on.

I went back and checked out some of your older material, and while it's good, it didn't quite have the same vibe as Transitions. Do you personally see this album as a major growth in your songwriting?

Oh yeah, yeah. With Transitions, we had more time to work on it, but like I said, in the time surrounding Transitions, my life was totally different. Here I am, I'm seeing the world a whole lot more. My mind opened up, my ears opened up, my eyes opened up. All of these people in the band, it's affecting their worlds in different ways, too. It's like a different world for us, and now it's like I have a hold on a world I didn't have before. It's like I kind of have the world at my fingertips, and at the same time, I'm totally immersed in it. The only thing to do is to write about it, you know? But definitely, yeah, there was a big jump in the songwriting. Our first record, Searching for a Melody, we were just learning our style, and I was just learning my style. It was taking a risk, but we were just learning how write songs. For Five to Two, I was dealing with more introspective things than before, but I didn't allow myself to be fully honest with my songwriting, and I think it shows. There are still some pretty good songs on that one, though. Transitions, though, I think it blows those other two away, not just musically, but I think it's also more autobiographical and more honest, too.

I really respect artists who are willing to mature their sound as their audience matures, instead of treading the styles of their earlier recordings.

Yeah, that was a goal for us for this record, and it's one for our future recordings. For Transitions, there were a few songs that I had that didn't get brought to the recording table, and the others have songs, too. So in a way we are really looking forward to recording our next record, because I think it'll sound real cool.

I take it your main objective and priority now is lots of touring?

Touring...we're going to be touring until we're blue in the face. We've got the Reel Big Fish tour that we're doing now, and then we're going to take a little time off in December, so we can kind of screw our heads back on. Then we're going to do a headlining tour on our own, a short, short run of shows, and then we're going back to Europe with Reel Big Fish, and then we're coming back home with high confidence!

Westbound Train's latest record, Transitions, is out now on Hellcat Records

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