Kristina Train: The singer who came back from the brink

After a first-album flop, a divorce and a death, the jazz-pop singer had to reinvent herself. Her new recording reflects that journey, she tells Elisa Bray

It's the oft-heard story of the music industry. Young singer-songwriter signs a lucrative record deal, and, hyped as the next big thing, moves to London to produce the album and become a star, only to find that the album flops, leaving their music career hanging perilously in the balance.

This Kristina Train knows all too well. Except throw in a divorce and the death of a close cousin, and you have some understanding of what the 30-year-old went through in 2009. Poised to be the successor to Norah Jones' jazz-styled pop when she signed a deal with Blue Note Records, Train's world caved in when her album made no mark on its release in America, and never even saw release in the UK.

"It was a big flop," the Savannah-raised singer recalls frankly, in a lilting Southern purr. "But it was bad timing. I remember the headline in the New York Times right before my album was released: 'Bloodbath at EMI'."

It didn't help that in the space of months, her marriage dissolved and she suffered bereavement. "Everything – the worst things in life that I could have imagined happening, all happened at the same time," she says. "It was like watching everything crumble. The album was everything to me and it failed. I was lost."

While weighed down by all that had happened, Train answered a phone call that would change everything. It was jazz legend Herbie Hancock, who told the singer how much he loved her voice and invited her on tour as his lead singer. "If that call hadn't happened," she says, "I don't know that I'd be sitting here with you. I don't know if I would have known how to continue. It [the Hancock tour] saved me. I'd never have gotten through that time. It was a very lucky thing."

Thankfully for Train, the tour kept her on her musical path – the heart of her life since childhood. Born in New York and brought up in the Deep South as an only child by her mother, a school teacher, she attended her first violin lesson with her mother aged three. She graduated to the chamber orchestra at the age of seven, and by 16 she had played with the renowned Boston Pops. But it was singing that was her first passion. "I could sing before I spoke. It's what I knew I wanted to do – there was no epiphany or magical moment, it's like, 'When do you know your hair was brown?'"

Just days after finishing a year-and-a-half-long tour with Hancock and his band last July, label-less and with the money she'd saved from the tour, Train packed her suitcase and boarded a plane to her new home in London. "It was brave, but crazy. It was a huge leap of faith, but I had this very strong feeling that I needed to be here. A lot of people back home didn't understand – it seemed extreme to them, and it was. I had to make it work or else I'd be going back to Georgia."

She hunkered down to work, co-writing songs with Martin Craft, Ed Harcourt, Justin Parker and Simon Aldred. "This being a very personal album, it was really important to me to work with my heroes," she explains. "I couldn't sing a song I wasn't connected to." Her instincts proved to be right; there was no need for a return flight to Georgia. In March she signed to Mercury Records, home to such pop giants as Rihanna, The Killers and Arcade Fire.

With all she faced during 2009, it's no surprise that the title of her new album Dark Black and its stunning eponymous lead single that opens the album, conjures the pain of that year. By the time we reach "Stick Together", in the final third of the album, the songs take a more positive direction. It's no coincidence that the most desolate song, opening the album, was written first, while the hopeful songs towards the end, were the latest Train wrote, demonstrating her journey from the darkness. "Stick Together" was the last song she wrote.

"That was me getting all that out of my system. I wanted it to be hopeful; it starts off expressing the pain and grief. "Dream of Me", although it's upbeat, I remember dreaming about how I wanted to be in a better place, and so "Stick Together" is its partner – I finally made it to the happy place."

Although her debut album Spilt Milk focused on her instrumental musicianship, Dark Black features her violin-playing on only one song. This time it's all about her intoxicating, sultry, soul-tinged voice, that carries the laid-back soulful songs that recall Dusty Springfield and Rumer. Her emotive vocals have the air of someone who's really lived, harking back to the singers she has always admired.

"I was always attracted to singers with great tone like Patsy Cline, Scott Walker, Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra because you can almost hear their life story when they're singing. You know where they've been. They're the kind of singers I love."

Train grew up on her mother's collection of classical, opera, jazz, blues and country music, singling out memories of hearing Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. It's these influences that Train channels in her songs, while incorporating the vintage sound of Craft's subtle electronic production, giving the album its unmistakable timeless feel. "I'm not interested in my music being current. I'm very interested in being timeless. I wanted it to have reference points to the people I love," she says.

Train's vocals are effortless in the true sense of the word – she admits to enjoying "living", and loves the hedonistic side to London. "Part of getting subject matter is living, so I try to live in a way that involves things that probably don't take care of my voice. I do like my drink and an occasional puff." Rebuilding her career left no time for such distractions as a new relationship, so she is, for the moment, single. How did she celebrate her record deal?

"I don't know if I should tell you," she exclaims. "I celebrated with a very civilised dinner with friends here in London, and the next morning I woke up in Amsterdam!"

The celebration is deserved, but, understandably, Train remains wary of looking to the future just yet; for now she's just enjoying making music. "You could take one step forwards and the next day you could step back to where you started. My big goal is to be able to make music all my life. Anything else is icing." She adds with a throaty laugh: "And maybe get a boyfriend!"

Kristina Train's album 'Dark Black' is out now on Mercury Records. She plays Bush Hall, London, on Monday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried