When she was a teenager, and her last name was still Beaty, Kristina Train was a regular performer on Savannah stages. She played violin in the city’s youth orchestra, and with school groups, but it was when she sang – in a silven, soulful voice that could belt the blues and touch the tender core of jazz standards – that’s when people would say “That girl’s going to be famous one day.”
The day came in the latter months of 2009, when Blue Note Records released Spilt Milk, the debut Kristina Train album. Recorded in London, the (almost entirely self–penned) album showed an astonishingly versatile command of rhythm ‘n’ blues, and jazz and ballads, and the temporal spaces in between.
The album was praised to the sky (USA Today called it “a mature, polished and soulful–to–the–extreme stunner”), and Train hit the road, selling her songs from coast to coast, earning raves wherever she went.
The Spilt Milk tour brings the 28–year–old chanteuse to the Savannah Music Festival for four shows this week.
It’s a sweet and victorious homecoming for Train, as she hasn’t been back since the Big Time embraced her. And before she’d left Savannah for New York and Blue Note, she was an eager young volunteer at the festival.
Immediately after these local shows, she’s headed for Japan, where Spilt Milk has become a mega–hit.
You sang all the time in Savannah. Back in those days, were you thinking “This is really all I want – to be a professional singer”?
Kristina Train: Yeah, this was always the main goal, and I just kind of kept my head down and plowed away at it until I ended up here, and what’s gonna be for me in the future. It was definitely always my path, and I always knew it, and I always wanted it.
I started playing violin by 3, and from then on I thought everybody did that. I thought everybody wanted to be a musician. And when you start on an instrument, it really opens up your mind, musically. I started playing piano and singing. And once I played my first note, that was it for me. There was nothing else that made me feel that way.
Is the life – touring, recording, traveling – what you thought it would be?
Kristina Train: It was so hard to even have a preconceived notion of what it would be, because everything around me – the music business, and music itself – is just changing so much. I guess that’s always been the case, but I seem to be coming out during a period of great unrest in the music business.
I felt like if I just did what I wanted to do, which was to put out an album that I believed in, and that was a quality piece of work, and I went out and toured and reached people, then that reaction would ultimately predict my success. And everybody has been so great to me. The feedback’s been amazing. Reaching people on a personal level’s been awesome, because it feels like I’m giving back that gift. And that’s the only thing I have to really go by.
Now that you wake up every morning and have to start being “Professional Kristina Train,” how has your life changed?
Kristina Train: My life has definitely changed. Is is a lot? Yeah. My average day can begin anywhere from 8 a.m., or earlier, then I’m in a car for what could be seven to 10 hours, or I’m on a plane and sitting through that whole airport stuff. Then I either get to a hotel or I have to go immediately to the venue, and so the soundcheck.
And then I have to figure out how the heck I’m gonna clean myself up so I don’t scare people when I walk out onstage!
Then I’ve got to get my throat in line, from all the traveling, so that I can actually sing these songs. And that doesn’t end until maybe midnight.
Then we try to go back to the hotel. And it repeats itself the very next day.
The only way you can do something like that is if you love it. And I find great joy in it every day. It’s exciting and it’s wonderful.
Is it kind of cool to come back to sing at the festival?
Kristina Train: Of course it is! To have something like the Savannah Music Festival in our town, it’s so incredible. It’s such a gift. People every day are feeling that culture and the arts are alive and well in Savannah by buying tickets to these shows.
But to come back on the flip side, and not be behind the scenes, and to show everybody what I’ve been up to for the past 10 years, is really important to me. And it’s an honor, because when I look through that pamphlet, my name’s in there with great, great, great players.
What kind of band are you bringing down?
Kristina Train: It’s a four–piece band, and they’re really great players. When they’re not playing with me, they’re playing with Rod Stewart, Patti Smith, Carly Simon or Joan Osborne ... so they’re constantly busy on the road. You guys are gonna love them. It’s a full band, so it’ll be up, and fun. I’m playing violin and guitar, too.
We’re gonna try some new songs out that we’ve never played before.
What’s next for you? Second album?
Kristina Train: As soon as I get back from Japan, I’ll be in London starting off No. 2.
I’m constantly writing, so I kind of have stuff going on all the time. For me, it’s best to keep thinking into the future, and keep moving, and keep progressing.
I feel like the second album is going to be a lot freer, a lot easier. The first one, I put pressure on myself because I just wanted it to be right. It was just so important for me to reach my own goal. No. 2 is gonna be more fun, it’s gonna be a little bit more rockin,’ it’s going to be loose – and hopefully, it’s going to be another great album.
After going out for a year and singing the songs on Spilt Milk, I feel “I’d really like for the set to pick up here” or “I’d love to have a song that does this ...” Playing it live every night kind of influences what you want to do for your next album.
Savannah Music Festival
Where: Charles H. Morris Center, 10 E. Broad St.
When: At 6:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday, March 20
When: At 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 21
Opening: Ruthie Foster