Caroline Spence Talks “Trains Cry” From 2015 Debut LP ‘Somehow’ (INTERVIEW)

Virginia native Caroline Spence’s 2015 debut full-length album, Somehow, introduced listeners to one of the purest, clearest soprano voices to be heard in or out of Nashville. But that remarkable voice is just the beginning of the story. Her straightforward, honest songwriting has won top honors at Kerrville Folk Festival and from American Songwriter Magazine. Get to know Caroline’s music with this discussion of the opening track of the album, “Trains Cry.”

I know how to hit the road

Know how to go it alone

Down some dark highway

But I ain’t been here before

Some southern bound platform

My love gone away

It’s like somebody else is at the wheel

Driving 500 tonnes of steel and that’s as half as heavy as my heart

And I can hear the trains cry

Now I finally now why it’s the most lonesome sound

Yeah I know why the trains cry

They’re leaving with goodbye

They can’t just turn around

This, this is the life I picked

And this is the love that I can give

But it’s always heading out of town

Yeah somebody else is at the wheel

Like a thief coming and stealing

Take me away from where you are

And I can hear the trains cry

Now I finally know why it’s the most lonesome sound

Yeah I know why the trains cry

They’re leaving with goodbye

They can’t just turn around

No they can’t just turn around I can’t just turn around

The seeds of the song came from a train ride Caroline took while on tour.

“I had just spent some time in New York City,” she says. “I played a couple shows and had this magical connection with a person from my past that was very unexpected. And, kind of reeling from that experience, and where that was supposed to fit in my life…it was a place and a person I was not quite wanting to leave behind. And I had to take a train from New York City to Upstate New York.”

Caroline, with the help of producer Michael Rinne, captured the feeling of a train rolling on, creating a subtle atmospheric effect.

“I started with the finger-picking guitar part and it’s not in standard tuning, it’s in DADGAD, so it’s a D string, which is a step lower than the E. I wanted something low and droning. I might have had the train idea and then adjusted the music to that because with the finger picking you hear the rhythm, you hear the low drone and the high drone and you kind of get this churning feeling sound from it. So I already had that with the guitar and vocals, and then in the studio we just chose to support that. The drone is just relentless. You hear the rhythm of the train and everything kind of swells around that rhythm.”

Lyrically, the song explores the idea of being taken somewhere, as opposed to controlling the wheel one’s self. In that way the train is both a physical vehicle and a metaphor.

“In the literal sense, when I tour I usually am the person at the wheel. I’m driving. But when you go into this big city you’re kind of at the whim of other people. And in this particular instance, I was sitting on the train, thinking ‘I wish I could just go back.’ But there was no way, physically and career-wise. And I think putting the physical scene on an emotional experience kind of frees it up. The train’s always been kind of a romantic symbol. People love trains. But it’s sad. It’s on its course.

“The idea of the trains crying, the sound of the train, with the kind of music I grew up listening to, and the kind of music I like–there’s lots of songs about that. Especially in bluegrass music. And I was kind of thinking about that and all of the things that have been said about it. They say ‘the lonesome sound of the train.’ And just trying to answer why. Why is it lonesome?

“My answer in the song is ‘because you can’t turn around.’”


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