Rob Hotchkiss on going solo and giving back

“This is new for me,” says Rob Hotchkiss. “Now I want some deeper significance to what I do.”

Hotchkiss, a founding member of the Grammy-winning rock band Train, is referring to his decision to go solo. His first performance as Rob Hotchkiss will be at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mall Valley, California on November 1.

A portion of every ticket sale at the Sweetwater Music Hall benefits Sweet Relief Music Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to career musicians facing illness, disability or age-related problems.

Hotchkiss explains the importance of this effort. “As a musician, you’re pretty much choosing to be poor, to live without health insurance,” he says. “There are exceptions, but there are thousands who struggle. People are hustling nightly to make ends meet.”

Since 1994, Sweet Relief Music Fund has helped musicians with medical and living expenses, including insurance premiums, prescriptions, housing and food costs and other basic necessities. “They’ll take a case and get down in the trenches, not just give money,” Hotchkiss says. “They provide really truly personal care.”

A sense of community is the tradition at the Sweetwater Music Hall and Hotchkiss is part of that history. “With Train, we partly cut our teeth there,” he says. He also performed there more recently with Painbirds. “But never as Rob Hotchkiss,” he adds.

Hotchkiss knew he wanted to be a musician when he first saw the Beatles, but he was also inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

“I took some classical guitar lessons as a kid,” he says, “but I just wanted to be a rocker. As a rock musician, it’s more about feeling.”

Hotchkiss was a member of Apostles before he founded Train in 1994 with Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford, Charlie Colin and Scott Underwood. In 2001, Train was nominated for five Grammy awards and its song, “Drops of Jupiter” won for the Best Rock Song.

In 2003, Hotchkiss left Train and moved with his wife and three children to Vashon Island, Washington, where he made the solo album, “Midnight Ghost” and taught himself to play the piano. He continued to perform with other artists, and in 2014 he founded Painbirds with Charlie Colin and Tom Luce. Painbirds released a six-song EP in June 2015.

“I’ve always been a believer in bands,” Hotchkiss says. “With three or four or five people together, you can be better than all the parts.” But Hotchkiss says he reached a point “where this gut feeling wouldn’t leave me alone.” He asked himself, “What would happen if Rob was the captain?”

“In January I drove away from my island retreat and got to Northern California and remembered how vital it felt, and I decided I’m not done,” Hotchkiss says.

On November 1, Hotchkiss will be performing some new and old pieces, some Apostles songs, one from Train, songs from “Midnight Ghost,” and new compositions that he wrote within the last few months.

Hotchkiss is excited about his new solo status. “Any idea I have now, I can just go with it,” he says. “It’s still tough. I feel like I’m starting over, but that’s part of the fun.”