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Talking about their band’s sound, Railroad to Alaska front man Justin Suitor has this to say: “It’s definitely not metal.” Maybe not, but Suitor’s dark lyrical content, shredder guitar solos and hard-hitting, distorted riffs surely take a page or two from the rock subgenre’s brute force. So it’s a surprise to learn that two of the members, Suitor and drummer Derek Eglit, were part of Huntington Beach band Honey Pie with singer Trisha Smith. The two had, in fact, started Railroad to Alaska with Jeff Lyman on guitar and Justin Morales on bass and vocals while still in Honey Pie. We’ll let Suitor tell the rest of that story.
OC Weekly: I can’t believe you were in Honey Pie; it’s such a different sound from Railroad to Alaska.
Justin Suitor: Oh, yeah, very different. We started Railroad to Alaska while we were still in that band, then it kind of dissolved for a moment. When Trisha Smith got it back together, we were a little too busy to keep playing with her, so she filled it out with other members. We actually played her first show.
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So you guys are pretty new then—how did you guys get together?
We’ve been a band for about 14 months. We were all in other bands and met through playing gigs with one another and jamming; Derek and I had already been in bands together for years before Railroad to Alaska. We put our band together to play just one show for a friend—there wasn’t much expectation; we just decided to play the songs I had written. But people liked it, so we played more shows. And people kept asking for a recording, and then we did a Detroit Bar residency, so now we’re a legitimate band. I didn’t expect it to happen so fast.
If you’re “definitely not metal,” how would you describe your sound?
The four songs we recorded six months ago are kind of outdated; we’re developing a stoner-rock-prog-psychedelic-grunge-I-can’t-put-a-name-on-it genre. The songs we’ve written after those recordings still sound like us, but we’re finding a sound that’s more advanced and unique to our personalities.
Did you guys grow up in OC? I always wonder, when I hear local bands that play loud, aggressive music—
You mean bands that are angry? [Laughs.]
Yes, precisely—I always wonder if that music is a reaction to how clean OC is.
Yeah, I’ve lived here all my life, and it’s true that a lot of the bands from here are safe and clean and positive. I think the song that people associate with us the most is “Learn to Share,” and that’s about the scene that exists in OC, where everybody has to share everything, like sexual partners and drugs. It’s dirty and grisly, and it’s about things that exist here that people don’t really talk about. A lot of our songs are about the counterculture: drugs, sex, crime, vice. It’s definitely not happy or shiny or polished for everybody. One of our themes for the song “White Nite” is the Jonestown Massacre and ritual suicide in the ’70s—not very happy stuff.
What makes you happy, then?
The release of playing live—we all get a lot out of playing in front of people in a constructive way, instead of going out and being criminals and lowlifes. We put all our energy into cutting loose and playing live.
Where does your name come from?
The name is a metaphor for a state of mind. The railroad is what you’d be on when you start questioning society and public events—conspiracies, 9/11. Alaska is the place you don’t want to go, where people would send you when you start unraveling. So it’s a play on the idea that you don’t want to look too closely at what’s really going on or else you won’t come back.
Railroad to Alaska perform atOC Weekly’s Locally Grown series with Blok and the Lovely Bad Things at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700; www. grove-of-anaheim.com. Thurs., Aug. 12, 8 p.m. $10. For more info on Railroad to Alaska, visit www.myspace.com/railroadtoalaska.
Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos and impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail your link to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column appeared in print as "A Mighty Good Line."