By Alexis De Leon for SCN –
The mountains of Alaska are certainly alive with the sound of music. Not the type of music Julie Andrews went on about but the type typically inspired by a campfire and whiskey. If anyone is channeling the song of Alaska’s wilderness it’s Seward’s own Blackwater Railroad Company.
The band began in the winter of 2012. The idea for their name came from bassist and vocalist Andy Zamarripa who had originally thought of it before a show.
“There was a free show happening in Seward in front of the Harbor Master’s Office which the Chamber of Commerce had gotten a band called Horse Feathers to play and they wanted me to open for them,” Zamarripa said. “So I tried to get a little act going, with me and this girl named Janessa Blackmore and from that I just kept thinking we should be called something like Blackmore, Blackmore and Friends and some how I got Blackwater. Then came the railroad company. I ended up playing the show by myself, but the bill read Blackwater Railroad Company.”
The other four members that make up Blackwater Railroad Company all agreed the name worked and so began a musical collaboration as well as friendship.
All five members originally came to Alaska from all over the lower 48. Tyson Davis, guitarist and lead vocals came from Sophia, North Carolina. Zamarripa ventured to Alaska from Tuscan, Arizona. Katy Larkin, a classically trained cellist, made the move to Alaska from Austin, Texas. Members Isaac London (vocals) also came from Texas while fiddle player Noah Hull Diamond came from Massachusetts.
The band recently released their debut album, “Bottom of the Bay” May 17 of this year.
“The CD release party was insane. Tony’s Bar was packed like it was the 4th of July,” Zamarripa said.
“They said they did as many sales that night as the 4th of July. We also sold all the flash drives we had with us, which was 80 or 85 and after that show our streaming numbers were huge. It was so much fun,” Larkin said.
Blackwater Railroad Company’s album can be streamed and purchased on their website (link provided below) as well as the band’s custom T-shirts. Radio stations in Anchorage, Homer, and Soldotna have also begun playing the folk-rock group’s melodies.
The band agrees that, “music is for sharing.” With that motto in mind the band sells their album on a wristband flash drive so sharing the music, for free, is even easier than burning a CD.
“If you want to support the band you are going to support the band,” Davis said.
While each member of the band write their own parts, the lyrics and the melody for each song typically originate from Davis and Zamarripa.
“I have a skeleton and everyone else really brings it to life,” Davis said. “Everyone comes from such diverse musical backgrounds and tastes in music that it creates this really unique blend that has a traditional feel but also a rocker angst to it.”
Recently the band has collaborated with a Seward resident, J. W. Fry. Davis and Fry created the song Tumbleweeds together.
“He’s a facilitator of music. He helps you get your ideas out in the open,” Davis said.
Larkin originally had a tough time starting out with the band. The classically trained cellist had been playing for well over two decades but it was not until she came to Alaska that Larkin says she really discovered her Texas-song-writer roots.
“I started working summers up here and that’s when I met Tyson. It was then that I rented a cello and really started learning how to play by ear, something I had not been trained in, and bluegrass style music. It was a real challenge for me; I couldn’t improvise or write parts. I was so nervous in the beginning but everyone was a huge help and I had to work through my plateaus,” Larkin said.
Recently a movie entitled “Sugar Mountain” was filmed in Seward and features the band’s music.
“The film crew helped us shoot our music video so we developed a good relationship with them. The director of the movie heard our music, liked it and approached us about using a few songs for the bar sequences to give the movie a more authentic feel,” Davis said.
The band was also commissioned to write “Sugar Mountain” for the end credits sequence, which the band recorded in Larkin’s basement. Anticipated release date for the movie is set for 2015.
Blackwater Railroad Company recalls the toughest challenge was playing live music with low quality equipment.
“When we started out I was playing a washtub bass,” Zamarripa said. “We blended really well together but it was hard to amplify that sound in noisy bar settings.”
While Larkin said she was afraid Zamarripa’s chord would shoot off and hit her in the face at any moment.
“It was almost like band boot camp in the beginning,” Davis said. “We had to figure out the balance of playing over noisy bars of 200 or 300 people, drunks trying to wrestle you and people just throwing shots at you all night.”
The band attributes a majority of their success to supporters of the band and the city of Seward.
“A local business owner in town actually donated our first big piece of equipment [an amplifier] and let us pay it off by playing shows,” Zamarripa said.
“We started off as a community band, as people who liked this place enough to live here year round,” Davis said. “No matter what happens or how this all works out we want to make sure Alaska and Seward are a part of it.
Watch Blackwater Railroad Company play the songs of Alaska live in Seward at the Yukon Bar August 22 & 23 and at Tony’s Bar on August 29 & 30. Show times begin at 9:30PM.
For more information about Blackwater Railroad Company, please visit http://blackwaterrailroad.com/ or visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BlackwaterRailroadCompany.