Local Noise: Marshall Railroad

Marshall Railroad is the musical vision of Joe Varga and Jason Deemer. They’ve been at it since they were kids and don’t plan on stopping in the foreseeable future. “We started playing together when we were 10 in Jason’s parents’ attic,” remembers Joe. “We tried to write theme songs for WWF stars and songs that could be on WZZO. This was back in 1990. Things were different back in the day. There was no internet, no cell phones or computers, so we had to teach ourselves everything. You couldn’t go on YouTube and see how to play a song. You had to listen to them and learn to play by ear. Joe and I have been friends for over 25 years. We are best friends, always have been.”

Although Marshall Railroad is an acoustic band, their music enlists elements of punk, rock, blues, and alternative. After fine-tuning their songs over the years, they recently entered the studio and are now releasing a CD, as well as embarking on a nationwide tour.

The disc was produced by Andrew Chervak at Midnight Studios. “He played some piano and some synths,” Joe says. “We wanted to sound like we recorded live. What you see is what you get with us. Nothing is over produced. When you see us live, it sounds like the CD, but louder. We love the raw sound of two acoustic guitars and vocals. Yes, there is some small percussion, piano and strings, but it’s not over done. Those instruments are there for the feeling of the song, not the main part. If you’re not listening for them, you might miss them, but they add feeling that makes the song have more emotion. We want people to feel the emotion that we felt when we wrote the songs. That is what sets us apart from most bands. We are raw and uncut, but people can relate to our songs.”

Marshall Railroad strives for a sound that is heartfelt, passionate, and has a hint of aggression. “Our songs range from moving on from a hard point in your life, death, divorce, new love, past love, traveling to new place,” Joe explains. “Things that everybody can relate to in some way. We might write a song that means something to us, but the listeners may view in a totally different way than what we wrote. That is one of the best things about being in a band. When a fan comes up to us and says, ‘That song means so much to me. I went through something similar and your song helped me get through.’ It is good to know that you are not the only one who went through a tough situation. Sometimes it feels that way. Music has always helped me get through times in my life. When I look back in my life, my memories are connected with songs. It’s amazing how memories from years ago can connect you to a single song.”

The national tour to promote the release started in June in Washington, D.C., and will go through the end of July. Marshall Railroad is a totally DIY band and everything they’ve done has been through hard work and perspiration. “We booked the whole tour by ourselves,” says Joe. “We pulled all-nighters where we would email and call clubs until all hours in the morning. We emailed and called over a thousand venues. We would not stop until we had every date filled for our tour. Our tour started out as a two-week East Coast tour, but we said, ‘Since we are down there, let’s head to the Midwest.’ Then we said, ‘Do you want to go to the West Coast? Why not, we’re half way there.’ When you are DIY, it means more because you are the ones who put the time and effort in. We paid for every cent in the recording. We are the ones who are going to sleep in the car. We are the ones who are going to make this band. Nobody is just going to walk up and hand you a contract and buckets full of money. You’ve got to make it yourself. You have to get a following. You’ve got to try to sell merch after you just played a three-hour set. That’s how we are. If we are going to do something, we are 110 percent or we’re not doing it.”

The name of the group comes from the streets where Joe and Jason grew up, in Phillipsburg, NJ. Jason’s parents lived on Railroad Avenue, across from a graveyard, and Joe’s parents lived on Marshall Street. “When it comes to band names, I think people take a lot of time trying to come up with a band name when in all reality, most names are stupid,” laughs Jason. “So when we started this project, I don’t think we had a name for a year or two, but Joe came up with that name and I loved it. One reason we liked the name so much is that it is the streets that we grew up on and all we had were acoustic guitars. That is what we learned on. And some of our best memories are as kids. The only time you are truly free is when you are a kid.”

You have to admire a group that works as hard as Marshall Railroad and a band that does whatever it takes to get out and do what they love. “Without angst, without hardships, heartbreaks, or whatever gives you the drive to fuel your passion in life, then you’re not living life to its fullest and you will regret it later in life,” says Joe. “One of the worse feelings that I have is regret. I should have done this or I should have done that. That is where being a follower will get you. Separating yourself from the crowd will get you where you need to be, and that place is happiness.”

For further information on Marshall Railroad, and to find where you can see them and get the music, check out reverbnation.com/marshallrailroad.