SLO band Amtrak discusses their origin, influences and the local music scene
A relatively new addition to the San Luis Obispo music scene, noise rock band Amtrak is fiercely unique with their experimental sound and absurd sense of humor.
The band is composed of four Cal Poly students: mechanical engineering senior Jack Butler on drums and vocals, computer science sophomore Lukas Chou on the guitar, aerospace engineering sophomore Traa Connor on the bass and architecture junior Andrew Dames on the guitar. Chou is currently taking a break from the band to study abroad.
Before they played their first house show with local band Kiwi Kannibal in April 2022, the band met through the Music Production Union (MPU) after a failed attempt by Butler to recruit others for “a live drummer and producer IDM [Intelligent Dance Music] thing,” Butler said. Cal Poly’s MPU promotes musicians and hosts concerts. Butler successfully brought Chou and Dames into the band when he suggested noise rock instead. Connor joined the band because he “lived in the same building as Lukas and already played bass,” Connor said.
The band name, Amtrak, has no significance to the band besides the fact that “it just sounded cool,” Dames said. The band also heavily considered naming themselves “Kiosk,” but there was another band with that name and they did not want to “overtake and embarrass them later,” Butler joked. As far as their relationship to the railroad service company of the same name, Amtrak (the band) prizes itself on being the only band that has the exact same spelling as the company.
“We’re the only ones who can be sued. And we want that to happen,” Dames said sarcastically.
Amtrak has an experimental sound that stands out within the San Luis Obispo music scene. While the band is now a standard four-piece band, they are not afraid to mix up the configuration. Described as “bad,” “Lynchian,” and “noisy” by Dames, Butler and Connor respectively, Amtrak’s sound is inspired by UK post-punk and Japanese experimental noise rock bands, like Squid, Courting, Les Rallizes Dénudés and Fushitsusha. These influences shine through in Amtrak’s use of vocal distortion, complex riffs, heavy basslines and a distinct guitar tone.
“We don’t want people to just mosh to some sort of replaceable music,” Butler said.
The band has played six or seven shows since their inception, including MPU’s “Take Flight” music festival in Spring 2022.
“A lot of bands around here just want people to mosh and stuff. But I really want them to actually listen to the music. The purpose of playing live is to show your music to people in its best form,” Dames said of Amtrak’s role within the San Luis Obispo DIY music scene.
While not on streaming services yet, the band has some original songs in the works. They have a few songs written by Butler, but “haven’t really started recording a lot of stuff yet,” Connor said. Constantly evolving and dynamic, they are considering adding more electronic elements akin to Jai Paul, Playboi Carti and Bladee.
“We want to expand on the original catalog,” Butler said. Butler also has a variety of music production equipment to contribute to their experimental sound, including a harp, tape recorders and audio editing software.
The band hopes to play house shows this quarter to “recover on the post-Lukas thing,” Butler said in regards to Chou studying abroad.
“We’re waiting on someone to have a house show for us. Honestly, if anyone asked us right now we might be able to,” Dames said.
Stay updated on upcoming shows and original music from the band on their Instagram, @amtrak.inc.