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Built like Alaska

Oakdale’s Finest

Built like Alaska wasn’t built in a day, but it was built in the basement of a big country house outside Oakdale, California by a couple of guitar-wielding 21-year olds. “The band started as a house thing, really,” says lead vocalist Neil Jackson. “We wrote songs together -- mostly the kind of dumb acoustic stuff college kids write -- but we kept playing together, messing around….” The band, sporting an ever-rotating cast of musicians and a couple mainstays like Jackson, started landing gigs. Still, the quintet didn’t have a moniker yet.

“One day, before a show, we decided we needed a name,” says Jackson. “So we took a lyric out of an old song of ours -- sort of a description of a person that, um, we didn’t like very much. It was sort of a negative term, about someone who was cold and kind of hard to live with.” Someone who was, well, Built like Alaska.

Ten years and two albums later, the five-piece from Oakdale rolls on, generating keyboard-heavy melodies that dovetail eerily with Jackson’s trebled, Billy-Corgan-like vocals. Those first two collections, Hopalong (2002) and Autumnland (2004), spun spacey rock’n’roll loaded with synthesizers (think Grandaddy’s tech-nozzle sound; Grandaddy, incidentally, shared Built Like Alaska’s Sweat of the Alps label in 2002). Now, says Jackson, the band -- freshly stocked with a new bass player -- is moving its music into the realm of stripped down 70s rock, “a little more like Americana,” he says.

That evolution is a long time coming. Actually, it’s only been three years since Autumnland, but in those intervening years, Jackson and company have recorded a slew of sparkly songs like the watery, poetic number “Break of Day”, or anthems like “John Henry” that demonstrate both an affinity for where the band’s come from and a sense of where it’s going. Specifically, Built like Alaska is now headed full-boar toward a self-released double album, which Jackson hopes will be on the streets by mid-winter.

Though they’d like to take the new work on tour, the band-mates are different cats than they were when they’re outfit began ten years ago. Their lives now include a world outside music. Non-musical careers have grown and flourished; touring’s next to impossible outside summertime, says Jackson, what with day jobs and bills to pay. In ten years, for example, Jackson’s become an elementary teacher and gotten married -- but he still lives in the Oakdale house where it all began. “It’s a bit of a recording studio and practice space now,” he says, sounding content.

Nonetheless, Built like Alaska continue to play a show a week. And even though the quintet is self-releasing its next album, it’s actively label-shopping: “We’re hoping someone will take a chance on a small band,” says Jackson. In the age of easy pop, creative, sinewy music like theirs remains a commodity. So here’s our bet that someone will take that chance, and soon.

Built like Alaska w/ Audio Out Send and The Parish; Aug 23rd at 9 pm, Bottom of the Hill, $8.