Beach Slang Interview: ‘Maybe writing really honest things has finally found a place’

Critics and fans alike are falling head over heels for Beach Slang’s effervescent blend of fist-pumping punk rock and poetic lyricism. Frontman James Alex isn’t taking any of it for granted.

If rock n’ roll is dangerous, how come I feel so safe in it?

I Break Guitars

James Alex speaks predominantly in the slang that the band have derived their name from, a sort of throw-back to 90’s dude-isms that’s one part his beloved Bukowski and one part Michelangelo (the ninja turtle, not the painter). This verbal patter gives him a youthful exuberance and vitality, qualities that are mirrored in the band’s debut album, the evocatively titled The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. With just 10 songs and a running time of under 27 minutes, Beach Slang’s debut is a brief but uplifting clarion call to the disenfranchised, the deadbeats, the runaways and the freaks. It’s a triumphant paean to the healing power of buzzsaw electric guitars played at ear-splitting volume in sweat-drenched clubs, a loving tribute to rock n’ roll turned up to 11 (or 9 if we don’t want it too loud). His buoyant boy-ish charm, goofy laugh and effervescent attitude would warm the coldest of hearts and the passion and enthusiasm in his speech flows almost as freely as the power chords from his guitar. ‘I want to make sure when my lungs are starting to give way that I’m not looking back at all the cool things that I could have done’ he says of his positive outlook on life. ‘As far as I know, we only get one shot at life. You could go around remembering all the times you got knocked down in life, but you know what you did that was better than that? You got back up again!’ He punctuates this thought with, ‘A lot of what I want to do with Beach Slang is punch the jaded-ness out of people,’ before quickly adding, ‘but in a sweet way, you know?’

I'm way out of tune turned up to eleven

And floating around this noisy heaven

Noisy Heaven

For a band that formed a little over two years ago, the devotion and dedication that Beach Slang inspire amongst their rapidly growing dewy-eyed fan base is astonishing. ‘It's not lost on us,’ says James. ‘I don't have any intellectual explanation for why it’s snowballed so fast. Maybe writing really honest things has finally found a place.’ This sincerity and unapologetic heart-on-sleeve optimism, not just in Beach Slang’s songs but in James himself, is winning the band legions of die-hard fans and steadfast approval from some of the punk scene’s most staunch critics. After all, honesty never goes out of style. ‘To me, that’s what punk rock’s all about, right?’ he says. ‘It’s about living your life in a way that is completely honest to you, without offering judgement on anyone else. We all belong, we all have a place in the world. We're like this beautiful jigsaw puzzle of people that all have a voice in the world and punk rock allows those voices to be heard. That's what punk rock is to me, man, and I'm doing my small bit to make sure some of those voices are heard.’

I’m always that kid always out of place

I try to get found but I’ve never known how

Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas

Beach Slang isn’t James’s first rodeo, having provided second guitar and backup vocals for fellow Pennsylvanian punk-rock outfit Weston for the majority of the 90’s. Weston achieved some success within the pop-punk scene but were more or less unknown outside of it and following their split in 2001, James pretty much gave up on the idea of living out the fabled rock n’ roll fantasy. ‘By and large, I’d given up doing music, publicly at least. I didn’t want to but I just thought, maybe I'd missed my connecting flight, you know?’

20151219Beach-Slang-Philly264.jpg
Beach Slang performing in their home town of Philadelphia

James enrolled in the Art Institute of Philadelphia and found work as a graphic designer but his love for guitars, bass and drums (played loudly) never died and he continued to write songs in private in the mistaken belief that they wouldn’t be heard by anyone bar himself and a couple of friends. One of those friends, JP Flexner, played drums and suggested he and James jam together. ‘He called me and said, ‘look man, I can't get those songs out of my head! I know this guy Ed who plays bass, can we get together and give it a shot?’ So we met up at Ed’s house and went down to his basement and the three of us were really squished together in there. It was a little awkward initially because I didn’t know Ed at that point and I only knew JP a little bit, but we started playing Filthy Luck, I remember that was the first song we played and as soon as we stopped, I looked around this tiny cramped space and said ‘I think we're a band!’ Right off the bat, it felt good, I'm not trying to sell legend here, I mean it really felt right. And I think then I was reminded how much I was missing rock n’ roll and how much I loved it.’

It’s Friday night and I am in the basement

Screaming out my lungs with my best friends

I hope when I die I feel this alive

American Girls and French Kisses

The band released their first EP, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? in April 2014 and followed it up just five months later with a second EP, Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street. With barely any publicity what-so-ever, the eight songs that make up these two EPs quickly made their way into the hearts and minds of the same kind of weirdos and misfits that James so lovingly writes about. His lyrics made such an impact with the band’s core fan-base that many of them started getting them tattooed onto their skin. With so many people taking to his inspirational mantras and bittersweet sentiments in such a deeply profound way, does he ever feel pressure to be a spokesperson in punk rock? ‘I wouldn’t say I feel so much like a spokesperson, more that I have a new-found sense of responsibility. If Beach Slang is connecting with people enough for them to get these lyrics permanently inked on their skin, then it matters to them. And I feel this responsibility, because I don’t want the next Beach Slang record to come out and have those people become embarrassed, like ‘Ahh man, yeah I got a Beach Slang tattoo when I was young.’ So yeah, I think a sense of responsibility has leapt into me that I didn't feel before, but it’s a welcome one.’

The songs that I make I barely rehearse them

They’re hardly mistakes they’re meant to be honest

Noisy Heaven

The momentum Beach Slang have built up over the last year and a half of non-stop touring and releases shows no signs of abating, with James expressing his intention to have the second Beach Slang LP out by the end of 2016 (‘I got maybe 40% of it written before we split for Europe and I've been writing more whilst we've been on this tour.’) He also wants to record some stripped back acoustic versions of existing Beach Slang material (‘it'll just be me with a cellist and a pianist’) and he also plans to record a second mix-tape (‘my plan is to do two a year, I've sent the track listing around to the other Slangs already and they've been working on the parts’), all whilst undergoing extensive touring commitments around the UK, Europe and US. James’ ambitions may be vast, but after having and then losing the rock n’ roll dream one time before, he’s doing everything in his power not to lose it again. ‘It does feel like a second chance to me and I think that's why my hunger is so intense. When Weston had some success, I think we were too young to realise that wasn't normal, you know? We were kids and we didn't know what to do with it, so we took it for granted. But to have this thing again, it means so much to me, because all the things I did in-between Weston and this, none of them came close to giving me a shred of that light-up feeling that I get from playing rock 'n roll. So I want to keep it lit for as long as I can.’ 

I blur all this hurt into sound

Dirty Lights

Beach Slang are touring all over Europe and the US, including a show at Dingwalls, London June 8th. Their debut album, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, is out now

Comments