James Alex, the front man of Beach Slang, has an undying and unwavering passion for music. Honestly, James speaks with so much zeal I begin to think he might make a good motivational speaker for aspiring punk bands. However, I don’t think he’s going to stop playing music anytime soon. Before Beach Slang, James played in well-known punk band Weston for nearly two decades and by now, he effortlessly embodies the spirit of rock and roll.
Beach Slang is an indie punk band straight out of Philadelphia and with only one full-length album under their belt –The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel like Us – they’ve garnered a strong fan base and rave reviews. I quickly realize that Beach Slang isn’t in it for the “acclaim” though. Rather than taking in their favorable reviews as pressure, they take it as a responsibility to live up to their fans perceptions of them. The group feels a sense of responsibility because their debut album “The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us” is the type of record that has the ability to truly impact a person’s life in a positive way. Also, many avid listeners have already gotten their favorite Beach Slang lyrics tattooed, so Alex wants to do what he can to make sure they never regret that decision. After listening to the powerfully honest record you start to get the idea that this album certainly does find its fans.
All four members of Beach Slang are no newcomers to the punk scene; having all played in different bands before, touring life has become like second nature to them. The age difference between bandmates might seem like a large gap on paper, but it plays no role on stage. On the even of their show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, I called James to talk about the “wonderful weirdos” that inspired LP2, loving the struggle of starting a band, and an onstage squabble that was taken too far.
Give me the lowdown on how Beach Slang came together?
It was pretty organic, you know? We were all kind of one finger separated in the Philadelphia music scene. My old band got asked to do this festival where others were playing as well. At the festival with my old band, our drummer couldn’t play, so I tapped JT to do it. So we played that show together and it felt really cool and right. I let him know that I was writing these other songs and he said he knew another guy, so we just all got together to see what would happen. From there it all felt really good, so we just continued.
Considering the age gap between some of the band members, do you think that plays a role in how the band works and functions together?
I’m not sure, it’s weird. I feel like the younger cats are pretty mature and I’m forever in a state of development. It’s like this cool sort of checks and balances thing. It’s cool to balance perspectives off of one another.
Are there any particular differences working with this band than there was with your previous band Weston?
I suppose. With Weston, that was our first real go with it and everybody was super young and we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We were sort of flying blind the whole time, of course having a wonderful time doing that, but we didn’t really know how to handle things or when to have our guard up or down. We were just kind of pushing in the dark. Whereas now we have experience and we all came in with everybody having already played in a band. We knew how to navigate the waters; this is the first time I knew how to do that.
So guys probably already knew how to tour. What not to do, what to do…
Totally. Yeah, the basic functions of being in a band with one another, we sort of had that stuff set. We were able to really hit the ground running.
It must have felt nice too, to go into a new project with such ease.
Yeah. Without a doubt. We forever felt like we had been cheating. It came easily. We cut our teeth for so long on different things, whether they had phenomenal levels of success or were just complete failures. The upside of that is that we put the work in. So when this time came around, we were just like “Wow, it could be this easy.” But then we remind ourselves that we put the time in already.
Your album, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel like Us, has a very comforting title, and especially has an inviting nature to it for first time listeners. When approaching this album, did you have more of the audience in mind or did you write based off of your own experiences?
Definitely my own experience on LP1. The first LP was certainly more inward facing and reflective because that’s where I was at the time. We hadn’t done a whole lot up until then. I just got done with LP2, we just finished tracking it. That’s a lot more outward focused. That was all from these wonderful weirdos that I met in the process and they’ll be the ones touring around and stuff like that. They’re just so amazingly interesting. I wrote a bunch of songs about that. Since the release, we’ve pretty much been on the road the entire time. I’ve just been meeting all sorts of really cool people with these interesting stories, whether they’re sad or amazing, they’re all so intense. The content really presented itself while touring.
It’ll be interesting to hear the album from the perspective of a fan almost.
Yeah, without a doubt. It’s sort of told through an autobiographical lens, and presents a lot of cases where I had to reach out to people and be like, “I wrote this thing and I wanted to see if you were comfortable with it.” A to not just feel like I was naming names. It’s not my place to feel like I have artistic liberty to take someone’s life and make it a story. Everyone’s been really cool and all that good stuff. Thankfully, right? It wasn’t like I had to finish the record and then three people were like, “No, there’s no way.” Everything worked out.
Since the album has been so well received, do you feel like there is an added pressure for Beach Slang to live up to these great reviews? Or do you take it as motivation?
Yeah, I’ve been asked that pressure thing because of LP1. I usually respond in this way because it’s so accurate. I’ve never felt pressure, what I feel is responsibility. Responsibility to those people who we connected with, or to who this matters to. Pretty quickly out of the gate, people were getting lyric tattoos and things like that. I just never want them to have that moment of why did I do that. It got people through some muck. There’s an importance in all of that for me. I just don’t want to let them down. So in terms of record sales and “acclaim,” I never did this for any of that in the first place. When it connects with someone and they come up and share these things with me, that’s the best payment I’ve ever had.
Do you have any advice for bands that are just starting out?
We sort of live in a plastic culture. Where we want things quick; things aren’t built to last. I always found a real romance in the struggle part of it all. Yeah you’re not going to start a band and be a rock star in a month. You might never be one. But there’s so much beauty in piling in some ratty old van with your friends, trekking across the country hoping you have enough gas money. Writing terrible songs to get to the better songs. There’s something really really great in that. In the age of internet fame where you really don’t even need to leave there house, there’s a real importance in, I use the term “cutting your teeth.” It’s sort of that. When you essentially get from point A to point B, you land there and it’s like, “Ah, this is what the fight was about.” There’s some sort of feeling of triumph or satisfaction. Romanticize the struggle. You’re going to thank yourself later.
Are there any new bands that you’re excited about?
There’s this band in Omaha that I just can’t get over. They’re called See Through Dresses. Really incredible, I suppose if like The Smiths were heavier and shoe-gazier. I’m really hung up on them. It’s one of those bands I hear where I’m like, ” Oh man, I wish I wrote that song or that record.” That’s a really beautiful thing because I am high and large hung up on the records I came up on, like the Replacements, Jawbreaker, all that kind of stuff. So when I hear something new and it just really knocks me back, that’s really cool. I’m stoked to get turned on to new things.
I don’t want to be a downer, but a few days ago, I read that you guys were on the brink of breaking up on stage in Salt Lake City. Was there tension leading up to that show?
Yeah, you know for us, it was just a momentary wobble. For us, it wasn’t anything super new. It felt like the most cliché thing. Because of the trajectory of the band and how fast things sort of propelled forward for us, this just sort of happened. Like with any forward relationship, there’s a push and pull with things. We’ve never really had time to address things having been on the road for so long; things need to rise and fall. It just rose to a point where it didn’t fall. It just sort of bubbled out and even while it was happening it all kind of felt like a joke, just like brotherly jabs. Then it got worse and worse, but it never was like we planted a flag in the ground and were going to break up. It was almost like an accidental break up. It was really weird and dumb.
I had a really honest moment when this happened; I didn’t know what our band meant to everybody. To us, we’re friends who play together and hope our friends show up to see us. But when this happened and it got picked up by news outlets, and people genuinely cared, we had this realization. It was really lost on us that it was even worthy of being news. Honestly, I would love to divulge this huge thing, but to us, it was just this dumb little wobble, where yeah, we got into an argument with each other. Probably didn’t utilize the best form to work that argument out, but that’s why we’re not physicists. We play rock and roll because we want to be allowed to be human and have those moments of immaturity. It’s just honest human reflection and it’s like, “Hey give us a little allowance for human flaw.” I think some people were pretty quick – it’s weird when you stumble – people are quick to kick you when you’re down. I suppose since it’s been a pretty cool year, maybe some people were waiting in the wing for the moment where they can finally land a jab. I have pretty thick skin so I can take it. That thing happened, the next day we were messing around, and the following day were playing a show. Interestingly, I think we’re stronger for that having happened. I think it needed to. I don’t think it was the right form, but that fight needed to happen so we could get to the core of the thing that was bubbling under the surface.
Was it after seeing all the headlines and seeing the people who care that made you want to keep going with this?
It did. That was that snapback to reality like, “What are you doing man? Not only is this the thing you love more than anything, but it goes back to that sense of responsibility that I talked about before. This thing matters beyond what you’re seeing in this dumb moment because you guys are upset about this dumb thing.” I think really what that a reminder to be mindful. Think of times a rational person is playing a video game and they’re getting beat so they take the controller and throw it across the room. That’s not really representative of that person, but you’re allowed to have that moment. Then you get reminded of what’s important in life. That girl running down the street and giving me a hug that was that reminder. That’s kind of that never forget moment. That’ll be the thing, that when things bubble to the surface again, I’m going to remember that moment.
It’s kind of a reminder of why you guys are a band.
Precisely. It’s easy to lose sight of things when you allow those dumb things to affect your mindset. You get really shaken awake, and that hug really shook me awake, in a really sweet way. It felt really beautiful. It’s a really great way to get talked down off of a ledge you shouldn’t be standing on in the first place.
For more from Beach Slang head to http://beachslang.com/.