Interview: Beach Slang in conversation: “You hope you’re doing work that’s going to matter on some level”

Beach Slang in conversation: “You hope you’re doing work that’s going to matter on some level”

The unifying, anthemic sense of camaraderie behind Beach Slang’s every move is no accident - frontman James Alex is keen to be a saviour.

2015 was a landmark year for Philadelphia punk band Beach Slang. For frontman and songwriter James Alex it was the culmination of a lifetime deeply in love with the transcendent power of rock n roll.

Beach Slang’s debut full length - last year’s ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’ - is a record that encapsulates the overwhelming spirit of hope, freedom and exploration that drives all the most inspiring music. As Alex reflects on the band’s turbulent breakthrough year ahead of a much-anticipated second trip to the UK, it’s clear that the experience of the past 12 months has had a great effect on a man for whom rock, and the power it has. drives his very being: “It’s been a wild little hurricane - completely unexpected and completely humbling,” he says, before adding, “The best time in my life.”

For many fans of Beach Slang, that’s a statement they’d agree with. Beach Slang’s direct, honest and affecting brand of heart-swelling punk-rock has struck a chord with both disaffected and disillusioned, forty-plus adults around the same age as Alex himself, who perhaps see punk rock as a way out of a dead-end job and apparently hopeless future. “You hope you’re doing work that’s going to matter on some level,” says Alex. “Any time I write a thing, that’s my only hope: Maybe this is going to land on somebody when they really need it and it’s going to strike that chord. The album has done that. Even if it’s just one person, that’s what I need to hear. For whatever reason it’s timed itself nicely. Whatever this thing is that we’re doing, the weird chemistry that happens when the four of us play our instruments at the same time it seems to have just found its way.”

For many fans of Beach Slang, that’s a statement they’d agree with. Beach Slang’s direct, honest and affecting brand of heart-swelling punk-rock has struck a chord with both disaffected and disillusioned, forty-plus adults around the same age as Alex himself, who perhaps see punk rock as a way out of a dead-end job and apparently hopeless future.

‘Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas’

“I feel responsibility to the people that have connected with these lyrics so intensely.”

— James Alex

“You hope you’re doing work that’s going to matter on some level,” says Alex. “Any time I write a thing, that’s my only hope: Maybe this is going to land on somebody when they really need it and it’s going to strike that chord. The album has done that. Even if it’s just one person, that’s what I need to hear. For whatever reason it’s timed itself nicely. Whatever this thing is that we’re doing, the weird chemistry that happens when the four of us play our instruments at the same time it seems to have just found its way.”

The sound Beach Slang create is an euphoric kind of heart-wrenching punk rock that makes you want to punch the air with joy. For James Alex the creative process of Beach Slang is a constant search for those kinds of special moments: “If I don’t have that punch-in-the-gut moment - that hair-stands-up-on-your-arm moment, when I’m just in the fades of this thing where it’s me in my crummy little studio room with my acoustic guitar... If I can’t generate that moment there, that process stops. That’s the moment that I’m looking for. I read this interview with Black Francis once, he said his song writing approach was he would get in a room with this guitar, bash things out and just scream out until he had what he called an eargasm. That’s the moment. That’s what you live for as a creative individual.”

Perhaps the thing that strikes the biggest chord with fans of Beach Slang is the lyrics. “Every word to me is as carefully considered as every other one,” says Alex. “I really painstakingly involve myself in that bit of it. I keep getting asked the question of, ‘Do I feel pressure now that we’re being received in a certain way?’ My response to that has always been that I don’t feel pressure but I feel responsibility. I feel responsibility to the people that have connected with these lyrics so intensely. I don’t want to let them down. That’s the thing I’m chasing every time I write. If it’s not going to move me then how can I expect it to move someone who’s going to listen to it?”

Beach Slang in conversation: “You hope you’re doing work that’s going to matter on some level”

“When we boil all the muck out of our lives the thing we’re really striving for is human connection”

— James Alex

The process of songwriting and making music is a wonderfully simple one for Beach Slang. It’s part of the reason why their music is so satisfying and immediately engaging. As Alex explains, it’s based on a very simple premise. “It’s just life right? I just write about me and my friends,” he says enthusiastically. “I’ve amassed the right aesthetics at this point in my life that I’m able to generate what’s inside of me and then funnel it through things that turn me on creatively so that I’m getting the results I desire. I boil my song writing down to this three-point formula. I’ve always approached song writing this way: Pretend you’re scoring a John Hughes film. I grew up on that and I loved all that stuff. So you do that and then you think how would Bukowski write the lyrics to this thing? Then finally, what chords and melody would Paul Westerberg put behind it? That’s aiming for the stars. That’s at least the mindset that I’m shooting for. All those guys are heroes so I’m not putting myself at that level at all but that’s the triangle I’m sculpting in.”

Honesty and personal, emotional connections are two things that Beach Slang pride themselves on. Alex has a wonderfully direct response when asked how important the connection with their fans is: “It’s everything.” Beach Slang are a band that exists to provide hopes and dreams to punk-rock fans across the world. “When we boil all the muck out of our lives the thing we’re really striving for is human connection,” says Alex, the passion rising in his voice. “That exchange of energy at, say, a live rock show, that is something that you can’t replicate and you can’t fake anywhere else. I grew up an introverted wallflower kid. Music for me has always been this beautiful social icebreaker. Now I’m able to have these heavy and intense conversations with people that I’m just meeting just through this exchange of dialogue that we share through these records. That’s a beautiful thing."

‘Young & Alive’

“”This band has allowed me to have my voice. What I try to do is offer that out to someone else.”

— James Alex

“When we start off as little kids, then we grow up what we’re really looking for is our voice in the world," he continues. "This band has allowed me to have my voice. What I try to do is offer that out to someone else who feels unheard, forgotten or disenfranchised. There’s a place for you to come in and shout it out. I want to hear what you think and what’s knocking around in your head. Let’s toss those thoughts back and forth and see what comes out of it. That stuff means everything to me and it’s been incredibly rewarding.”

As they make their second trip back to the UK, Beach Slang’s constant trekking across the globe keeping the pun- rock flame alive is indicative of the simple values that the band hold dear. “We’re not fooling ourselves into thinking we’re anything special it’s just hard work and dumb luck that got us here,” says Alex self-effacingly. 2016 and beyond sees them continuing on their quest to give a little bit of hope to anyone who feels tossed aside by society: “We’re going to do what a rock and roll band does. We’re going to make records, live in our van and play shows, sweating it out and finding good trouble. My goals are just to make honest work that I’m proud of. I want to connect with people. People are nervous to be as hopelessly optimistic as I am. I want to keep shoving that into the world and be like, ‘it’s alright.’ If we can’t believe in hope and optimism then what do we have left? There’s enough junk and gloom in the world so I just want to inject a little bit of goodness in there.”

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