Beach Slang came crashing out of the basement last year with debut album ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’. And, true to title, they found them. Going straight for the heart with brash declarations and an unburdened lust for life, the Philly punks have quickly amassed a loyal following of people whose chests are beating in sync. It’s been a wild ride, and with follow-up ‘A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings’ leaving behind some of the dive-bar comforts, those bends are going to start kicking real soon.
Today, though James Alex - vocalist, guitarist, leader, all round good guy - is sitting still, for the moment at least. Hidden away in Jim Marshall’s old office, midway through a tour of the amplifier factory, his voice crackles with excitement at every turn. If you’ve ever seen Beach Slang live though, you probably could have guessed that.
“I had this real weirdo awakening,” James admits. “My whole life I thought I’d live forever.” Now, he’s not so sure. Kickstarted perhaps by the birth of his son Oliver, the first thing James said to him as he held him, for the first time, sixteen months ago was “so, you’re my replacement on earth.” In that moment he realised that life wasn’t forever.
“That was that pivotal moment,” he says today. “Looking at how my life shifted, my perspective of the world just broadened so wildly.” It’s why ‘A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings’ sees Beach Slang leave the back alleys behind, heading for something bigger. It’s also why the record keeps one foot in the party, but one towards the grave.
“I don’t listen to my head a whole lot, that thing has let me down. My gut, I feel like I can trust."
— James Alex
“I said to myself after I wrote this one, if you look at how many times I say ‘alive’ on LP1 and on this one, how many times I said ‘death’, there’s almost a balance between the two. I really just had this awakening of ‘I’ve got to make it count while I’m here’,” James says.
That urgency bleeds into ‘A Loud Bash…’. From the opening rattle of ‘Future Mixtape For The Art Kids’ to the declaration of ‘Warpaint’, Beach Slang continue to refuse a pause. “We’ve had ups and downs and all those things a relationship should do as it’s growing,” reflects James of the ride so far. “We played a ton more shows and gotten closer in the good ways that we needed to. Even the recording of this record, I feel like we went into the studio this time as more of a live band and the production has that feel to it. It’s a little grittier, a little more raw and that’s because our live sound is the thing we’ve become acclimated to.”
Written on the road in order to keep to their own timeline, (“the label thought I was insane wanting to do another record so quickly”) the band rehearsed the songs twice before heading into the studio for nine days to bring it to life. Instead of feeling rushed, ‘A Loud Bash…’ gets straight down to gnarled business. “The pace of writing this record became this unforeseen ally,” James explains. “As much as I was thinking about it, I think I would have overthought it to dangerous levels if I had the luxury of time. That pace and vibe unknowingly safeguarded me from getting inside my own head too deeply. Maybe we got lucky, but the unbridled recklessness of it all made this record something that it wouldn’t have been without it.”
The band’s growth, from scrappy upstarts to fully-fledged breakout stars, is mirrored on album two. It’s bigger, broader and feels like it’s addressing scores of people rather than burying itself in a journal. “I think some sort of natural evolution happened,” offers James. “It’s important to me to not Xerox, but I don’t want to go from making a punk rock record to something avant garde. I don’t want to make that weirdo leap, but I want to make sure there’s always stretching, there’s always pushing within the framework of the thing that we do. I think we did that. I think we did that in a smart, honest way with this record.”
“I just follow my gut,” he continues. “I don’t listen to my head a whole lot, that thing has let me down. My gut, I feel like I can trust. We get a lot of comparisons to The Replacements and Jawbreaker, and that’s cool. I adore those bands but my record collection is bigger than that. The thing I did with this record - and it naturally presented itself - was listen to a lot of Britpop, shoegaze and new wave music that I love equally. It just started poking its head through a little bit in a way that we needed to happen.”
“I had this real weirdo awakening."
— James Alex
Despite a handful of EPs and an album already out in the world, Beach Slang’s second album is the first time they’ve written knowing the impact their music has. That came with “a certain sense of responsibility,” he says. “The first record, it’s very devil may care because you’re just screaming it out in the dark to no one. With this one, people have gotten tattoos and written to me about what it means to them. Man, I just didn’t want to let them down. I was carrying a good weight writing this record. It pushed me to write bigger than I could have without it. It shoved me in a good, challenging direction and I worked harder writing this one. I wrote it quicker but I worked really hard. I just wanted to be responsible to the people that this matters to.”
‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’ was made up of “two minute novels about me, my friends and the things we’ve done,”. This record, though, written on the road and surrounded by people “who, because I write so open and honest, are very comfortable coming to me and talking open and honest,” tells a different story. “They just started laying stories on me about their lives, whether they were these really tough, heavy stories, or beautiful, triumphant slices of their lives. There’s the narrative of the record. I would see myself in their stories, but removed, so that’s what I’m going to write. I’m going to write their stories, seeing myself in them, but having this narrator perspective.” Words of advice, encouragement and community quickly rallied around these confessions, turning them into anthems of empowerment. “These songs became these intimate things of speaking to people directly. I hope I did right by them.”
‘Teenage feelings’ are usually dismissed as silly, insignificant and a source of everlasting embarrassment but, whether you like it or not, you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to recreate that sense of adventure. On album two, Beach Slang celebrate that. There’s a loud bash of, “finding your voice for the first time, that sense of wonderment, those first tastes of freedom, falling in love for the first time and all that beautiful stuff that reminds us why we’re here. That doesn’t go away when you turn 20, or 30, or 40 or 90,” smiles James. “stay inside of those good feelings.”
“I always preface the records by saying ‘this is for us, for all of us’ and that’s an important sentiment to me,” concludes James. “I want that to carry through. To me, ego is the embarrassment of rock and roll. I don’t want Beach Slang to start growing and for anyone to allow this disconnect to happen between band and listener. We’ve always said this band is built on the scene we come out of, that DIY basement, but we never built a roof on it. We want it to go as big as it can go. As long as we’re not compromising our ethics and our beliefs, I have no qualms about this thing being gigantic if it’s allowed to be. Regardless of how big we get though, there’s an importance to us to remember that this isn’t about us. It’s cyclical. The shows mean nothing if people don’t come up to see them.” Forcing that admiration and appreciation front and centre, James, “wanted to make sure I planted the flag firmly enough in the ground that it never tips. It never falls over. It never gets forgotten. This is the first way of sounding that alarm; this is how much it all means to me. I want to write about you, because you carved yourself into my heart. I want to make sure that’s framed for a long time. This is your life and it’s happening,” he smiles. “Live it all the way.”
Beach Slang's new album ‘A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings’ is out now.