Interview: James Alex of Beach Slang by Brian McConville
Unless you were living under a rock last year, chances are you have heard about a band called Beach Slang.
If you recall, they topped my best of 2015 list. This is all with good reason too of course.
In the event you are sitting there scratching your head at who I am talking about, perhaps I can persuade you into checking them out. Think about the Replacements, a juvenile Goo Goo Dolls, and Jawbreaker. Beach Slang is a perfect variation of those bands and still manages to hold their own sound.
James Alex fronts the punk outfit I am babbling about. You might remember him from the 90s pop punk act Weston. No? It’s ok, I am not judging you.
I personally have been a fan of Beach Slang since they released Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street on their BandCamp page in 2014. I also remember rocking out to Weston years back (Got Beat Up on Go-Kart Records ruled!!!). It only made sense for me to try and interview James. Of course he was cool about it.
The Peter Pan of punk rock was happy to answer a few pondering questions from this fan – who am I kidding, it is a short novel… Check it out:
BM: First off, what does it feel like to be in a band that had their debut full-length anticipated by so many fans all over the world? Your first two EPs personally won me over and I can not tell you how long I waited for you guys to drop The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us.
JA: It’s been overwhelmingly humbling and incredible and perfect and heart-swelling. I swear, there are times I randomly sit in some weirdo smile-haze trying to figure out how Beach Slang got so lucky, you know?
BM: How did Beach Slang emerge after Weston called it quits? I am sure it was not an A to B process. With the timespan, one might think about just not even trying again but you all did. What inspired you to try?
JA: I never stopped writing words and songs and stuff. I just sort of stayed hidden away doing it. When Weston was asked to play Riot Fest in 2009, our drummer couldn’t make it so I reached out to JP to fill in. While we were hanging out for that, I let him hear some things I had been writing and he told me they needed to be heard. I thought maybe they should, too.
BM: I mean seriously, this shit happened so fast. How did y’all cope with all of the immediate attention? I actually heard that in NYC, the fans were already singing along to your songs the first time you played there.
JA: There could be worse things than people digging the thing you’re doing, right? So, yeah, coping was pretty easy.
BM: Your lyrics are so personable and seem to include anyone who wants to listen and relate. Were many of the lyrics written based off of past experiences growing up?
JA: They all are, man. Every one. I just did this podcast and I summed it up like this: To me, Beach Slang songs are little two-minute novels. They’re about me and my friends and the things we’ve done, and they’re important to me.
BM: I need to ask about the artwork on all of your releases and online. It is so classic in a sense with carefully selected photos with some that are then spliced or manipulated. Where did this idea come from?
JA: I’ve been asked about my approach to the visual stuff I make and I chopped it down to this very accurate summary: Mary Ellen Mark, Craig Stecyk, 1970s California and The Smiths, in equal parts. That feels very Beach Slang to me.
BM: Speaking of Beach Slang your style of music is like a fine mix of Jawbreaker, the Replacements, and even Goo Goo Dolls. Was that intended or when you guys started jamming out it just came together?
JA: I had the first EP written before I ever played with the other gents so, yeah, it wasn’t a thing that came out of playing together. I’m not necessarily sure it was intended either. I think all the beautiful records I had been shoving into my ears finally shared themselves with my heart and my hands. Finally.
BM: You are a punk DIY band. There is no arguing that. What was it like growing up a punker in Philly in the 90s?
JA: I’m guessing probably a lot like growing up punk most other places—really, man, all of the things that really matter are pretty much the same. Kids feel misplaced so they write poems, pick up a guitar, start a band, make ‘zines, screen shirts, make posters—it stays the same because it needs to, right? We’re all still those same wrecked kids looking to feel not so alone.
BM: How was it to play Fest last October?
JA: Fest is this beautiful car crash of everything that fucking matters. For one weekend every year, a whole bunch of punks get to takeover a college town and throw really loud parties. You get to leave behind all the things you want to forget and make a whole bunch of good trouble you never will. Baptism by amplifiers…yeah, it’s heaven.
BM: Touring is not always the most fun. Tell me about a rough adventure you and the band experienced.
JA: We’re fairly easily entertained. That stuff helps. But, yeah, on our last U.S. tour, we were doing like 75 mph across some Texas highway when our trailer tire blew out and we went into some wild skidding. Stuff like that is kind of not fun. But, mostly, we’re pretty A-OK. I mean, we do this thing because we love it. If it wasn’t fun, at least most of the time, I’d look for something else that was.
BM: How do you pass the time when traveling?
JA: Writing, reading, getting caught in tourist traps, meeting strange, wonderful people, drinking good beer and sometimes, I even sleep.
BM: How well does the band see eye to eye with that huge age range difference? Do any of you find yourselves shaking your heads sometimes at your bandmates?
JA: The age thing is a completely invisible, total non-factor in Beach Slang. Finally, my wild immaturity pays off.
BM: You toured with Cursive. How rad was that? How did Cursive fans dig your sets?
JA: It was pretty damn dream-come-true, you know? Their fans were wildly open-minded/open-eared and whether they dug or us didn’t, they gave us an honest chance. But, yeah, we were lucky enough that, far and away, they really seemed to be into the thing we do.
BM: If you could tour with any band, current or past, who would you choose and why?J: The Replacements but, you know, only if they wanted us there. I spend enough time being inconvenient. Why?—to me, they are the blueprint of everything a rock & roll band should be. I dig every fucking thing about them.
BM: What is your favorite roadside meal?
JA: Cheeseless pizza—easily.
BM: Are you all super stoked to be playing overseas soon?
JA: Wildly. We went to the UK & Europe for a couple weeks last year and it knocked my socks off in the absolute best way. We split in two days and I cannot wait for every out-of-control moment of this lovely time.
BM: You’ve played my hometown of Cleveland a few times with a bunch bands I am pals with. What did you think of the city when you visited?
JA: I dig it big. Look, for me, rock & roll is holy. And being able to have at the Hall of Fame is really right-on. There’s also a whole bunch of really sweet humans hiding out there. I cannot wait to make soft trouble with them again soon. Oh, and Melt is delicious.
BM: Melt IS delicious… Have any of you received a compliment over the years from a fan that stuck with you you in a positive manner and impacted they way you make music?
JA: “I was going to kill myself and your songs made me not do that.” Yeah, that one will stick around for the rest of forever, you know?
BM: What does it feel like to see all of these tattoos with Beach Slang lyrics pop up? I seriously need to add one to my personal human canvas.
JA: I wanted to be a writer long before I ever picked up a guitar so, yeah, words are big, necessary things to me. What I mean is—those lyric tattoos mean fucking everything to me.
BM: You guys are active as hell on social media. Do you get a lot of fans contacting you all of the time? How important is it to respond to everyone and not just ignore the appreciation?
JA: Thanks, man. The Slang social media is all me. I mean, I write all the time. That stuff gives me a place to go with all of these words and pictures I make. I suppose you could say people contact me a lot, but that’s the whole thing, you know? It means everything. If writing back, thoughtfully, to everyone means less sleep for me, that’s really the least I can do. Look, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am that people care enough to write me a letter or care enough about Beach Slang or care enough to even participate in rock & roll. I want to always say ‘thank you’ and I want them to feel how sincerely I mean it.
BM: Having grown up in the 90s myself, there are quite a few bands that I appreciated and do to this day, one of them being Hum. What bands from your past are you still obsessed with?
JA: The Replacements, The Psychedelic Furs, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Pixies, The Smiths, The Clash, Jawbreaker, The Buzzcocks, Senseless Things, Tommy Keene, fuck, man, this list could go on and on for far too long.
BM: I know your debut just dropped just last Fall, but as a Beach Slang fan I have to ask…when can we expect a follow up?
JA: I have half of LP2 already written and home-demoed. The other half is finished in its skeletal state. I just have to work out the guitar overdubs, vocal harmonies and finalizing lyrics. Meaning the hardest part is already sussed. Then, it’s on to teaching the other Slangs and going into the studio. I plan on doing that before leaving for our full U.S. tour in late April. And releasing the thing in the Fall of 2016. We are also recording Mixtape Volume II and I’m recording a Quiet Beach Slang record with my acoustic guitar, a cellist and pianist. Both of those will be available before LP2. Yeah, this year is going to be alright.
BM: I am seriously excited about all of that…thank you. Your debut dropped on Polyvinyl, a label that happens to have Japandroids on. Can you please just tour with them in my backyard? I’ll grill tofu or beef. I hope you like babies and dogs.
JA: You set that beautiful thing up and we’re there. We’re a band of vegetarians so, yeah, tofu works. And we dig both babies and dogs. So, yeah, let’s have a go.
BM: Finally, did any of you ever think Beach Slang would blow up the way it did? Maybe you don’t think you have, but damn…tons of people adore you.
JA: No way, man, not even a little. The most I ever dare to hope is someone might care, that something I write might matter. I hope it does. Thanks for making me think that maybe that might be.
The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is available on LP/CD/Cassette/Download from Polyvinyl Records.
Brian McConville is the Editor And Chief at the great music website brokenheadphones.com and a contributor to clevelandrockandroll.com