Beach Slang’s Loud Bash of Motivational Punk Anthems
A conversation with Beach Slang frontman James Alex is a bit like listening to a motivational speaker. He’s almost impossibly positive, every sentence punctuated with infectious optimism and a genuine drive to live every day to the fullest. He believes, 100 percent, in the power of reaching people through three-chord songs with big-hearted choruses and loud guitars.
It’s easy to get that impression even without speaking directly to Alex. The 10 songs on Beach Slang’s second album, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, out in September via Polyvinyl, are scruffy two-minute punk rock celebrations of misfits and fuck-ups. But contrary to the “no future” philosophy put forth by the Sex Pistols 40 years ago, Alex’s outlook is one of hope and promise. In the chorus of the album’s opening track, “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids,” Alex declares, through a filter of distortion, “We’re not lost, we are dying in style / We’re not fucked, we are fucking alive.” Given the Philadelphia-based band’s near-legendary live shows, rife with Replacements covers and drunken antics, it’s all too easy to picture a crowd of 200 twenty-somethings yelling back those lines in unison.
“This is your life, and it’s happening. Live it all the way. Believe that stuff’s possible,” Alex says of his unapologetic idealism. “People jokingly say I should go into the life-coaching business, and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. I suppose I’m just like that. I’ve seen too many friends that are brilliant or beautiful just get knocked down in life because they didn’t think they deserved better. And I just want to shout it out: ‘You deserve better!’”
We caught up with Alex during Beach Slang’s summer festival tour in Europe, and he explained the importance of human interaction, the positivity that drives him and why the band’s schedule is so relentless. Check out the interview below, and the band's new video for "Atom Bomb"
It’s been less than a year since Beach Slang’s last album, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. Did you have a burst of inspiration after those songs were released, or did you feel a particular sense of urgency?
Yeah, I think it’s urgency, man. For me ... a record a year makes perfect sense. I just get way too restless. I never want our shows to feel stale. I mean, I write 30-minute albums. You can digest 30 minutes relatively quickly. I just want to make sure it never feels tired ... or we’re keeping a thing going longer than it should be going. For me, a band does two things: You write songs and play shows. It’s really not so tough. Even for the guys — for us playing shows and touring, there is a shot of energy when stuff is new and exciting all the time, as opposed to when it’s just the same old set list. So, it’s win-win. People who dig our band get to keep fresh stuff, and for us personally, we stay really engaged in it when it doesn’t have time to sit for too long.
A lot of your songs deal with misfit characters and turning a negative into a positive. Where does that optimism and defiance come from?
I think that’s just the way I came up. I’ve always been a real wallflower introvert. It’s always like, you kind of just feel like you’re in the way wherever you’re standing. I think it was just that, and finding out wherever you fit in. Where I matter, all that kind of good stuff, I found that in punk. When I started meeting people in the scene and going to shows, there was that sweeping comfort that came over me. I suppose what I want to do now is sound the alarm for those who are sort of in that search. I dig the idea of that — remembering getting knocked down, but it’s more about celebrating the getting back up. That stuff just always resonates with me. I like having all of it in the narrative. I like having all of the bruises and the scars. I don’t want to hide that beautiful human imperfection thing. But life can also be pretty fucking glorious. Keep swinging. I guess I’m just an unapologetic optimist.
A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings sounds like a pretty good description of the record. Did that play a factor in coming up with the title?
It’s totally accurate. I literally was asked this question in an interview once: “If you were to describe Beach Slang in one sentence, what would you call it?” And I said, “A loud bash of teenage feelings.” It was just dumb luck, one of those things that falls out of your mouth, right? And you’re just like — you have that hairs-stand-up-on-your-arm moment, and it has that special ring to it. It was just like, “You know you have to call it that, right?”
How important is it to you to have the face-to-face interaction of live performances?
It’s everything. One of the criticisms, if we get it … is that the live shows are pretty unchained, and I banter a lot. But the importance of that is that human connection. You can sit at home and hear the record note-for-note, and it doesn’t have those banter moments or the sweat or the slightly out-of-tune [quality] or balancing a beer bottle on my head, but those dumb moments are why you go see a live show. It’s about all the facets of humanity: the good, the bad, the ugly, the embarrassing. I just want all of that to be there. There’s messaging in that; that, to me, is important. With social media, everyone’s kind of perfected their online personas. And, like, that’s all bullshit. I wanna tear it down and fall on my face or be a mess, or not look photogenic, but know you’re all right in that. I suppose I’m trying to say there’s no need in being that.
With Beach Slang releasing two albums in less than a year and a pretty relentless tour schedule in between, would you say you push yourself pretty hard?
Yeah, for sure, man. I sleep two to three hours a night. I’m in a constant state of mental engagement. Charles Bukowski’s my favorite writer, and I saw this documentary about him and how a publisher asked him to write a new novel. And a week later, he delivers a new novel. And the publisher’s jaw drops, and he says, “How did you do that?” And Bukowski says, “Fear.” I think that’s where I come from. The thing is, we’re so lucky to have this moment, whether it lasts a week or another 10 years. So, whether it flies or it falls, I just want to be sure I have no regrets. I gave it everything I had.
BEACH SLANG on TOUR
9/8 Baltimore, MD The Ottobar
9/9 Raleigh, NC Hopscotch Music Festival @ Cam
9/10 Richmond, VA The Camel
9/17 Wilmington, DE Dogfish Head Analog-a-GoGo @ Bellevue State Park
9/23 Chicago, IL Goose Island Beer Co.s Urban Block Party
10/6 Boston, MA Royale%
10/8 Philadelphia, PA Project Pabst Citywide Festival @ Electric Factory
10/11 Washington, DC Black Cat **
10/12 Virginia Beach, VA Shaka's**
10/13 West Columbia, SC New Brookland Tavern**
10/14 Orlando, FL Blackbooth**
10/15 Jacksonville, FL Jack Rabbits**
10/16 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade (Hell)**
10/18 Nashville, TN The Basement East**
10/19 Louisville, KY Zanzabar**
10/20 Newport, KY The Southgate House Revival**
10/21 Cleveland, OH Grog Shop**
10/22 Pittsburgh, PA Cattivo**
10/24 Columbus, OH Rumba Cafe**
10/25 Bloomington, IN The Bishop**
10/26 St. Louis, MO Old Rock House**
10/28 Minneapolis, MN Triple Rock Social Club**
10/29 Maquoketa, IA Codfish Hollow**
10/30 Omaha, NE Reverb Lounge**
10/31 Kansas City, MO The Tank Room**
11/01 Fayetteville, AR George's Majestic Lounge**
11/02 Oklahoma City, OK 89th Street Collective**
11/4 Austin, TX Sound on Sound Festival
11/5 Mcdade, TX Sherwood Forest Faire
11/7 Glasgow, UK Mono
11/8 London, UK Scala
11/9 Leeds, UK Brudenell Social Club
11/10 Brighton, UK The Haunt
11/12 Brussels, Belgium Witloof Room
11/13 Hamburg, Germany Knust
11/14 Hanover, Germany LUX
11/15 Berlin, Germany Lido
11/17 Leipzig, Germany Conne Island
11/18 Bezirk Ottakring, Austria Chelsea
11/19 Winterthur, Switzerland Albani
11/20 Munich, Germany Ampere
11/21 Muenster, Germany Sputnikhalle
11/22 Cologne, Germany Gebaude 9
11/23 Paris, France La Maroquinerie
11/25 Barcelona, Spain La 2 d'Apollo
11/26 Madrid, Spain Moby Dick
** w/ Bleached