Interview: Everything we have experienced has led us to the new Beach Slang record
That feeling of being a misunderstood, teenager caught in a suburban hellhole has been musical fodder for decades. That very feeling also governs that pair of headphones and those few favorite records that made you feel less alone and more understood as the armor guarding you from that four-year war known as high school.
Depending on when you grew up, you probably had those records laced with lyrics of longing for somewhere new and a place to escape the meandering existence of the typical teenaged existence. Maybe for you that band was The Replacements or Green Day, or Jawbreaker, or Jimmy Eat World, and those records seemingly held the key to unlock your freedom from your place in the world.
That sentiment made a return to the modern-day rock music conversation late last month as Philadelphia punk quartet Beach Slang dropped their debut album on Polyvinyl Records, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. Their current tour of North America wraps tonight at Allston’s Great Scott
The music that Beach Slang make feels like the albums of most of our adolescence that connected with each of us and still remains tethered to us somewhere in our heart-strings. For frontman James Alex that record for him growing up was Dear You by Bay Area punk legends Jawbreaker.
“That record really cracked my head open, and really, my heart, too,” says Alex. “I just couldn’t find enough out of that record. I just played it and played it and played it. There’s just something really special about that record. I love everything that band’s ever done, but there’s something about that record that just cut me deeper.”
It becomes apparent in the first few minutes talking to Alex by phone that he’s a heart-on-his-sleeve type of guy who isn’t truly afraid to let the way genuinely feels about something shine through. With influences ranging from The Replacements to Jawbreaker, and in a literary sense, Charles Bukowski, Alex and Beach Slang present songs that feel like something being brought back and refreshed from an older way of writing and recording.
For the band, the road to a debut album certainly felt like a circuitous one. After releasing a pair of critically acclaimed 2014 EPs, Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street and Who Would Ever Want Something So Broken?, the wait seemed never-ending for a full-length Beach Slang album.
“I’m not good with waiting, man,” admits Alex. “I’m really restless when I’m idle. The LP could have been ready to do earlier, but I think the holdup was sort of figuring out who we were going to do this record with. I think that held it up a bit more than usual. It wasn’t preparedness or anything like that. This whole thing sort of feels like clumsy magic; we never saw anything of this happening. It feels like a fluke or I’m cheating on a test or something, right? We were in the fortunate position of a lot of labels and people we respect were talking to us, so we wanted to take our time with that and just feel like we did the right thing. I don’t really use my head to make decisions it’s more like my gut and to that it all felt right. With the label and the people we were working with I wanted to have that same gut feeling.”
That gut check lent itself to the band’s debut full-length: a ten-track compendium of buzzy guitars, heartfelt lyrics, and quick-strike punk-inspired songs of youth that can make a listener yearn for the old days when Johnny Rzeznik was writing songs that weren’t included on the soundtracks of Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage-powered dramas. The record’s first single, “Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas,” is the album’s longest track at 3:19 and is peppered with a bright, shimmery guitar riff that keeps the song’s wheels moving. However, Alex’s songwriting take its best step forward on the album’s two quietest tracks, “Too Late to Die Young” and “Porno Love.” Both — dare they be called this — ballads, feel like they even out the fuzzed out guitar sounds that are so very prevalent on the album.
That heart-on-his sleeve ethos that is so apparent in talking to Alex isn’t absent in the music he and band create either. All of the tracks on The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us have that very same quality stitched into the fabric of them. “Everything with Beach Slang I feel like I’m basically writing memoirs about me and my friends and that’s why I think it has sort of a reflective quality to it,” he says. “I’m thinking of them and relaying all of that good craziness that I’ve gone through and my friends have gone through. I made a really conscious decision with Beach Slang and it was the first time in my life where I had decided that I was just going to rip my little guts open and spill it out. Whether it flies or it falls, it’s going to be honest and I finally have bravado to say ‘Y’know, this is what I want to say and I’m not going to stay guarded about it.’”
That full-of-heart mentality in Alex’s lyrics have found themselves a second home in the form of a tumblr page that the frontman himself curates. The page even features photos taken by Alex throughout his travels.
“A really dear friend of mine, Sarah, is one of these internet wizards and she wrote me one day very sweetly, ‘You write for that kind of community. Kids would really dig it. You should make a tumblr page,’” Alex recalls. “And I’m sort of just a photography nerd. I love digital art. I sort of make my day living designing. All of the Beach Slang stuff I get to do. So I’m always looking photography and all of these visual things. So I have all of these beautiful visual pieces, I should just pair them together with lyrics and see how that goes. It’s been really amazing. I’ve gotten some of the sweetest letters from people about how those little lyric posts got them through a thing. I’ve never really cared about money, really. But when I get a thing like that, I know that I’m doing what I was meant to do in this silly little world. Those are the paychecks to me.”
Currently, Beach Slang is traversing the country on their tour promoting The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. That tour will come to a close tonight at Great Scott. The band is already familiar with the venue after playing there to a raucous crowd earlier this summer.
“We went through there last time and it was incredible,” Alex says. “The energy and vibe into that room was pretty ridiculous. Everybody was sweet and I talked to so many people that night. There’s really just good, really good humans existing there. It was great. People were super passionate and the room sounded great. I can’t say enough nice things about it. It seems really fitting about ending the tour there.”
BEACH SLANG + LITHUANIA + WORRIERS :: Tuesday, November 24 at Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Avenue in Allston, MA :: 9 p.m., 18-plus, $12 :: Advance tickets :: Bowery Boston event page :: Featured photo by Jessica Flynn