By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Beach Slang.
Sometimes you have to walk away for a little while to realize what it is that you want out of something. The virtue of separation from a subject to gain greater perspective is what James Alex of Beach Slang is realizing right now.
As the former guitarist of Southeastern Pennsylvania punk outfit Weston who broke up in the early aughts, he’s trying his hand now as frontman of a more seasoned, rock-driven band. The Philadelphia “supergroup” of sorts made a big splash in the indie/punk community back in May with the release of their debut EP, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? and has already hit us with a second EP, Cheap Thrills On a Dead End Street.
It’s up to you to deicde whether or not this explosive introduction was an accident, as it seems the band is coming from the right city, with the right members, at the right time. But Alex assures us that the Replacements-heavy sound was definitely thought out and calculated, which in a way is reassuring, as it’s nice to hear a band who gives a shit that their guitars are in tune. BTR was able to speak with him as he was coming off work as a graphic designer (just look at their album covers, they’re beautiful) and planning out their next few months.
In an effort to avoid the talk of “calling it a comeback,” we’ll just say that the guys in Beach Slang are a little bit older, have been in touring bands before, and are currently playing for and playing with kids who are much younger than them. Yet somehow they’ve managed to continue writing music that is accessible to people of all ages, which is evidenced of the success they had on their latest tour with Modern Baseball (also of Philly), whose fanbase is primarily comprised of kids that were just born when Weston was starting up in music.
According to Alex, the band had a “super momentary concern” of that fearful question, “Is their audience going to care about what we do?” But that when they got out there, the tour went “swimmingly.” Alex owes this all to what he considers to be the parts of rock n’ roll that will never, ever get old.
“The cool thing is at its core, it’s just sort of like [rock n’ roll!], primal and animalistic. When we first play a show, kids, regardless of age, you’re not really digesting the lyric at that point. You’re just tapping into a feeling and an energy and a release. I think that’s what happens for us and it connects, right? I think the thing we do is we plug in and there’s no script, there’s no forethought about it; it’s like a rock n’ roll show. It could be brilliant or it could be a car crash but that’s why you go to see a live show and not listen to the record,” says Alex.
Beach Slang really did not begin when Weston ended, but more just when Alex felt he had enough to say to start something new. Alex had spent the winter before the Who Would Ever… EP was released in California writing and working on music, but then when “things started to happen” he realized he had to go back home to Philadelphia.
He says that in between the two bands “I had always been writing,” and that the time spent at home was “carving out and pushing through experimentation with sound.” This is to say that how the world perceived the sound of their first EP was due to all of the hours he logged working with that sound.
Alex’s previous band, Weston, came up during that glorious period in the early-90’s when East Coast punk rock was still underground and hanging out in basements with bands like The Bouncing Souls and Lifetime as Weston’s peers. They achieved a sort of “local success” in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania though never “made it big” in the traditional sense.
They made it enough to amass a cult following though and some of that has even spilled into Beach Slang’s fan base. He clocks the number in at about “30 percent” of Beach Slang fans who were previously invested in Weston, but that “the majority of people getting into Beach Slang really have no idea or maybe heard of Weston in passing.”
That being said, his new band doesn’t succumb to the branding of the “ex-members of…” tag that some bands use to develop a bigger following. Not that Alex is ashamed, or anything.
“Man, I’m incredibly proud of how I grew up being in that band but I never want to use anything as a crutch, right? I’m writing things with this band now and I kind of want it to either stand or fall on its own merit, you know?” says Alex on his avoidance of being locked into prior work.
One of the strongest sonic characteristics of Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? is the sheer volume and expanse of the guitar sounds. This wasn’t part of a decision made in haste to just bump up the guitars last minute, it was carefully chosen and has come to define at least that one EP, if not the whole band. In the tradition of any great rock act anyone could name, Beach Slang decided to keep their chords open and ring out. Alex gets very enthusiastic as he discusses how the texture came together.
“I’m using a capo these days so I can play open, jangly chords in whatever key I wanna write in. Apart from The Replacements and stuff like that, I’ve always been enamored with ‘90s Brit-pop and just those big walls of guitar and shimmering open chords. I really love that stuff. If Beach Slang wasn’t going to be like the Replacements-esque band, I was gonna go shoegaze with it. But yeah, that big open guitar sound, that’s absolutely by plan,” says Alex as he (presumably) gazes longingly at his axe.
With Cheap Thrills On a Dead End Street recently released on September 25th digitally, and seeing a vinyl release this month, Alex is mapping out the band’s future in relation to these two releases. He sees them as a “considered collective” as opposed to two separate, independent releases.
“If we would’ve started off right away and the first thing we recorded was a full length,” he continues, “it must likely would’ve been these eight songs.” He even designed the album artwork for the two EP’s to be “related,” not to mention the continuous themes of the songs.
As his audience has found out time and time again, nothing under Alex’s control is a mistake. It’s everything else that is out of the reach of his hands and muses, and we’ll see how they play out in the future. He leaves it to the audience to make the choice about the difference between the two:
“I remember a kid wrote in and it was kind of like one of those, ‘Beach Slang…what am I missing?’ The deal with that is, if we’re your type of band, you’re missing a lot. But if we’re not your type of band, you’re not missing anything.”
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Check out Beach Slang’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.