With their new album, Beach Slang are offering a beacon of hope.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Jessica Flynn.
“There’s a light on these filthy streets where the throwaways get weird and free. Are you in with me?” recites Beach Slang vocalist / guitarist James Alex after much deliberation. “Does it cut you enough. There’s a time to bleed and a time just to fucking run.” Lifted from ‘Throwaways’, the opening track to the band’s debut album, it’s a line that, under protest, captures the essence of ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’.
Trying to channel that Springsteen idea of escape, it’s a song pushing you to let go and “just do it.” There are nine more messages of defiant hope to follow. “What’s stopping us from chasing this thing that’s going to make us our most happy? I write about an audience that’s long been forgotten about in rock’n’roll, the misfits and the outsiders. That’s who I champion. That’s who I come from. That’s the reason I got into punk. That line felt like it was speaking to all of us in that group but it still felt very intimate. We’ve played this song a whole bunch and I still get the hairs on my arms standing up.”
“That’s the one that jumps out at me at first but man, I really labour over these things so I don’t know if I have one line that does it for me,” concedes James. “Every syllable is important to me. Some people write and they’ll make the verse quiet so the chorus can be louder, lyrically I’ve never subscribed to that. It’s all important to me. I wanted to be a writer long before I wanted to be a guitar player or a singer. Words are really big, necessary things to me.”
Formed in 2013 under the advisement of friends, James set about building a vessel for his words. Speaking during the band’s first real break since they released their debut EP ‘Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken’ in the spring of 2014, he’s restless but thankful. “The record’s out soon and everything’s come to this grinding pause. We’re getting ever so close to moving again, which is exciting. We’ve had that time to step back, listen to the record and hear it as a disconnected third party. When you’re inside of it, you’re in a bubble and you can’t look at it objectively. This little pause, even though I’m not good when idle, has been healthy.”
Phone calls have been exchanged between drummer JP Flexner, guitarist Ruben Gallego, bassist Ed McNulty and James. They all agree the record sounds really good and you’d be a fool to disagree. From the scene setting rattle of ‘Throwaways’ through the bone crunching march of ‘Young and Alive’ until the dying cries of ‘Dirty Lights’, it’s a gritty, immersive listen. It’s a continuation of the world offered up by Beach Slang’s previous work but for the newcomers, it provides a warming welcome.
“When you create a new thing, you’re nervous. Here’s a better part of your heart, ready to be offered to the world. I barely slept before the release of those EPs, I can’t imagine how I’m going to feel the night before this album is released. A lot of it comes from the same things that inspired those first two EPs. They were such short bits of the world I’m living in, how can I get it all out in eight songs.”
Realising people weren’t sick of the band after two EPs of figuring it out, Beach Slang decided to legitimise the band with a full length. “I just want to keep moving forward. I get bonkers if I sit around for too long,” James admits before letting slip that he’s already got half of album two written.
Channelling the broken dreamer aesthetic of Charles Bukowski, the writing of a John Hughes film put through the songwriting of Paul Westerberg and christened via a napkin from a bar, ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’ is full of charming affect. “I had the title for this record long before I had any of the songs. I knew it was right for it. Playing in bands is all I’ve ever really cared to do with my life but this is the first time I’ve ever been really honest. Heart on my sleeve, I just don’t want to hide behind anything anymore. If you’re trying to do anything creative, all you want to do is connect. I’ve always kept this protective barrier up over me but what if you stripped this down? There’s something really healthy in baring it all and people seem to really respond to that.”
“At the beginning it was stuff I felt like I needed to write to feel better. Then I felt like I had that moment, this is that voice I’ve been trying to find. From the first time I ever tried to write words, or tried to make a song, the thing I heard in my head was always better than whatever I put down on tape. I could never get the right thing out and that’s a really frustrating process. I’ve banged my head against the wall enough times now. I like what it’s doing to me, what it seems to be doing for other people. I feel like maybe this is the thing I’ve been waiting to find.”
There’s a weathered sense of motivation behind Beach Slang. Commanding you to try without the naivety of an easy ride, there’s a reason people have got behind the band. There’s better things for the band to do than get caught up in the expectation of the game though. “I read things that are really sweet, then file them away under ‘life affirmations’. I want to stay hungry. I still want to feel I have something to prove, which I obviously do. I want to just stay in that realm. I’d be lying if I said I don’t listen to it at all. You can’t help it. but I try to jump in and jump quickly back out of it. I just want to be the guy at home, writing songs, and thinking no one likes them because it keeps me razor sharp, it keeps it important to me.”
Despite the creative mentality that isolation drives improvement, Beach Slang can’t help but lift others up. “People have this notion where they hit a certain age and decide they have to get serious in their life now. ‘Time to put the drums away.’ Even if we drag a couple of people out of that murk and bring them back into remembering the thing they loved when they where 16… man, you never have to give that stuff up. Maybe you can’t do it full time, maybe you can’t hop in a van tomorrow and drive around the country, but how great is it going to feel when you come home from work and turn up your amplifier and just scream out these things that mean a lot to you? Don’t forget how powerful that stuff is. Never retire from being alive.”
That glorious, reckless almost foolhardy idea of never giving up the chase is a treasured one. That glittering hopefulness shines in every broken word on Beach Slang’s ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’ and for good reason. “I’m unapologetically an optimist. That’s a guarded position for most human beings but I don’t know what else to believe in. I have to think that if we get knocked down, we’re going to get back up. I have to trust that if it gets dark, it’s going to get light again. I’m super dumbly into that mindset and I’m offering that out there. If it helps people, that’s great but if it’s not your bag, that’s cool. Go find whatever the thing is that lights you up. With the people that this is resonating with, it’s becoming this really important give and take. This band has really helped fix me up. It’s helped much me as much as anyone.”
Taken from the November issue of Upset. Beach Slang’s album ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’ is out now.