Beach Slang have had their ups and downs, but with a new album influenced by Britpop, what else would you expect?
Words: Martyn Young.
Beach Slang’s rise from forgotten punk rock also-rans to one of the most exciting new bands of the last few years has been one of rock’s most heartening success stories. It also prompts new challenges and possibilities for band leader James Alex though, a man for whom the rock’n’roll flame burns bright and who is prepared to carry it until the bitter end.
James had been building up to the release of Beach Slang’s 2013 debut ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us’ all his life, distilling almost twenty years of formative rock’n’roll experience, emotions, feelings and stories into one blast of a debut album. Now, though he had to find inspiration from elsewhere as the breakneck rise of Beach Slang accelerated ahead of their forthcoming second album ‘A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings’.
“This was a unique one for me,” he begins, “given how much we’d been touring. I was presented with the challenge of writing on the road. It’s the first time we ever did it. To be honest, I didn’t know if I could. It worked out great though. I tried to tap into that whole Jack Kerouac, poet troubadour thing. I think something cool came out of it. There’s something invigorating about writing when you’re in a different city every day meeting different people, getting that energy of the live show every night. It just surrounded me with interesting things to write about.”
The lack of deliberation time or ability to prepare beforehand gives the record a sharpened directness that stems from sudden bursts of inspiration. “As we’re travelling around places, we’re inspired by a person or surroundings or something in motion,” says James. “It was a case of, let me grab the guitar. It was those nice moments of inspiration punching you in the gut. I was able to translate that immediately.”
The album title itself stands as a manifesto for Beach Slang and everything they represent. No longer just writing about his own friends and experiences, James was now writing about a wider audience, people who’ve fallen in love with his songs and his band. The devotion he encountered as he careered across the globe playing shows spilled out into the songs on the album. “With this record all these songs were about people I met touring on the first record. There was a beautiful awakening that came from that. Seeing myself through their eyes. Being younger again, finding your voice and self-discovery. That’s where the title just felt right. It’s tapping into the things that are going to light you up for the rest of your life.”
For James there was none of the standard music industry pressure that comes with following up a well-received debut. Instead, he felt a different kind of responsibility toward the audience that now held the band so close to their hearts. “The letters I get or the conversations people have with me at shows are so raw, honest and vulnerable,” he explains. “If these songs I’m writing are eliciting that kind of response and people have the courage to rip themselves that wide open then I never want to let them down.”
The communal relationship between the band and their fans is amplified on the album as James directly addresses them on the call to arms of ‘Young Hearts’. Beach Slang exist for “the nothing kids, the restless and the forgotten.” The Beach Slang shows that have informed the making of the album are truly transcendent occasions – not only for the audience but for the band as well. “At our shows I say this isn’t our show, it’s ‘our’ show,” asserts James. “If Beach Slang is a clubhouse or a church the neon sign on the front says all are welcome here. I mean that. I love the people who connect with this band because there is no signature definer to it. It’s all over the place.”
Beach Slang’s early EPs and debut was that they instantly sounded like them. Their music sounded relatable, heartfelt and searingly honest and it rocked. It rocked really fucking hard. This time around, it’s even more direct and sharply honed with James mining a few different cherished influences. “I started to borrow from my love of shoegaze, Britpop and that kind of stuff,” says James. “I’ve loved those bands for forever. I think now I’m able to spread out a little more. Now we’re on LP2, if I just stay in that wheelhouse things will get boring and stale. Here are all these records I love so now it felt right to move into those sounds. I’ve always adored those bands like Ash, Supergrass and Chapterhouse but now I’m finally able to tap in and find out how it is they do that. I can pull from that in a way that respects what they did and not just some dumb imitation.”
There’s no doubting that Beach Slang are an intense group, and music really matters to them. James frequently invokes spiritual imagery when talking about the band and the magical power of rock’n’roll: “When I write songs it feels like a baptism, but when we play live it’s an exorcism. Just bleeding it out and cleansing ourselves.”
That intensity means Beach Slang constantly live on the edge. They are not rehearsed, polished or refined. Sometimes this spills over, as on the night in Salt Lake City earlier this year when they had an on stage argument that led to people speculating that it might signal the end for the band, something that James is quick to scotch. “It was wildly blown out of proportion,” he says. “It’s nothing different than a lot of bands go through. We had our little eruption on stage. We just had a bad day and a little wobble. We thought we were The Kinks for 40 minutes and we fought on stage. We internally healed so quickly.”
It’s an experience the singer is quick to turn into a positive. “If there’s one word I would drape this band in happily it would be ‘honest’. Honesty is not just the good and the beautiful stuff; it’s also the hard and the bruised stuff. That was a night of tough stuff. I believe that it’s okay to show those kinds of vulnerabilities.”
“Rock’n’roll is a haven for emotional, erratic, misunderstood folk,” he adds. “We’re human beings and allowed to have vulnerabilities and collapse. We get back up from that collapse and fix it. We become better for it. Things feel incredible now.”
It’s like James sings on the opening line of the album: “Play it loud, play it fast, play something that will always last.” That’s Beach Slang’s rallying cry, and they’re going to sing it louder, prouder and more chaotically than ever.