Beach Slang is a band that’s garnered a lot of attention considering that they’ve only released two 7-inches, 2014’s Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street and its companion, Who Would Ever Want Something So Broken? Refreshingly this Philadelphia-based act have built their hype the old-fashioned way, without any gimmicks or marketing teams, which makes sense when you consider that frontman and writer James Alex cut his teeth in the Pennsylvania pop-punk act Weston while drummer JP Flexner and bassist Ed McNulty also play in buzzed about projects such as Ex-Friends and Crybaby. However there’s something indefinable about Beach Slang’s music that evokes the spirit of punk and juxtaposes it into something that’s as brutally honest as it is infectiously catchy.
Beach Slang’s most recent release is a song titled “Too Late To Die Young” featured on the new Lame-O Records’s Strength in Weakness compilation benefitting United Cerebral Palsy.
Tomorrow night they’ll be opening for Cursive at Union Transfer. James called in (from the Cartoon Network HQ in California) to give us an exclusive interview that included his reactions to the band’s Polyvinyl signing, why Beach Slang is a visual art project too, and what it’s like to gear up for one of the most-anticipated homecoming shows I’ve ever seen in Philly. And that’s only Part 1! Enjoy The Eargazm!
Zach: Alright, so I’m going to start with some small talk with you cause, ya know, that’s what you do. So, how’s the weather out in California at the present?
James: The weather’s pretty beautiful. I’d say it’s probably like 70. The sun is coming out and it was pretty hazy on the drive in from Fresno. I’m in LA now… Awe man, it’s just starting to get, like, perfect now… So you’re back home in Philadelphia and we’re out here running around in like t-shirts and shorts, ya know. Feeling like we’re cheating winter or something.
Zach: Yeah, Philly is disgusting right now. Absolutely awful.
James: Yeah, it’s just like tundra – it’s terrible. It feels great to be here.
Zach: So, what are you missing about the city that never showers?
James: [laughs] I miss it. I miss my friends and I miss that kind of stuff, but I gotta say when I see the snow, I’m not missing it all that much. It’ll be nice to go back home and we get there sorta as springtime is kinda starting to come back in, so I’ll be real excited to be there then. It’s my favorite time to be home – in the spring.
Zach: Yeah, the Rita’s guy was outside today. I was like ‘Oh, is
it supposed to be spring now? Is that what this is?’ Cause it’s 10 degrees out.
James: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I don’t know if you saw it on the news. They were fighting that fire in West Philly and fire water was just freezing in mid-air.
Zach: Yeah, that was cool. So, I want to talk to you about the new album a little bit but before I probe you about that, I wanted to know – you guys have been getting some major accolades. Being called “a supergroup.” Being called “the quintessential Philadelphia band.” What does that feel like?
James: It’s incredibly, unbelievably flattering and all that and stuff, right? I mean, I think the thing I’ve been trying to do is – look, you’re not human if you’re saying that doesn’t feel great, right? It’s like you’re doing a thing and it’s nice that everybody’s kind of caring about it. But at the same time, you kind of walk that line where you don’t want to completely feed into that because you know the whole trip, right? As soon as you start believing hype or whatever you want to call it, that’s the beginning of the sort of the downward spiral, right? And I’m certainly not ready for this thing to start coming to an end.
It’s like anything else, right? It’s really nice to kind of get that warmth and that little compliment and things like that, but I try not to pay too much attention to cause I kinda want it to be exactly what it’s been since the beginning. You know what I mean? A couple guys piling into a room and making loud sounds. But what that said, I mean it’s incredibly incredible. It feels really, really great. We’re thrilled – that’s for sure.
Zach: Yeah, I think that – that’s awesome – I think it’s all well-deserved. It’s not just hype, ya know. You guys, you’re old pros – a lot of you – and it’s… I was going to get to this later, but I think it’s really interesting that there’s an age gap in the band. Ya know, because you see a lot of bands with great longevity and success that have that as a unifying factor. I think that part of it is just having a different perspective on the scene and what you’ve seen in Philadelphia. Because, of course, Philadelphia has a hugely buzzed about music scene right now. But I just wanted to know what having these multiple points of reference does for you guys’ process? Ya know, do you guys have different points of reference or do you think you all kinda grew up on the same stuff?
James: Yeah, I mean, ya know I think if you looked at our record collections, they’re pretty similar, right? But there’s still the life gap, where it’s like the way I came up in the scene and the way someone else came up in the scene are different scenes, right? So, there is that sort of different approach. So we have this really wonderful marriage of sort of experience and sort of that bright eyed…kind of…sort of starting the trip, ya know? It’s nice to have those two… we’re covering the spectrum of, ya know, influence and how we look at it and how we do these things and that’s…ya know, it’s really creates this nice like checks and balances kind of system because someone might bring an idea and it sounds really good in your head, but in others it’s a completely different…Like you know when you would get advice from people who come from a completely different walk of life and it’s like “Wow, I would’ve never thought about it like that” and it completely expands your mind? I think there’s – we have that sort of built in, which is really cool. It’s nice… I don’t know. For the age difference and all that sort of thing, there’s a really nice synergy between the three of us. It’s sort of like…you know how it is in like rock and roll, you try to put bands together and it’s difficult, right? This thing just sort of teamed up and it was like sort of immediately right. So, I mean, it’s great. We see it as a huge asset… I mean it’s working, ya know?
Zach: Yeah, absolutely. So, what’s it been like – I mean, I keep saying old pros. You’re not old. You’re pros. I just mean you’ve been out there for a while, that’s all. But what’s it been like to connect with a young label like Lame-O Records for the Strength in Weakness split, with Modern Baseball and Spraynard, The Weaks, Marietta and Hurry that benefited United Cerebral Palsy. What was it like working with these guys who – Eric Osman is kind of a personal friend – and he’s very young. And everybody who works on the staff is really young.
James: That’s right. I adore Eric. When we recorded the first EP, Eric and his family were some of the first people I reached out to. I respect the hell out of them. I mean, I think they come from a very pure place in why they do things and how they do things.
And Eric actually co-manages us. So, everybody just went head over heels for the kid. And that’s – I think a really interesting thing – the same way we’ve sort of talked about the age thing in the band… we’ve sort of built that into our management as well. Like we have two managers: Eric and another fellow, Randy. Randy and myself go way back. So, him and I really come up in a world together, and then Eric sort of anchors that with that finger on the pulse of what’s happening. Ya know, sort of in that younger demographic. It really has this – ya know – sort of the same way we’re building the other thing – a specific feeling though is just being around Philadelphia, looking around at the involvement and just seeing people I really love and respect and truthfully I can’t praise Lame-O enough. Bigger than like a label, they’re just wonderful human beings. And I’m like, yeah, really lucky to be able to call them friends now, which is super cool.
Zach: Well, yeah, I mean 2014 was such an incredible year for Philadelphia and for music in Philly and for Beach Slang. It was the year of Beach Slang, ya know, where things broke and it was all you guys’ debut EPs coming out to extremely positive critical acclaim. For you, what was it like to get signed to Polyvinyl after all of that, to have label mates like American Football and Japandroids? What does that mean to you as somebody who’s admired Polyvinyl as they’ve come up?
James: It meant everything. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been existing in this really wonderful haze since that happened. It feels unreal. It’s been really weird. And the whole Beach Slang thing has kind of felt unreal, ya know, in that sort of way. Cause I’ve been hammering away at this for so long and I don’t feel like I’ve done a whole lot different with Beach Slang but however it works out, ya know, the stars line up or you say the right “Abracadabra” like whatever it is, right, and it just sort of starts to happen. It all felt very dream state-ish. Polyvinyl is a label I’ve adored forever and I still look at the roster and I’m just like ‘Wow, we’re a part of that’. We played in San Francisco and a couple of label people came out there. And I remember bouncing over to them and talking to them and I was just really excited because that day I just happened to go to their webpage and they had our signing on the homepage and I really lit up, ya know, like a kid at his birthday party or something because it was just – it felt like I’m watching it happen to somebody I really love and I’m happy for, and then I remind myself, man, this is happening to us, ya know? Not one second of its lost on me, I feel – how lucky we are. Every friend I have in Philadelphia is in a band that’s amazing. Ya know what I mean? It’s not like…I don’t think we’re better or charmed or whatever this thing is that got us here. I know rock and roll is 50% hard work, 50% complete dumb luck. You know, it’s like whatever reason we’re cashing in on a little bit of life being in the right place at the right time right now or whatever that might be, and that’s not to say that we don’t work hard. I mean, all I do is sit down to write. It is all I do. So, there’s all the sweat and the bleeding and stuff.
But I know a lot of friends who work just as hard and it doesn’t necessarily happen. I’ve worked just as hard my whole life and it hasn’t happened until now, so it’s amazing. You know? I just – I can’t believe we’re on Polyvinyl.
Zach: So, I’m going to ask you stuff about the new album. Feel free to decline to answer whatever is still a secret. But, I have a couple questions. So, your last three EPs felt like cohesive works. They stuck to your respective themes to a certain degree, but just the nature of an LP is very different. You have more room to play with mood and with atmosphere. Would you say that there’s an overarching vibe or a story that defines this LP?
James: Yeah [long pause] the way I wrote the first two seven inches, I mean that was — my heart ripped open. I was like, “I’m gonna tell it and I’m gonna write these songs about things without filter”. That part’s not going to change. I think that I’m going to have the opportunity to sort of wander around the sound and mood shifts a little bit more with a longer piece, so it’s like – I remember a bit back I posted a little sloppy little home demo of something and somebody was like “This sounds like Beach Slang if they crashed with The Jesus and Mary Chain,”
And I was like ‘perfect!’ because I really like Shoegaze, and sort of Brit pop stuff… so the dials will be turned up on that a lot more on this record. I don’t want to fall victim to one trick stuff, where now you did this thing that people are sort of responding to so you’re afraid to write anything outside of that. Forget that, ya know. I want it to be – I want this band to be honest and it’s just from the gut. It’s like the way you feel like that’s what’s being written about. I don’t want – none of it’s like orchestrated or manufactured or pre-thought out. I don’t have time for that junk because then it’s just going to come out and it’s going to feel fake. I mean, the people that are responding to the record – or the records so far – it’s like, ya know, people deserve to be given more credit, right? They know when you’re just sort of trying to sell them junk, ya know? So yeah, that’s what it’s going to be. So I’m trying to write – I have it written already, I have it home-demoed, I know the Polyvinyl guys are stoked on it. I’m really happy about it. So yeah, it’s going to live in that world of the first two seven inches, but certainly it’s going to arch out and flex a bit like stretching out and making – get ‘dimensionalized’ a little bit more. And I want to keep growing it that way, ya know? I don’t want to ever be stuck in a rut. Because then it’s like if we’re going to be the same then why are we still doing it?
Zach: That’s super insightful! Are you going to be creating the album artwork again?
James: I will be. Yeah, I’ve already started banging around some things. I’ve already found a photograph of my friend that I just immediately fell in love with. And I’ve already said to her like ‘Hey, this is going to be the cover’ of the Beach Slang LP and she already blessed it, so that’s the big part, right? Is finding this thing that sort of resonates with me and – I don’t know – I feel that that just sort of symbolizes how the record feels? And it felt that – it had that optimistic brokenness to it that I just fell in love with immediately. I knew it was right.
Zach: That’s awesome. Can you give us a hint about the title?
James: Umm…. Well, I know I can’t say it. But yeah, it definitely will feel like if we start talking about Beach Slang records as like volumes of books, right? It would feel like a natural progression to the third chapter of this little book called Beach Slang. I’m really happy about it. As a general rule, I’m trying to keep song titles relatively short. But with like album titles, ya know, I just adore The Smiths. So, it’s always sort of Smiths-infused – at least in my head. That’s that place where I’m coming from where I want it to be sort of in that linguist arena, but it’s the thing with that photograph. It’s almost as though I’m waiting for it to find me. And in this case I did, right? I have it and I’m so happy about it. I told the band the other day and they were like ‘Oh, that’s it. Don’t change it.’ And I was like ‘But, ya know, something else could come…’ and they’re like ‘No, no, no. That’s the title. It’s incredible.’ So I’m like ‘OK, I hope you’re right’. That’s the thing – honestly – the Beach Slang general rule is that I almost don’t use my head. I just use my gut, right? So if that feels right, that’s what makes the decision. Yeah…
Zach: That’s the way I try to do everything in my life. That’s –
James: It’s the best way to fly, right?
Zach: Cause then you can affirm that it’s authentic and you can feel actualized and confident in your work.
James: Absolutely, man.