On September 23rd, Beach Slang will unleash their second album, ‘A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings’. Back in July, the US band made their live Australian debut as a part of Splendour In The Grass’s massive 2016 lineup, alongside two headline sideshows in both Sydney and Melbourne. Before their Melbourne show at The Corner Hotel, I sat down backstage with the band’s singer/guitarist & “unapologetic optimist”, James Alex (the cool cat with the snazzy bow-tie) for one killer interview.
So James, I’m just gojng to assume that Splendour In The Grass went really well for the band?
It went really well, thanks! We get asked that kind of question a lot, that as were born out of the basement scene, is how do we translate that to the bigger shows but I think we pulled it off. It was this intimate, small room chaos just spread out on festival grounds.
Coming from that basement scene and with your old band, Western, I think it explains how you act up on stage, with your energy, and your movements. That comes from playing shows where the audience is close enough they get your spit on their faces
That’s just it, man, that’s the world that I live in. I’m still learning how to do all of this…other stuff. I handed out water to the crowd at Splendour because I just need that touch due to the distance between us and them. It’s a skill set I’m still learning as we do more of these festivals. I’m in the growing pains part right now.
For sure and on that, Beach Slang has only been a band for about three years now. Which I find really interesting, as you have two EP’s and now two albums. So are you worried that you may inadvertently flood the market with having yearly releases?
You know, I don’t man. Because I only write thirty-minute records instead of massive, fifty-minute conceptual think-tanks. So thirty minutes of music is digested really easily and a year feels about right for me for releases. I just don’t want to be forgotten about. I get what you mean about oversaturation, but I don’t ever wanna feel stale. As I write every day this is what I signed up to do!
Well with writing, you wrote a large amount of new album on the road. With having a deadline and with being on tour during that process, did you ever feel like you had to force songs out? Or did that pressure allow the creative juices to flow better?
Yeah, the pressure helped. One thing I told myself was that I’d never be dishonest. I was holding myself to a deadline, not the label, so if I felt that it wasn’t coming out I wouldn’t lower the bar just to make that deadline. The label thought I was crazy wanting a second record out this quickly. I had never written on the road before and I became very romantic about it, thinking that it’d become this Jack Kerouac poet thing. I went right into the headspace of meeting new people, being in these new cities every day and thinking ‘Why would you not want to write in this environment?’ I think I convinced myself I’m gonna write every record that way. I’ve even started the next one, it’s that kind of trip for me!
Wow, already? That’s crazy, man! Now, when I listen to Beach Slang, it makes me want to listen to The Ramones, Iggy Pop, & The Buzzcocks. Do you think that Beach Slang could become a gateway band for people to discover older bands of that ilk?
Oh man, I hope so! We put out a mixtape earlier and our second one comes out in January and basically what those are is me making a mixtape that Beach Slang covers. Those bands on there are the bands that I grew up loving. I am literally and loudly declaring we are a gateway band. I want us to turn people onto bands that influenced me, as I never want anyone to think I’m inventing any sound; I am just creatively lifting it from my heroes. I’m just trying to carry it forward.
I really appreciate the honesty there, man. Hopefully, the inverse of that happens so in 20 to 30 years time, people can say ‘Oh man, remember that band, Beach Slang? How fucking cool were they?!’
[Laughs] right on, I hope that happens!
I love how the band’s ‘about’ section on Facebook jus reads “Guitar, bass, and drums”-
– “played loudly!” Yeah, if there’s one word I had to define the band with it would be ‘honest’. We just plug-in, turn it up, and play it loud, you know? There’s no marketing plan, no manufactured plastic to it; just a rock ‘n roll band in all of its imperfect glory.
Yeah, I think that translates well and something a lot of people can respect; just four dudes doing what they love. In the press release sent out for the record, you said you wanted to take responsibility for your music and your time on this Earth, and that stemmed from your son being born. So how does that affect your choice in your lyrics and your on-stage actions now? As you get pretty into it at times, do you ever think your son will see all of this one day?
I do man, I do. But I don’t want to doll down these life lessons. The one thing I am trying to do in Beach Slang is saying that you’re here, you’re alive, and this is the one crack you’ll get at it. I don’t want him to follow safety; I want him to follow his heart. That’s what I try to say with this band, so I imagine he’ll see videos of me when he’s older and think “Man, my old man was out of his mind, having a good time. He really lived”. That’s what I want him to take away from it, in whatever way he defines me. It hasn’t changed my approach, just that I am now more aware of it.
Well said, dude. You also speak a lot about the fragility of Beach Slang, and about that now infamous Salt Lake City incident. Since all of that, have you and the band sat down and discussed the band’s lifespan, and how is Beach Slang’s stability holding up?
I rarely make a decision with my head; it’s always with my gut. It goes back to being honest, as I don’t want to fake it and say things you’re “supposed to say”. I want this to be…what it is. The triumphs, the crashes, the scars; all of it! Following that up, I think what we’ve done is patched ourselves up. This band moved very quickly since we started it. We live on the road as we tour almost nine months out of the year, and like any relationship, you notice the dents in the armor. So we never had time to slow down and talk about it. Now, we’ve done that and I don’t say things to satisfy whoever might be listening, but where we are right now, we are so well oiled and in love that I hope this lasts forever. Everything is really perfect right now and it feels great!
Glad to hear it! I think it’s rare to see someone like yourself romanticising music so much. Likewise, you mention a lot of authors and poets in a lot of your interviews, so what started the passion for art and music in general? Was it just wanting to be a writer?
Yeah, I always wanted to be a writer. I always saw myself writing books. So I started doing that, but in my early teens, I got turned onto punk, because of either teenage angst or all that youthful energy you don’t know where to put. So I learned guitar by playing along to Ramones records and with having these pages of pages of written work, I thought I could mash the two together. My songwriting was junk when I started but there’s beauty in that. There’s so much attention to our lyrics and I often describe our songs as two-minute novels about my friends and I. But I’m an unapologetic optimist. It’s not lost on me how stupidly lucky any of us are for having people care about us. I want to keep this on the rails as long as I can, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to keep this thing going.
And through that, you hopefully create that resonation with people. Because with that Salt Lake City show, that fan would have never run after you if she didn’t give a shit about you and Beach Slang. That was almost a proof of concept, I think.
Without a doubt, that’s what it was. You said it so perfectly, man. The outpouring of support I received after that show was so beautiful. I don’t think I fully deserved it, but we all have those moments where you lose sight of the bigger picture. Ours just happened to be on stage. All of that bickering and petty stuff gets amplified in a moment of human reaction, but it all got smacked back into reality when I got that hug from that girl and her saying ‘You can’t leave. We need you’. That gave me some anchoring that I wasn’t as messed up as I thought, that maybe I still had a few things up my sleeve that can connect with people. I hope to run into her again and hug her right back and only hope that it had the same sense of magic hers had for me.
Fuck… that is just such a beautiful thing, dude. You said it once before, that it was a very “Hollywood” moment.
Yeah! People actually think that I made all of that up! Because it all felt so storybook, but I think we all get out “Hollywood” moment.
Well, I don’t think that mine has happened yet, but I’ll be sure to hit you up when I do. I’ll call you up and say ‘James. It happened, man’ and you’ll know, you’ll just know [laughs].
[Laughs] Oh, I hope so man. I’ll just say ‘Right on, Alex, right on’.
Now, I actually hadn’t heard of Beach Slang prior to this new album being announced, and I think it would’ve been a massive shame if you’d called it quits back then as I quite like you guys now! With the album’s title, song names and lyrics, you discuss youth a lot, about the high and energy that comes with childhood. Does that stem from the band’s young age or the romantic way in which you see your own childhood? Maybe both?
…Maybe a mixture of the two, as whenever I write a song I always feel like I’m scoring a John Hughes film [The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, among others]. So all of this coming of age stuff has always resonated with me. I suppose it’s because that’s the first time in your life when you really start to experience independence and freedom. You’re starting to gnaw into life for the first time. There’s real magic in that. I’m living in a state of arrested development by my own admission [laughs]. And that’s what rock n’ roll is; we get to be Peter Pan forever.
I really love the positivity in that. With what you said about when your life starts to become your own, for you, that would’ve been in your teens when you discovered punk rock, yes?
Yep, that’s when it was for me. I mean, I am in my forties now. I’ve aged like a fine wine. Rock music keeps you young!
[Laughs] oh wow, I guess it’s good for the skin or something! But on that, I think about the movie, The Other ‘F’ Word, and with Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus talking about how as a kid, he would leave in the morning with his skateboard and come home at night and his parents wouldn’t know where he’d been all day. That kind of… freedom is captured so well in your music, from the actual musical style to the production and mix of the record, and it harkens back to those punk, power-pop bands of the 80’s and 90’s.
Oh yeah, I love that movie! But that’s all by design, for sure. When we first started making records, the only conversation I ever had with our engineer was ‘I wanna make a live record, just with better microphones’. So we play in a room together, which is very important to me. I just never want it to be “production upped” and have all of this slick…gloop on it where all of its soul is forced out. We never do more than one or two takes on a track. I really want this to be the record where you get in your car, turn the windows down, turn the album up and just drive somewhere. It should sound…real.
So it’s never obvious that there’s a heap of edits and post-tuning or that they’ve quantized the drums so rigidly?
Yeah, you get it, man! I don’t need to explain it to you [laughs]. Hey, do you work as an engineer? Cause you seem to know your shit!
Not quite, but I love that side of the music world & I did a university course for audio engineering, for whatever that’s worth now [laughs]. But sticking with the on-record sound, there’s a lot of distortion on your vocals… but that’s not really emulated in your live sets. So are you striving to fully create that “album” sound live eventually, whether it’s by using a second microphone or by letting the FOH (front-of-house) engineer do their thing? Or will you just let the two formats remain different so they retain their own flavors?
Well, how I cut my vocals in the studio is pretty simple. I sing into your regular microphone, and then I’ll sing through another mic we run that’s draped over a guitar amp. So it gets that natural breakup sound. But on the next tour, we’re having a buddy of ours back home set up an extra amp that we can take with us so that I’ll just have it on the floor and I can add in that vocal sound when I need it. I actually do miss that intentional sound live, I really do miss it.
Ah, cool! I can imagine that once you’ve written and recorded something, and you then re-create it in the moment without all of its elements would feel weird. I suppose it would fly in the face of what Beach Slang do, but you could just have a backing track with the edited vocals on it, but-
But we’d never get away with it! [Laughs].
Exactly! You know, I’ve always wanted to hear Beach Slang on vinyl, as I feel that that’s the perfect format for the band, as it has that “warm”, lively feel that vinyl captures so naturally, as “audiophile” and as pretentious that sounds. But a great example is the drums on the new record, as a drummer myself I can hear the slight imperfections in the snare hits but that all means it’s real.
Dude, that means a lot to the band and myself, for sure! But as I said before, rock music has its imperfect glory. Our approach is that if it were all “perfect” I’d feel like we were doing it wrong.
Like you were acting?
Yeah! With Pro Tools or any other DAW out there, you can make a record perfect rather easily these days. From sampling, cutting and pasting parts, auto tuning, and even when you wanna be honest about it and do a couple hundred takes, you lose the moxie of it. You lose that life, that spark and so we try to catch it when it’s still hungry. If you look at, let’s say a sign, and a machine writes it perfectly. Look at what a person drew and you can see the crooked lines where their hand shook a little. So when we make a record there’s a sense of permanence to it, because it feels like a human being made it.
But with catching that spark on the album, there’s not a big crowd there in the studio with you. So sometimes you must not feel like you can capture that honesty and energy when you’re about to step onstage. When that happens, do you just take a moment to yourself or do you just get on with it?
Well, in the studio if that happens, we just stop tracking and call the session. That recording will be forever, after all. With live shows, rock’s a holy thing for me. But if it lingers, I look around the room and find that one person that’s just…right into it. You can feed off them and it will sweetly punch me back into the moment. Becuase with playing live, this isn’t our show, it’s “our show”, meaning everyone in the room. It’s that cyclical thing. You know when rock bands get that inflated sense of self? That’s always so weird to me, and I’m going to say this with absolute sincerity, we’re literally nothing without people giving a damn about us. They’re the real stars of the show and when that energy is feeding back into us, I can dive into a drum set a hundred times a night and mean it every single time. If you do the thing you love, even on the tough days, you remember why you love it.
Of course! And when you see that “one person” at the show, you come to realize that you were that person at some point, standing right there when you were about to see one of your favorite band’s play live.
That’s it! You never know whom you’re turning onto music that night. I saw The Ramones live when I was a kid, a pre-teen, and now I sing in this band because they did that for me. So maybe someone tonight will see us play and go pick up a guitar and have a really cool life because of a rock show.
And at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, no less! Finally, James, can I just say, I love the sweater & jacket combo! Do you ever get overheated in it?
Oh man, it gets so hot in this. When we played Splendour, it was still daytime and it was sticky. I’ve equated this to my good luck charm and if I don’t have it on, I feel like dangers lurking somewhere near me. I need it. I’ve gotten so stupidly used to it. I wanted it to be like Angus Young and his school uniform, but I hadn’t played a show wearing it all when I first decided, and it was hard at first. But you know, rock n’ roll!
Well, I think if you played a show or a whole tour without wearing it, you’d get a bunch of angry comments online saying ‘I just cannot believe James Alex did not wear the jacket!’
Oh man, I did this acoustic video and I remember the response being ‘he looks weird when he’s not wearing the jacket!’ I mean, I look okay in my big hoodie and tight jeans, come on!
[Laughs] that’s great. So superficial, though! I take it you bought plain old jackets when you were younger just so you can fill them up with band patches?
Oh, totally. Just to go full circle here, it was that time in my life when self-expression took over. The gang of kids I ran with, we were all patches and pins, just taking markers or paint to our jacket to show our support for bands.
Right on. James, we have been talking for far too long now, so we’ll have to leave it there; you’ve got a show to play soon! Thank you so much man, this has been such a great interview.
No problems Alex, that all went by like a breeze! But for real, that was one hell of an interview, thank you so much!
Beach Slang’s terrific second album, ‘A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings’ is out September 23rd. Check out our review of it here.