Friday, July 17, 2015

Interview: James Alex of Beach Slang, Who Play Asbury Lanes on 7/25

James Alex of Beach Slang at Asbury Lanes in October 2014.

All Ripped Open

We love Philadelphia's Beach Slang around here. Their two 2014 EPs, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? and Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street, were a couple of our favorites from last year. Songwriter and frontman James Alex wears his heart on his sleeve in those songs, singing with the urgency, honesty, and emotion of youth even though he's a veteran of the punk scene through his time with Weston. Beach Slang's live performances are high-energy all-out affairs that only serve to amplify the feelings that come through on the records.

Beach Slang have signed to Polyvinyl Records, and a recently completed full-length is on the horizon. They'll be back at Asbury Lanes on Saturday, July 25th, this time as a headliner; and the show promises to have a "screaming out my lungs with my best friends" feel to it.

I got the chance to ask James Alex a few questions as Beach Slang prepare for their headlining tour. Check out what he had to say about the meteoric rise of his latest band, the Philly punk scene, and more. He even has a few words about our beloved Asbury Lanes.

CDM: Beach Slang are having this kind of sudden moment. After two EPs, you’ve generated a lot of, for lack of a better word, “buzz” and rave reviews. You’ve had success in this business before with past bands like Weston, but was it anything like this in terms of how fast it happened?

JA: It wasn't even nearly like this. Beach Slang has had this really wild whoosh to it, you know? It's hardly lost on me how weirdo and rare that is. So, yeah, I'm riding it, seeing where it lands. My guts are in a perpetual state of cartwheel, I swear it.
CDM: Do you think there’s something different about Beach Slang or the songs you’ve written as a band that made everything click so quickly? Does it feel different to you?

JA: I think the sound happens because I'm all ripped open these days. I had this really honest moment as a writer where I ditched fiction, just kind of cut my heart and let all the junk spill out, without apology. There's power in that. There's connection. Maybe that's what clicks. I'm not sure. Look, we've been auto-tuned and American Idolized more than enough to want something messy and real and human again. As it turns out, that's really all I know how to be. And then, you know, you play those things live and it becomes this sort of good exorcism. Healing hardly has a reason to ever burn out. And so, it doesn't.
CDM: Philly also seems to be having a moment. It seems like I’ve read feature after feature recently about how the Philly punk scene is the most thriving scene in America. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like to be a band in the middle of that? Do you have any fears about what all the attention could ultimately mean -- like Seattle in the 90s or Brooklyn more recently?

JA: It was amazing before all the press came. It'll be amazing after it splits. What Philadelphia does really, really right is it stays honest with itself. Everyone I know, who is making art in this city, does it because it's all they know how to do, because it's really all they're interested in doing. They aren't trend-hopping. They aren't cool-hunting. It's that gritty, romantic integrity that makes it hype-proof.  

CDM: You're the principal songwriter, and the songs on the EPs have this kind of youthful, misfit feel to them. As you enter your 40s, are you reaching back to memories of your younger days in your songs or do you still feel like that same kid?

JA: I think it's fair to say both, right? I mean, I have this really unique perspective now—enough scrapes to have something real to write about, but enough optimism to still throw myself at the lions. Really, man, I'm still that same kid going to basement shows, reading zines, spending everything on records, slashing at my guitar, you know? That's the really great thing about being a kind of misfit wallflower, you look harder for where you fit in, for how to find yourself. I found those things in punk. I still do.

CDM: Does the full-length continue those same themes from the first two EPs or are things going in a different direction?

JA: Those themes will always punch themselves into whatever I write for Beach Slang. It's what it is to me. But, humans are these evolving, little monkeys. I'm no exception. So right, I think there's some sweet moments of that on this record. I mean, as opposed to 4-song EPs, I had the ability to swim around a little more on a full-length. I certainly didn't want it to get one-note-y. I had to mind the feels, man. Mostly, and this will be razor true of every record I write with Beach Slang, it's an honest taping of what's been knocking around in my head since the last EP. There's no merit in calculated art.

CDM: You’ve had the opportunity to open for some great bands recently, and now you’re heading out on a headlining tour. Is that all a carefully calculated part of Beach Slang’s master plan for music industry domination or did the timing just feel right? It’s got to be a different feeling when you’re playing for your own crowd as a headliner.

JA: Haha. Right on. It was about the timing feeling right. Eventually, you have to walk without a net, you know? Yeah, it's definitely a different thing. Like, what I dig about opening is that having-to-fight-for-it-every-night dynamic. That stuff keeps your guts sharp. But, headlining has this really beautiful singing-along-with-all-of-your-friends thing. And that goodness is a heart sweller. And fixes everything.

CDM: The tour is bringing you to Asbury Lanes again. It’s a spot you’ve played several times with Beach Slang. Asbury Lanes is closing for “renovations” in the fall, and its future is uncertain. Can you share any thoughts or memories about the place?

JA: It's punk rock heaven. It is. I've met, hung out, bowled my lifetime high, played my dumb heart out, drank way too much and laughed a whole lot more with the sweetest hearts in the whole world there. It means too much to too many. And those things have a way of sticking around.

CDM: You recently released a version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” that you did at Converse Rubber Tracks. In his review of your first two EPs for CoolDad Music, my buddy Scott mentioned the Psych Furs connection. Can I tell him that he helped inspire you to do that cover? It will make his day.

JA: Richard Butler and the Psychedelic Furs are such a gigantic part of where I dig from as a writer. Scott was the first person to pick up on and write about that. I remember, perfectly, how grin-y I got after reading it. Yeah, man, you can tell him that. And you can mean it.

CDM: Thanks so much for answering my questions and I’ll see you at Asbury Lanes on July 25th.

JA: Thank you, man—for this and everything. See you then. Right on.

Beach Slang play Asbury Lanes with Hurry on Saturday, July 25th. It's an early, all ages show. Doors are at 6pm, and $10 gets you inside. RSVP here.

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