Beach Slang’s new album A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is out now via Polyvinyl and Big Scary Monsters.
‘That was the best moment of my life’ says the guy in the Replacements t-shirt who’s just clambered off stage and back to his mates. He’s just after singing The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ at the invitation of Beach Slang. James Alex, the band’s charismatic front-man overhears him. “That’s what it’s all about” he tells the crowd, “next time we’re back in Glasgow you come back up and sing with us again, you can’t have enough best moments of your life.” It’s a sentiment that sums this band up, the thrill of screaming guitars, the romance of their punk rock sensibilities and living out your dreams.
James Alex is not a difficult man to interview. The mere suggestion of a question and he bursts into life explaining not only the answer to the question but the answers to several others as well. His bubbling enthusiasm is infectious, he’s open and honest and entirely lovable. Every time I’ve ever written about Beach Slang I’ve made the same observation. The sound, the lyrics, the imagery, it all comes so close to sliding into cliché but it never does because it’s impossible to believe that Alex is anything other than 100% genuine in what he says and does.
I ask how they’re getting on being back in Europe. “Today’s day four but every night’s been amazing” he explains. “We did the first two in the UK and we were in Dublin last night. I’m of Irish heritage and it was my first time there, Dublin on a Monday night and it was crazy and beautiful. Somebody there said to me ‘We’re your Irish family, welcome home’ and my heart did little explosions in the sky, it was really lovely. I talked to my mom in the morning before I left the hotel and she just told me to take in everything, remember these are the streets your grandparents walked. I got out on the streets, just kinda wandering around the city and I took it all in so much. That show was so lovely, so raucous. We’ve been a band for about two and a half years but I’ve just been wanting to visit there. I dreamed it would be everything I wanted it to be and it was y’know?”
I first saw Beach Slang in Glasgow about a year before tonight’s show. That night Alex was pretty much staggering drunk, spending more time talking between songs than actually playing them. It didn’t stop them playing a great set. Tonight’s set seems less alcohol fuelled but it’s no less thrilling. They definitely come across as a band that don’t exactly take it easy on the road, a night in Dublin wouldn’t be a quiet one. “God yeah, I’ve been drinking since that show. Dublin’s really good fun. I got up this morning and there were so many broken beer bottles all around our Sprinter and we’re all like, that’s a Monday night? It’s wild, we were really impressed. Even when we took the ferry over people were just getting hammered on the boat and we’re like whoa… I mean I drink a decent amount but I really felt like a rookie y’know.”
It’s been a turbulent ride for Beach Slang for a relatively new band. Two EPs and two albums in not much over two years. A shifting band line-up (Half of the band at tonight’s show are very recent additions), the well-publicised loss of a guitarist resulting in postponed tours, it would seem entirely reasonable if this band’s career had stuttered but here they are on the road again. How happy is Alex with the band’s current status and what’s the ambition going forward? “In terms of band growth, if this is as big as it’s ever gonna be we’d be happy but we certainly hope there’s more to come. I think our expectations are so managed and we’re so humble that it’s kinda like, we’re getting to tour the world because we play guitars. We’d never think we’re good enough to be career musicians. My fear is that people will just stop liking these songs I write so until that happens we’re gonna try to see as many places and meet as many people as we can. Hopefully that’s a long time off but if it isn’t I’ll go back to being a graphic designer and thinking about all these friends we’ve made all over the world. That’s a really beautiful thing.”
This line of questioning and consideration of Beach Slang’s position in the world inevitably leads us into politics, in particular the debacle of a certain Donald Trump. “It’s so strange, The US right now is in this horrible state, we’re all so fearful, terrified and angry. I remember walking around Dublin yesterday with Charlie who sells our merch, she’s my best friend and I was thinking it’s really amazing and beautiful and simple how alike we all are in the world. We just all wanna hang out, raise our kids, make out on Fridays, maybe dance on Saturdays, all these really simple pursuits and then there’s all these megalomaniacs that get in the way of that and we’re stuck with them. We’re just all so similar and even though our country’s kinda fucked for the next four years I think that good people will be ok y’know. We’ll make it out cos at the end of the day we’re all kinda chasing the same things, we all wanna smile at least twice as much as we frown. Life’s pretty simple and I suppose egos get in the way of that but I think there’s enough of us on the ground that we’ll be ok, I hope so.
Beach Slang arrived in the UK for a show in Bristol on Friday 20th January, the day of Trump’s inauguration. Whilst it’s hard to avoid anywhere I wonder if there’s a bit of relief to be out of the eye of the storm or any surprise at the reaction over here and internationally in general. Alex says “We were on the ferry and this old lady, I’m guessing she was about 85, was just like ‘Donald Trump you’re a fucking nob,’ in this beautiful big Irish accent and I thought I’m so happy we’re here now instead of home. It kinda put it into perspective. Even though he’s now our boss it didn’t feel like it because we feel like a joke to the world and that old lady helped humble his position to us.”
We discuss the similarities with the US election and Brexit. It seems we live in this massive echo chamber, we listen to similar music, read similar articles, follow similar stuff on social media, generally fill our lives with like-minded people then we feel the pain like a branding iron to the skin when results don’t go our way. James feels much the same and his thoughts turn towards family, “I say this all the time but I’m on tour about nine months of the year. We live in this bubble of what we see the world could, or should be. When we’re forced out of that bubble and we go home it’s like, there’s a lot of racists in America and it’s completely fucked up right? But Beach Slang shows, the place I try to write songs from, it’s all really soft people, gentle people who see the world in a way that I get, and then we go home and it’s not that same way. It makes me feel like I’ve been knocked over. I’m trying to figure it out but I suppose I have the cheat’s way out of going back on tour where everything feels safe again. At the same time my wife and my son are at home and I’m just like oh god. We just had a beautiful eight years with Barrack Obama and I really wish he was the first president my son knew. He’s 21 months now and unfortunately he’ll become aware of Donald Trump and I’ll make sure I tell him it isn’t always like this. In 2020 it’ll be Bernie Sanders and I’ll tell my son that’s ok, you can subscribe to what people like him believe in but right now? Please just listen to me and your mom.”
Did you feel encouraged by the world’s reaction to the inauguration? The Women’s marches in particular? “Without a doubt” says James, a tone of hope and admiration clear in his voice, “with all the protests and marches that have been going on in the US, Trump won by an electoral vote, it’s a bit antiquated, he didn’t win by a popular vote and I think we’re hell bent to remind him of that, remind the government of that. All of my friends back home are involved in protest marches right now and that’s probably the only reason I’m sad not to be home. I’m really glad to be here where I don’t really have to see his fucking face. But even here, it’s really encouraging to see all these marches in the UK and around the world, right on y’know?”
Back to the band and how’s life in a van? Are you ready to kill each other yet over what’s playing on the Sprinter stereo? “Ed sits up front with the driver and listens to podcasts, the rest of us are pretty much parcelled off.” Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is apparently podcast of choice. “It’s intense” confirms Ed from the back of the room. I think we’re talking proper history here, nothing to do with hardcore music, “Marshall (as in the amplifiers) hooked us up with nice headphones so we can usually put them on and be alone.” I ask further about the deal with Marshall that Beach Slang have, how does the corporate side of it make you feel? Alex calmly explains, “It would feel like a corporate thing but Grace, our rep at Marshall, is so sweet and so down with what we do. She got the first Beach Slang tattoo. Had the deal not come from that sort of organic place I might have felt like, oh-no, what are we doing here? I’ve also been playing Marshall my whole life anyway so it feels very pure. We would absolutely never side with a thing we didn’t believe in.”
Beach Slang fans seem keen on tattoos, the band post many photos of fan skin art on their social media. I find this kind of behaviour intriguing, probably quite predictable for a band like Beach Slang with their anthemic approach to choruses and lyrics. I show off my own Sleater-Kinney tattoo (“Right on” says James) and ask how he feels about this aspect of Beach Slang’s disciples. “I just try to write things I feel, and I guess people think some of it’s worthy of permanent ink. I think about it like this, if you have a Jawbreaker tattoo or Smiths lyrics I get that, totally. If you have a Beach Slang tattoo I’m totally floored. Before I played guitar or even cared about music I wanted to be a writer so I suppose I care about words a whole lot so to see these tattoos, it means the world to me.”
We go for the light hearted finish and I shout Ed and Charlie over to join the conversation. Right, you’ve got thirty seconds, name as many bands as you can with the word Beach in their name. “Beach House!” they all yell in unison immediately. “Beach Boys” shouts Charlie after a few seconds hesitation. “How the fuck did I not get that one first?” retorts James. C’mon guys there’s dozens of them. “Beaches?” asks Charlie hopefully. “No, that’s just your favourite film, the Barbara Streisand one” says James, everyone laughs. It draws an interesting, if somewhat corny, parallel though. When Beach Slang visit your town you know what you’re going to get and it’s never anything short of a 100% genuine punk rock show delivered with integrity, belief and no shortage of great songs. They are the wind beneath a lot of people’s wings. As James Alex would like to say, it’s a beautiful thing.
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