Interview with Beach Slang

Hailing from Philadelphia, punk rock four piece Beach Slang are a badly needed shot of adrenaline for a stagnant music scene devoid of any real excitement. Formed in 2013, their debut album The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us was a real statement of intent, fuelled on loud guitars and brash, youthful energy.
2016 saw the release of their follow up: A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings and gave us more of the same – this is a band that demands to be heard.
Keith McGouran caught up with lead singer James Alex ahead of their Dublin gig in the Workman’s Club on Monday 23rd January.

2016 was an eventful year in many respects for the band. Did the rewards outweigh the challenges and are you stronger for the experience?
The longer I’m alive, the more I’m finding that a whole lot of good stuff is born out of struggle. It toughens you. It softens you. It bends your perspective. It expands your head, your heart. Look, every fuck-up is a chance to figure out how to be better. And that’s really all we’re trying to do, you know?

A Loud Bash … was inspired by and written for fans who reached out to you after hearing your music. Is it difficult to translate their stories faithfully and does that responsibility ever become a burden? How has being a father informed your writing?

It can be tough, but it should be, right? Certain things matter enough to sweat and hustle to get there, to do right by them. Oliver has influenced me massively. When I write now, I think of him. I think of what he’ll think when he’s old enough to get it.

I think about him being influenced by the things I do or say or make. I just really want to lay something down that makes him think—“Yeah, my Dad’s pretty alright.”

You took time out after your first band Weston broke up in 2001. Was that down to industry fatigue and what was the spark that led to Beach Slang forming? Was it a case of unfinished business on your part?
I think that had a bunch to do with it. I mean, all that industry junk was making rock & roll muddy and ugly and that was a real bummer. I suppose, I needed to shake that stuff off and get re-baptized or something. Beach Slang was sort of an accidental band. It started off as a recording project, a place to tuck the songs I was writing. I don’t think I looked much past that. Second chances are rare things, you know? But then, yeah, the first EP came out and it connected a bit. I don’t know, man, I suppose I’m too dumb or too in love to quit. And too fucking grateful to give up. Mostly, I just feel really lucky I get to do this.

Here in Ireland we have recently seen several bands split up, simply because traditional revenue streams have been replaced by lesser ones which cannot support younger artists. For all the creative freedom enjoyed by the DIY aesthetic, are you concerned that the new industry model is failing some musicians? Is the Philadelphia scene healthy?
I’m quite certain it is. And Philadelphia is holding itself alright, but there’s always a fear of slipping. I was asked about how to beat things that cheat the scene and I wrote it like this—“Play shows and play them hard, be honest and humble, write things that people will give a damn about. Right? Most importantly, don’t worry about making a profit. Worry about making something so fucking heart-swelling that it makes you not worry about money. Do that and you’re there.” I don’t know. I hope that still holds up. I think it does.

We tend to read about American influences like The Replacements and Husker Du on your music but i see a lot of forgotten bands on your mixtapes, bands like Senseless Things and Mega City Four. Along with the Smithsesque artwork that comes with Beach Slang releases and merch, I’m guessing that UK bands are just as influential?
Absolutely, man, every bit as influential. I suppose Minneapolis bleeds out more noticeably, but, yeah, all that UK stuff really shaped me as a writer, really framed the way I think about music. And, I mean, Townshend is the whole reason I picked up a guitar and started this whole rock & roll bit in the first place.

I notice that you embark on your European tour on the same day that Trump is inaugurated. How do you feel about the path America has chosen to take? As a songwriter, you want to make a connection with your audience but is there an irreparable disconnect between your country people at this moment?
It’s terrifying. Fucking terrifying. And I cannot apologize big enough to the rest of the world. Please know that he and all of his staggeringly backwards, absurdly hateful thinking does not represent the U.S. or the good people who live there. We will break his arrogance. We won’t let him ruin us.
 I never want to believe things are irreparable. I mean, yeah, we’re bleeding, we’re confused, we’re scrambling, but, in that, maybe we can find what’s been wrecking the system. Sometimes things need to be exposed, in mass, to snap ideas into action. This election did that, in a staggering way. It woke a lot of people up. Bad may have won, but good is taking aim.

Finally, best Philadelphia movie: Rocky or Trading Places?
Man, this is a Sophie’s Choice of sorts, but if I absolutely have to pick just one, “Rocky”. I have a forever-soft-spot for underdogs.

Interview by Keith McGouran