Beach Slang: Important Art & Universal Ideas
It’s hard to discount a band as honest as Beach Slang, where gimmicks and ploys are traded in for a brutal encapsulation of truth – one that deepens your understanding of punk and freedom, listen after listen. Their new record, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, has just been unleashed unto the scene, and we had the pleasure of listening to frontman James Alex uniquely articulate why it’s all about staying alive and not just existing.
In light of the fact that people are so crazy about Beach Slang – especially in the lead-up to the new album – has your outlook changed since you guys almost broke up at your Salt Lake show recently?
Yeah, that was a real sort of… It was this weird little wobble that we had. What happened after that – and I documented this – but someone came running down the street and she gave me a hug, and she said “please don’t go away, we need you”. And you know, I didn’t grow up with a lot of self-worth. And I did think, for somebody to say it to me, so straightforward and so raw and so honestly, I just kind of stopped and re-evaluated the whole deal. It was really beautiful. It was like that was the first day of the rest of the time I have alive. And I think I needed it. You know, she came around and said the right thing when I needed to hear it. And I’m hoping I can get back there someday soon and give her a magic hug back, you know?
This thing is important to me. I hope it lasts forever. I think the good thing that came out of that is that we were able to recognise the kinks in the armour, file those things down, and get it right. And right now, we’re just so well put together that it just feels pretty sweetly and softly invincible.
You mentioned the issue of self-worth. Do you feel worthy of your success?
I suppose I’ll always have troubled feelings – I don’t know. This, to me, is such a lucky, beautiful, perfect life to be able to live: it’s hard to think you’re worthy of that. Do we work hard? I feel like we work really hard. But I suppose I would never not be humble enough to think that warrants us deserving this. I guess I’ll always feel lucky more than I feel deserved. However, within that luck I’m going to continue to work every bit I have. It’s not lost on me how often this doesn’t happen.
The record is called A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, but you’re not a teenager, right?
Our band’s pretty scattered out in age – it’s like 20s, 30s, 40s. For me, it’s almost metaphoric or symbolic. When I write songs, I always imagine I’m scoring a John Hughes film – all that great coming-of-age stuff that I love, in a film with John Hughes or literature like The Perks of Being A Wallflower. All of that stuff is plugged into me. And with A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, to me, it’s like that age where you first start discovering freedom, or finding your voice, or stretching your sense of independence, or what you are, what you might be – it’s just like this incredible time where it all sort of rushes into you at once.
You’re becoming a master of your universe. There’s beauty in that. And I just suppose it’s a bit of a reminder, whether you’re 16 or 86, don’t lose that. That’s that spark that keeps you, you know what I mean? I’ve seen a lot of friends of mine compromise the things they love because they were like “well, it’s time to grow up” or “I’ve just gotta go do this job I hate”. And it’s like, live, don’t exist. Right? I suppose when I see that in them this is just that little thing where I kind of wanna log in this little love letter like, “you can still be everything you wanted to be when you were 15, when you first picked up a guitar and got turned onto The Ramones”. Don’t let that be shaken loose because somebody told you at 34 that you have to.
“You can still be everything you wanted to be when you were 15, when you first picked up a guitar and got turned onto The Ramones…”
You’ve said that the record is about the kids that come to your shows and their stories. Are there any that you want to highlight specifically?
The most personal song for me in terms of telling the story of someone who has becoming a very dear friend of mine is the last song on the record, ‘Warpaint’. It’s about, like…people hit stages in their lives where they’re trying to figure it out, and stuff gets dark. You sort of almost get blinded to the fact that light eventually comes back out. It always does, right? And people lose sight of that sometimes. Sometimes there’s an easy solution for that; you can take a handful of pills and you don’t have to deal with it anymore. I’m glad she punched through that. I just wanted to write something to remind her: “don’t do that again, because we fucking need you here”.
I think that was the one where I felt like I tore myself the most open. It’s why it’s so stripped down – it’s just me and a guitar. I remember saying to the engineer in the studio “I just want this to be like I’m sitting in her room on the edge of her bed, she’s sitting next to me and I’m playing this song to her”. So yeah, that song would be the one I’d shine a light on and want to talk about. The most personal song on the record for sure.
That’s really nice. There’s a huge emphasis on youth on this album, and there’s also a song about wasting it: ‘Wasted Daze of Youth’. What’s that “wasted” part about?
I say this a lot but it’s just like, this is that little Perks of Being a Wallflower stake that sort of resides in me, this is life and it’s happening. Live it all the way. Don’t be huffing your last breath and having this conversation with yourself, “I wish I would have [blank]”. Do the thing that’s going to prevent you from having that conversation. Don’t look back and sort of have that “I wasted it when it was all there” moment.
What do you want the kids that you’re representing on the album to learn from it, if they took it away and listened to it and came out of that experience with something? Is it that?
That’s a really great question and I suppose it’s two parts, I mean, the first part for me would be that rock and roll is a very necessary thing. By rock and roll I mean plug in, turn up, play loud and play honest. We don’t try to fake it, it’s kind of like Beach Slang is the band you could be. I learned to play guitar listening to Ramones records. If you were to put on Zeppelin or Bowie, those records felt other-worldly to me, as if they sort of descended from heaven and they were here to write music. But when I heard The Ramones and got turned onto punk rock I was like “I could start a band”. And hopefully when people hear our records they have that thought, “this is a thing that I could do”. So I dig that, I dig that there’s an attainability to what we do. That would be part one, rock and roll is still there in its most honest, stripped down format. And that can matter.
Secondly, it’s the whole thing I said about life. There’s this great Bukowski quote that I sort of liken to this message, he said we’ll “live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us”. It’s in that for me. Maybe this is like the soundtrack for the next great charge of your life where you’re just gonna do the thing, whatever the thing is that you wanna do. Go do it. So that you’re not having that conversation with yourself later in life. This is your life, it’s happening, live it all the way.