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Interview: James Alex from Beach Slang

Beach Slang Press

It’s been a wild ride for Philadelphia punk rockers Beach Slang who have achieved plenty of recognition in such a short space of time. Forming just a few years ago in 2013, the band went on to release a number of EPs along with their extremely successful debut album in October last year. With their second album charted for September, less than a year since their last major release, there’s no doubt that the band are one of the most committed and hard working in the scene. We talked with the singer and songwriter James Alex about the upcoming album, their thoughts on their upcoming Aussie tour, and what the heck ‘jawn’ means!

To start off, I loved the single that you just dropped, Punks In A Disco Bar, can you tell me a little about the story behind it?

It was just about that feeling of displacement and punching through it. Feeling as though there’s places in the world where we don’t belong, but if you just insert yourself sweetly enough, there’s really no place you can’t make feel alright. 

It won’t be long until you’re sophomore studio album ‘A Bash of Teenage Feelings’ is released, how do you think this compares to your debut album and have you guys evolved over the space of the year?

I mean it just feels like a Beach Slang record. It’s evolved on levels, but it hasn’t taken any wild turns. In terms of the writing, lyrically the perspective was shifted. The first record was me writing stories about me and my friends coming up, but with this record I approached it regarding people I had met touring. So it was sort of their stories, and because a lot of these people came up the same way I did, it was kind of how I saw myself in them; the outsider, the misfit finding punk rock, whatever the deal may be. So it was cool to write songs for them – autobiographical but through a different set of eyes.

So you said you actually wrote a lot of this album on tour, along with the difference in perspective, did that affect your writing?

Yeah I think it did to a degree, because I’d never done that before. I didn’t think it was a skillset I had, but then it became a necessity due to the amount of touring. I tapped into that Jack Kerowax thing, this little troubadour poet, travelling around.

The cool thing that came out of that was getting hit with meeting many different people every day, waking up in different cities – what better atmosphere for a writer to be in? It definitely influenced it in a really good way. I’ve gone from being fearful about that approach to thinking that it’s how I need to write now. Comparing it to how I write at home, in that stagnant environment, I don’t think this record would have come out quite as sharp had I done it that way!

Definitely, and writing in your audience’s perspective, writing on tour would have helped drastically…

For sure, being genuinely affected by people. It’s not like letters or emails or whatever, I’m there, hugging them, talking to them, and seeing that look in their eye. Something really human came out of those exchanges that I might not have gotten had it not been on tour and in person.

You said in a past interview you never want to think that you’re making it, because that’s the recipe for disaster. If that’s the case, what keeps you grounded when you’re touring the world, playing such hugely popular shows?

I think it’s how we define ourselves and see ourselves. For me I try to keep that replacement spirit, one foot in the door one foot in the gutter. I’ve been knocking at this thing for so long, playing the house shows and the basement shows that I just always see myself in that light. So even when it’s a huge show or a big festival I still feel like that snarky little punk rock kid, and that anchors me to my ethics and commitment to the scene that I love so much. It keeps me humble, it keeps me honest, and while it is amazingly humbling to see the band grow, there’s an importance in keeping myself grounded in the dirt of it all.

It’s always a weird thing to see people in bands buy into their own hype or something, that always feel like, “oh don’t do that to rock and roll!” This art form, this medium is so important, and you’re just destroying it in such an embarrassing way. We’re going to try to fight for the good guys, and balance the thing out a little bit (laughs).

Speaking of touring, your first tour in Australia is less than a week away and you’re set to play at the prestigious Splendour In The Grass, how excited are you and what are you most looking forward to? 

Whatever the highest form of excited is, that’s where we’re at! We’re coming down there wildly charged, ready to have at it. We’re super stoked about the shows, and we’ve been communicating loosely with Spring King getting to know who we’ll be playing with, and that’s been awesome.

Splendour just looks amazing as well, and from what I’ve heard it’s incredible, and after that, it’s the basic stuff. All of us surf and man, we never thought we’d get to surf in Australia, as terrible as we may be at it we’re still really psyched. Drinking local beer with local people, getting into some good trouble, staying up late dancing and having fun, being alive – I want to throw myself wholly into these shows and I want to throw myself wholly into the culture. It’s incredible to be able to go that far from home and get to play my guitar, so we’re going to try and make the absolute most of it.

What can fans expect from your live show? Any more sneak peaks into the album?

Yeah I think so man, we had been playing two other songs on our last US tour, so I think we’re going to try to. It’s a new record; it feels like a breath of new life for us. Obviously we’ll play Punks In A Disco Bar but there are a few others that I’d love to bring down there if people will listen.

Well I’m sure fans would love to hear the new material, so I think that would go down a treat! Just to finish this off, you’re the front man of Beach Slang, I have to ask you, is there any Philly slang you can teach me?

Oh yeah, well this works for almost anything, the word jawn. For example, ‘”did you hear that new jawn by so and so”, or you could be at a restaurant and be like, “oh man I had that jawn last week”, it literally applies to anything. If it was going to sum up Philadelphia slang in one word, that would be the prime minster of Philly slang!

Beach Slang’s sophomore studio album ‘A Bash of Teenage Feelings’ will be released in late September.

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Beach Slang Australian Live Dates

Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Splendour In the Grass, Byron Bay
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Get Tickets HERE