James Alex from Beach Slang is unrelentingly positive. Even when all evidence points to just giving up, he somehow spins the negativity into an energy that’s infectiously optimistic.
On Friday, October 21, in Cleveland, Ohio, as I talked to Alex and I looked him in the eye, I had to question how he’s done it without falling apart. To summarize, he had a son while touring 18 months ago, he endured on-stage turmoil with bandmates in Salt Lake City in April, a drummer was dismissed subsequently and on the day of their new tour was to begin guitarist Ruben Gallego was dismissed from the band because of sexual assault allegations.
That would break me down. That would break you down. That’s a lot.
“We had two choices,” said Alex. “It was like cancel the tour or I come out alone. I felt like there was an importance to be here and for me the shows are incidental. The reason I’m here is to talk to people and have them talk to me. Let’s figure it out together.”
In Cleveland, here Alex was; alone (for the most part on stage). Plugged in, but playing solo, save for when he invited any audience members who knew how to play bass or drums up on stage to play with him (and some did).
Standing there alone, Alex looked free to play to the crowd and their whims. Want an old Beach Slang song? Sure. Covers. Sure, he will do some Pixies, Replacements, and Jawbreaker covers. Stuff from the new record, you got it.
I had never seen anything like a someone just playing fully electric by themselves, and I don’t know if I fully liked it (I prefer Beach Slang as a full band), but you could tell this was Alex doing what he felt was right. He puts every ounce of his feelings into when he performs.
And it’s those feelings that drive Beach Slang’s new record A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings. The record touches on familiar themes of being young and alive, while also being a bit darker and more introspective in other parts.
“I think those sort of feelings of being alive and wonderment and pushing and charging into life, I just feel like those never have to go away,” Alex said.
“I suppose I clutch to those pretty hard, I suppose rock and roll has allowed me to be Peter Pan-sque. But when you start peeling it back I think by me putting teenage in the title it’s a bit misleading. A lot of interviewers have brought up to me how much I brought up life on the first record and death on the second one. I had this awaking and realization that I’m not going to live forever.”
“Sound wise, I wasn’t thinking wildly off. When you put it into perspective, I wrote it and we recorded it six months after the first record came out. We’re still in that and finding that sound. Sculpting that kind of thing. But I did take some things I wanted to do to make sure we aren’t xeroxing some things and pushing for what could come. A bit more of the shoegaze stuff I love is starting to show itself and the British pop stuff, so I definitely made a decision to start introducing more of that stuff.”
Alex also shared that this won’t be the last time you hear from him by himself.
He has plans to do a side project from Beach Slang and also a “Quiet Slang” record acoustic record.
“I’m going to do this offshoot sort of thing that’s going to be a lot to be a lot more of that (writing for his current experience),” Alex said.” So I’m trying to see how I can bring that into Beach Slang, which is a world now that I almost fear if it would abandon that sort of reckless youthful zest. Would people be like ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’?”
“I get letters and talks all the time from people about how much we mean to them. I don’t want to abandon that feeling or those people who have made it mean something. So you have this luxury as a creative person to just start another thing that’s completely unrelated.”
“I also love doing the Quiet Slang thing and I’m cutting a record in December with me acoustic and a cellist and a pianist. And it was an idea pushed ahead by people who liked the NPR Tiny Desk and asked me to record it.”
Beach Slang gets a lot of comparisons to The Replacements and a lot of the drama Beach Slang endures, naysayers chalk up to just constant cribbing of The Replacement’s script.
“I think people who don’t like Beach Slang saw that as a moment where they can kick a band when they’re down,” Alex said. “And look, that’s cool. Everyone has their own opinions and if that makes you sleep better at night that you got to kick a wounded puppy, great. But I think what people who are negative miss and aren’t seeing is how much love, support and beautiful stuff also swells over you. And that happened.”
“I’m totally cool if people don’t dig what we do. But it’s like go find the one you do dig. Go find the one that lights you up and sets you on fire. I guess I’ve never understood the ‘I don’t like you and I want you to know I don’t like you’ mentality.”
“If there’s one thing about Beach Slang, it’s that we’re honest. The good, the bad, the glory, the car crashes, all of it. There was no other way of going about it.”