Neon Reverb 2016: Talking to Beach Slang frontman James Alex


When Beach Slang dropped its debut album, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, last October, the Philly foursome had already amassed a fanbase on the strength of two prior EPs. A few months later, the band has become one of the most talked-about outfits on the indie circuit, drawing comparisons to The Replacements and Jawbreaker and bringing emo-punk to a new generation of melancholy kids. In anticipation of Beach Slang’s headlining set at Las Vegas Weekly’s Saturday Neon Reverb showcase, we spoke to frontman James Alex about overcoming social anxiety onstage, the joy of making mixtapes for fans and more.

Are you on tour right now? We’re home; we leave soon for festivals. I’m at home writing, and then we’re coming out to play [Neon Reverb] and do a week at South by Southwest. We go into the studio on April 1.

You’re already gearing up to record a second LP? Yeah. We have the first two weeks of April blocked off already. The plan is I’ll have it written before we leave, and then when we get back there’s two weeks teaching the [guys] the songs … which really works for us. There’s something about over-rehearsing things that massages the soul out of things. This way, it keeps the raw urgency.

Is the album finished, writing-wise? I have about 75 percent of it written and done. Writing for me is a very isolating process. I really sequester myself, and once I deliver those home demos [to the guys] we pretty much cruise through it.

When can we expect it? Looking to release it in fall, almost to date a year from when the first record came out. I get really restless when I’m idle. We’re a band, we get to make records and play shows. I want to keep doing that. I don’t want any record to wear out its welcome.

In the ’90s you were in a band called Weston, which achieved some success. Did that help prepare you for this second ride? When that was happening to us, we certainly weren’t prepared for it; we were just kids who wanted to play guitars. We weren’t thinking about a career and what it could become. We never really made proper sense of it; we made a lot of mistakes, and it ended up sort of being a car crash at the end. But what comes out of it now is, okay, we did all of these, we fumbled the ball so many times, now we go in knowing how to do things.

People have this idea that when you get older, all the stuff that stressed you out or made you sad as a teenager goes away—but you’re in your 40s and still singing about social anxiety and the depression that can come with being an awkward misfit. Where does the fodder for that material come from? I had a really bumpy childhood. You learn how to live with things, but there’s still scratches that are always wrestling under the surface. I’ll just eternally feel like the kid picked last, or the adult version of that.

Maybe I’m someone who just enjoys flirting with struggle. I don’t know if I have a weird magnetism in that way, but it feels like those sort of melancholy-esque things have a way of finding me. Maybe I search them out and enjoy those themes and I pummel myself. I’m not quite sure what it is. I like engaging and meeting people that are a little more broken and flawed, and there’s something there I relate to. I’ve never really seen it as I’m damaged goods; I just have a point of view that’s shifted to the left but that’s always felt comfortable.

You’ve been compared to Jawbreaker and The Replacements. What’s it like to be bringing these influences to a new generation of kids who maybe haven’t heard your sound before? It feels really humbling and incredible to be a part of that lineage. We do these mixtapes—we’re getting ready to work on the second one—these mixtapes I would’ve made in high school. We get certain comparisons right off the cuff. It’s like, wow, that’s really cool if you dig The Replacements and Jawbreaker, here’s a little bit further. Senseless Things and Ride [were] on the first tape ... and kids would be like, “F*ck, this is amazing!” It’s cool to be able to do that.

It’s sort of paying it forward. Rock ’n’ roll is a really holy thing; it’s been everything to me. In my head, I’m still the kid with the posters on my wall. I really just want to turn people on to the records that turned me on. The Replacements are my favorite band ever. To turn someone on to that … that really knocks me back in a great way.

I watched the NPR Tiny Desk Concert you played, and I love that you had to talk between sets, to get out some nervous energy. Is the stage a safe place for you, even though it can make you anxious? It is. I really am an introverted, wallflower kind of person, but there’s just something about when we play … I remember reading an interview with Freddie Mercury—he was super-quiet and kept to himself, and then when he performed he was like a god.

I always feel like I’m in the way in the world, like I’m constantly looking for a corner to get out of the way. But when we play shows, it’s like, oh, this is where I have a voice.

This will be your first time in Vegas, right? We’ve never played Vegas before, so I’m super-excited to be in that city. I looked at the poster and we were right next to The Melvins, and I was like, are you f*cking kidding me? I was ready to write the promoter and be like, “I think someone messed up.” It felt really wild. On a fest this kind of size, we’ve never been in that-size font before. I feel responsibility. I want to do good by the people that believe in this thing.

Beach Slang headlines Neon Reverb’s Las Vegas Weekly showcase Saturday, March 12 (set time: 1 a.m.) at the Bunkhouse, $15.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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