Interview with Beach Slang: A Very Happy Birthday

2015-3-10 New York City. Bowery Ballroom. Beach Slang and CUrsive. Photo: Greg Pallante
2015-3-10 New York City. Bowery Ballroom. Beach Slang and CUrsive. Photo: Greg Pallante

Just over a year ago, a group of veteran Philadelphia musicians came together to start one of today’s most impressive up-and-coming punk groups, Beach Slang. The supergroup began as a trio James Alex, JP Flexner and Ed McNulty, in early 2014 and quickly released an EP, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? This first taste of The Replacements-tinged punk rock captivated many, especially for its rebellious undertones and gritty sense of fun. The follow-up EP, Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street, continued the group’s variety of passionate lyricism complimenting high-energy guitars. February of this year was also a busy month for the guys as they contributed to the Strength In Weakness benefit compilation for cerebral palsy and signed to Polyvinyl Records.

Stylized in a colorful paradox of modern vintage, Beach Slang demonstrate their originality in every possible aspect, including everything from uniquely designed tour posters to a special Tumblr pairing selected lyrics with appropriate photographs. This widespread creativity highlights the band’s keen ability to cultivate their own personality—setting it far apart from many others in punk music.

Beach Slang have been in the studio for the past month recording new material for their first full-length, which is yet to be titled. We caught guitarist and vocalist James Alex just as the they finished recording the rhythm guitar parts for record and chatted about changing labels, the Philadelphia music scene and purposefully creating insane touring schedules.

How are you feeling after one year of Beach Slang?

We’re feeling great. You know, wildly optimistic. It’s weird, a year isn’t that long, but we feel like, I don’t know, it feels longer in the way that everything we’ve gotten to do together and becoming better friends.

Being in a touring rock and roll band is kind of like a pressure cooker, you kind of gauge things in dog years, like one year is really like seven or something. So yeah, it’s been great, [we’re] certainly looking forward to next year, finally having a full-length record out and stuff. We’re really excited about what the next year holds for us.

How’s the studio been so far? You guys have only been in there for a few days now right?

We’re couple of days in, yeah. We’ve got all the drums, all the bass, and just now all the rhythm guitar stuff done now so we’re moving at Beach Slang pace. We’re not very good at sitting on our hands in the studio. We make rock and roll records; we don’t over goop them up with unnecessary things. We just kind of like to set up and bash the thing out.

Are you working with the same producer as the two EPs?

Yeah, totally the same [producers.] The only difference on the EPs is we just did things as a three-piece. On this one, now our live guitarist [Ruben Gallego] has become our official fourth so of course he’s recording with us this time.

What’s it like being on Polyvinyl so far?

            So far, it’s incredible. It feels like a dream because I just really loved that label, respected everything they’ve ever done and they’ve been just the sweetest people in the world.

Like whenever you take a jump, certainly like a label move, there’s always that like… With just really great first impressions and how the working relationship is going to feel like kind of weird and I feel like honestly I’ve known these guys for the better part of my life. They’re just really, really sweet and say the things they mean and they stood by everything they said.

So, yeah, it’s been great and obviously I hope that continues. It’s been long enough in the flirting and dating phase of this relationship that it shows that it’s real.

How is it different than a small indie like Tiny Engines?

            Those labels, the first [EP was released] on Dead Broke [Rekerds] and the second one on Tiny Engines it was great. They really set us up for, “Oh, record label experiences can be really fantastic.” Nothing but admiration and respect for those labels.

In the jump, it feels less like a label signing and more like an extension of our little Beach Slang crew, but everything’s just turned up a little bit more. Polyvinyl’s reach is bigger [and] the opportunities are a little bit bigger. We’re excited about that. In terms of the vibe and stuff, for as large as Polyvinyl is and all the success that label had, it feels very small. It feels very personal, very much like our friends are putting out our record. It suits us perfectly.

Going back to the music, did you guys have “Too Late To Die Young” on hold or was that originally going to be recorded for the new full-length?

It’s going to be recorded for the full-length. When we released it on the benefit compilation, it was already written for the record. But then the label asked for something new so I was like, “We have this and this’ll be its own sort of version of it.” So there will be a version of it on the record, but I don’t think it’ll be that version. It’ll be its own, different version.

How did you get involved with that Strength in Weakness benefit split?

Before we put out the first EP, I had written to Eric and Emily [owners of Lame-O Records] because I just really respect them as a label and the things they do in Philadelphia and reached out. Of course it didn’t work out as a label thing, but Eric has since become one of our managers, one of two managers who look out for us.

So he was putting together the [compilation] and he asked us to be a part of it which was really, really cool because albeit he only manages four bands, his reach and the bands he knows is a ton of people so it never felt like a given that he’d invite us to something so cool, but he did and it came out incredible. We were really excited to be a part of that.

How close are you guys to that part of the Philly scene like Modern Baseball and Lame-O Records?

            Really, really comfy. Beach Slang’s first tour was with Modern Baseball. It was a really great way to get our tour leg going together and so we went out with those guys, just gigantic sweethearts. The shows were really great. And that was our first time being locked in a van together, like the four of us so it was a cool way to do it. You have all those stressors and the craziness of being on tour, but the one thing we knew was, “There’s going to be people at the shows and that’s awesome,” so we didn’t have that stressor.

We’d rather move slowly and surround ourselves with just really good human beings and subscribe to the notion of that slimy, music industry thing where it’s like, “You guys are going to be the next big thing!” and people tell you what you want to hear and then as soon as that doesn’t pan out you’re forgotten. We’re aligning ourselves with people we really love and believe in and that’s felt really right so far. So Modern Baseball, Lame-O and that part of the Philly scene that’s been a part of that move.

What was the reception like on your first European tour a few months ago?

            Incredible, like hair-flipping. We didn’t know what to expect and the shows honestly were just beautifully insane; it was incredible. We’ve always said that humility is going to guide the Beach Slang ship so we really manage our expectations in everything we do. And we went over there and I remember the first show was like, “Can you believe this?” and then the second show the same thing happened. We just couldn’t buy into it that it was like, “Wow, people kind of like the thing we do,” but then it just kept happening.

I remember even being on the flight back home we were just like, “European audiences just give American bands a chance,” like we still couldn’t believe we had anything to do with it. But, it was absolutely super incredible and we can’t wait to go back. I know we’re planning to do that sooner rather than later. It was wildly beyond what we thought it could be our first time over there.

How was playing Skate and Surf basically right after you got back?

The day we got back we landed in Boston and had to drive to Montreal to play the Pouzza Festival there and then immediately play that and drive back to Asbury Park to play Skate and Surf. And that was great.

I mean that’s what, not only touring, but what life should feel like, that whole Hunter S. Thompson thing of skidding into the grave, just like worn out bodies. And I want it to be that, where it’s just this crazy, sort of maniacal existence. Because it’s going to be that wild, globe-hopping or it’s sitting at home watching television. It’s just feels perfect for us. We want it to feel a little out of control all the time and we subscribe to that in all the things we do.

So yeah, we’re pulling to be like that, we’re great, and when we showed up there a little out of our minds and kind of revved up and the show was amazing and a bunch of our friends were there it was just like, “Wow, life you’re alright sometimes.” Definitely that kind of vibe.

You’re all coming from various bands with different degrees of success and you talked about how you guys are a little bit more prepared for things so how has handling the success of Beach Slang been different than in your other bands?

            Well I think in the other ones it didn’t come quite so quickly. With Beach Slang only being a year in and already having the things we have going for us, it came so quickly. So like in those other ones, I don’t even know if we ever thought we had any real success so for this I feel like we’re in a perpetual state of little kids on Christmas morning.

I don’t know if we’re dealing with it great. We’re dealing with it like anyone else would deal with something really rad happening to them where it’s just little kids being excited and surprised and stoked about everything. And maybe that is the best way; it’s a very non-strategic approach to it.

It’s like I’m a human and these things feel incredible and I’m smiling like a lunatic and that feels really right on. I don’t think we’re thinking about it, we’re just on board just enjoying the ride.

How are you feeling about make the jump to headlining with these upcoming dates?

A little nervous I suppose, but it’s that thing where it’s something that we’re excited to see happen. With these upcoming dates and when we release the full-length in October, we’re going to do a full U.S. headline. All that stuff has a little bit of nervousness to it, but that’s how you know you’re doing the right thing. Like there’s that little bit of “Oh man” kind of vibe to it. So yeah, super excited.

We’ll be a little nervous as we pull up to the venues every night hoping that at least a handful of kids want to come out and hear the things we do. But it’s a necessary time to do that. We don’t want to ride on the coattails of friends in other bands, we want to put our own flag in the ground and live and die by the thing we do.

Beach Slang have a really identifiable aesthetic when it comes to album art, and photos on Facebook type of stuff. I know JP does a lot of design work, does he do Beach Slang’s art as well?

I do all of that stuff. I’m a designer too so I do everything for Beach Slang. I just feel like since I write everything I’ve weaved into what it should look like and fortunately it’s worked. You know someone could have a vision and it could be a complete nightmare. So it’s worked so far and I kind of see everything as an extension of the thing. Sometimes you write words, sometimes you write pictures, sometimes you write whatever so it’s all that same thing.

Yeah, I think I’ve been almost neurotic about curating and sculpting the way we look like, but these are an extension of your experience. You never know what’s going to be the thing that turns someone onto the thing you do. Maybe the first time you hear about Beach Slang isn’t about music, maybe you stumble across Tumblr and you read a lyric with a photograph and you’re like, “Wow, I want to find out more about this.” That’s the thing that’s important to me. There’s all sorts of useful things that can tap into people and I just want to affect the people in some way. I think there’s more than one door to get into Beach Slang.

How did the “Beach Slang Was Here” Tumblr page start and where do you pull the pictures from?

My friend Sarah, a social media director, was like “Why don’t you have a Tumblr man like the way you write is tailored for it?” And I was like, “You know what? Maybe that’s a good idea.” I love her to pieces and I trust her and listen to her so I started to do that.

With the photography, being a designer is my day job so I’m typically always looking for photography and visual inspiration so again, feeling affected. So just the nature of the work that I do outside of music lends me to looking around for cool visual things. So as I’m doing that, I just keep folders of, “This has to be seen,” or “This has to part of something,” and it’s really as simple as that. I sort of live inside of this all the time; I’m always swimming around inside of it just looking for places to put a talent.

Was it like this with any of your other previous bands?

Oh gosh, no. That’s the thing, like we had no idea what we were doing and it was more fly by the seat of our pants. Here, it’s not strategic or wildly pre-considered, but I feel like now I’ve lived enough now to know what I want to say whereas there I was making up the words as I was living the thing. Here it’s like, “I’m at this point in my life that I have something to say and here’s this vehicle to say it.” That’s definitely the difference here now.

I’m a little more sure in my skin these days than I was in the past. Because I was kind of hiding away doing this and then JP was the one to say, “This stuff really deserves to be heard and seen,” and he pulled me out of being a little loner and then Beach Slang happened.

How do you guys measure success now?

We’ve always like, this may sound sort of pandering but, we try to make stuff that at the end of the day it’s going to be like, “Wow, this is our thing.” Like, when we’re just dust and bones we’re going to have this thing did for this brief little shining period of time we did a thing that meant something to some people. That’s always going to be more important than record sales or whatever. That stuff can be all white noise. It’s always really cool when people come up to you at a show or write a letter like, “Hey, I was going through a thing and I read this and it helped.” That’s the success thing to me. I’ve gone long enough now without having conventional success that it’s almost like science fiction to me now to care about conventional successes.

It’s things like that, and being honest, doing things we’re proud of. Like, I’d rather affect 10 people than sell a million records to people that there’s not real exchange of anything deeper. But, you know it’d be great if this became our day jobs because hitting a guitar is so much better than anything else I’ve done to make money. But we’d only want to do that by doing the thing we feel real about. Not if you wore tighter jeans and got funny haircuts you’d sell a lot more records, like we’re not going to do that.

Beach Slang is performing on July 24 at Amityville Music Hall, on July 25 at Asbury Lanes, on July 26 at the Gigawatts Festival in Brooklyn and finally on July 27 at the PhilaMOCA. Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street, the band’s most recent release from September 2014 is available now via Tiny Engines. For more information, go to