Nothing is ever one-sided. People, emotions and situations are always more complex than they seem — and for every bit of darkness, there lies an opposing light. If indie rock band Beach Slang is energetic and forceful, then Quiet Slang acts as lead vocalist James Alex’s vulnerable, stripped down alter.
Though a side project for Alex that stemmed from Beach Slang, Quiet Slang has quickly branched out and taken on a life of its own. Offering a medley of both re-imagined Beach Slang tracks and originals, Quiet Slang offers a bare-boned, yet surprisingly intricate make-up of music. As it has grown and Alex continues to expose a deeper side of himself, Quiet Slang has slated the release of its first full-length this month, and is heading out on tour. Here, Alex discusses stripping down, opening up and being broken.
Hey James! Thank you so much for doing this!
Jenna, no sweat. More so, thank you for your time and thoughtfulness. I hope I give you at least a few usable things.
In the approximately five years since Beach Slang officially hit the scene, the band has
garnered critical praise and even a bit of a cult following. What sparked your transition to
strip down and perform as Quiet Slang?
I’ve described it as this: If Beach Slang is me fawning over The Replacements, Quiet Slang is me head-over-heels for Stephin Merritt [The Magnetic Fields]. And, really, that’s all it is. I mean, the first time I heard a Magnetic Fields record, I was completely knocked out. I wanted to deconstruct it, to figure it out.
All of a sudden, I felt like rock ‘n’ roll could be tender, but still mean it just as much. I paced my bravado until I felt like maybe I was ready. Here goes everything, you know?
How did you come to decide to record a new version of “Dirty Cigarettes” for the new
project? What stuck out to you about this song?
I’ve always held that song close. At the time, it was the most personal thing I’d ever written. Vulnerability has weight to it. It’s a weirdo stew of struggle, a whole bunch of taped-together cracks. It has helped keep me alright.
I don’t know. I think maybe I just really wanted to sing, “Tell me I’m enough/I’m dying to know what it’s like,” with cellos and piano. I wanted to see what that felt like, to see if it gave something more. I hope it did.
What was the writing and recording process like for Everything Matters But No One Is Listening? How does the LP differ (or compare to) the first Quiet Slang EP, We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags?
It was clumsy and experimental, failing and graceful. It was a whole bunch of figuring-it-out. It was a great, big beautiful mess.
I mean, look, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll singer who strangles a guitar for a living. Quiet Slang is a whole different trip. So, yeah, it took some stumbling to find it. But what better reason to fumble around, you know?
They are absolutely related records. The EP is sort of my first jab at locking into that Magnetic Fields thing; the LP has steadier legs.
Lyrically and aesthetically, both Beach Slang and Quiet Slang seem to play off of these ideas
of push and pull, or opposing forces: from shouting to crooning, heavy chords to stripped
down guitars, and “babies” and “dirtbags”. Is this intentional? Where do you draw inspiration
To me, it’s simply the narrative of being alive. We’re all part gutter and part light. So I write about it. Everything that fascinates me is mostly broken. I have no interest in the scar-less. I shine towards the drunks and misfits and survivors. And Bukowski.
What do you like most about performing as Quiet Slang?
There’s no place to hide. Again, it’s the vulnerability of this whole thing. I like walking the tightrope. If there’s no danger in a thing, why do it?
What are you hoping listeners take away from your upcoming album?
Whatever they need.
And before I let you go, what’s your favorite slang term?
I use “Right on” more than anything else. But my two favorites are probably “doobie” [a joint] and “Bogart” [to selfishly keep for yourself] because they never not sound ridiculous.
Everything Matters But No One Is Listening is set to be released May 18. Catch Quiet Slang performing May 16 at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, and May 18 at Underground Arts in Philadelphia.