Beach Slang

Beach Slang Interview By Kayla Greet

 

This Philly four piece’s musical tactic: they’re armed with heart strings on their guitars, thick skins on the drums, and raw emotion in their words. They will pummel you with posi vibes and good feelings until you can’t remember what had you bummed in the first place. The ghosts of The Replacements, Goo Goo Dolls, and Psychedelic Furs whisper throughout their songs, but they’re also something completely their own.

Beach Slang is a best friend pumping through your stereo. It’s music that says, “Lift your head up kid, things are gonna work out.” They quickly put out their full-length record in The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, riding on the wave of success from two EPs released in 2014. As they say in their song “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas,” we are not alone. And we are not mistakes. Beach Slang will pull you out of your shell before the tide comes in. They’ll punch you right in the heart. And they’ll do it while we’re all still smiling. I got to sit down with the guys before their Seattle show with Worriers, Lithuania, and Parasol. And then I got to hang with them two days later in a basement in Olympia, belting out “Bastards of Young” with my best friend. These are exactly the things we do to find people who feel like us.

Interview by Kayla Greet

Photographs by Paul Silver
 

James Alex – Guitar, vocals

Ruben Gallego – Guitar

Ed McNulty – Bass

JP Flexnor – Drums
 

Kayla: I wanna start with how you guys met. Did you all grow up in Pennsylvania?

JP: I was the commonality between the members, I suppose. I knew James, growing up a fan of Weston, then came to know him when I moved up to the Philly area. And Ed booked my old band’s first show at his house. So I first played drums with James when Weston reunited for Riot Fest and kinda just kept in touch with him after that. Yeah, so basically I knew James had new material because of the Weston connection and sort of urged him to play that with me. And I grabbed Ed because he was a good friend of mine and I thought he would be an awesome bandmate. We needed a live guitarist and it ended up being a fourth band member, so we have Ruben now and we’re a full-fledged four piece.

Kayla: Excellent. So that was when you started touring then? You pulled in the fourth guitarist.

JP: Correct.

Kayla: Err, second guitarist, fourth member! [laughs]

Ed: Hah, we call him that all the time.

Kayla: James, in between when Weston ended and Beach Slang began, were you writing a lot of music during that time?

James: Yeah. I mean I had to figure out what I was gonna do with life, right? When I saw that I couldn’t pay the bills with the guitar anymore, I went back to art school. In that whole process—I started working at an agency and stuff—during that time I was still writing and recording. Trying to develop and keep involved in that thing that I love more than anything. And when these guys came knocking, we started to knock out material relatively quickly in the beginning because I was loaded and ready to go. We were able to come out of the blocks really quickly and sharp.

Kayla: So you had some songs fully formed already?

James: Yeah, and it got to the place where—like that Beach Slang sound or whatever—that wasn’t immediate. There were a few years of trial and error when I was trying to figure out what I was doing. By the time JP and Ed came knocking, it was there. The first thing we played together was “Filthy Luck.” We sorta looked at each other and were like, “Yeeeah.” [nodding]

Kayla: “I think this is gonna work!” How long was the Beach Slang incubation period before you started playing shows and putting out records?

James: That was quite a bit.

Ed: We started in the summer of 2013 and we played through that summer. Right at the end of summer we recorded what would become the first EP. Then a bunch of things happened. James took a job in California for a few months. JP and I were all over the place. But then it just kinda happened that we all ended up back in the same location. So we just went for it. Booked some shows in June of 2014. And thanks to the label who still wanted to put out the first 7”…

Kayla: That was on Dead Broke, right?

Ed: Yeah. We were like, “We can do this. We can play some shows!”

James: So when we first got together to when we first did a thing, it was a full year at least. We sorta don’t count that. You know? Sure, we met each other and we rehearsed a time or two.

JP: We sorta went on indefinite hiatus until we realized that James was gonna be back and that people actually wanted to hear our band.

Kayla: It’s hard to do a long distance band.

JP: Right. Especially when you haven’t had a show yet. [laughs]

Kayla: What is it like just dealing with all the attention that the EPs have garnished in the last year and a half? It must be weird to suddenly be under the spotlight.

James: I dunno. It’s surreal, right? It’s super gratifying in a way. It’s humbling. And I think the thing that we’re doing right and really well is, we’re sorta living within the confines of our band. We’re not overly subscribing to it, the hype and buzz. You start to do that and the work starts to fall flat, the razor starts to get dull, and all those sorta things. So I think what we do is we just live in our own little world, keeping our eyes on what they should be left on, you know?

Kayla: You’re operating the same way you’d be operating without any of it.

James: Precisely. So it’s like, we’d be lying if we said we’re not aware of it, but we have it really well tempered.

Kayla: You guys all have lots of experience in other bands, too.

JP: It helps, for sure.

Kayla: James, you joined Weston in 1995. You’ve been in the punk and DIY scene from mail orders and flyers to Spotify and Facebook events. What’s that shift been like over the years?

James: What it stands for is still the same. I think kids in the scene are still the same. I suppose some of the romance—at least how I see the romance of it—is gone. There’s this immediacy to things now, which makes it a little easier. It sort of allows for your investment maybe to be a little minimalized. Where like before, to find out about bands you were mailing mix tapes to friends. You were waiting for Maximum Rock’n’roll to come in the mail. That was really exciting and you really sort of pledged yourself to that scene. It required that kind of patience. I think now you can sort of dip in, dip out of it, depending on your mood swings.

Kayla: It’s very piecemeal. You can just take whatever you want at any time.

James: Oh, I know.

JP: I used to live by those little cards they’d throw in with records. You could get a record and it would come with the mini catalog. Like a Lookout! thing and you’d just think like, “Oh, this art is cool” and you’d get another record from them next time.

Kayla: I love that on this full length you guys thanked everyone who was instrumental in making it happen. People actually have liner notes to read while listening to the record.

James: Right on. Yeah, that will be an ever-growing list. We didn’t wanna be like, “Oh now we’re on Polyvinyl. Nothing mattered before that.” You know?

Kayla: Totally. Was there a lot of pressure or expectations to live up to on the full length after the hype of the EPs?

James: I think internal ones, for sure. And that’s the thing—we didn’t want to make a bad record for ourselves. Everything else is just sorta like, “Oh, and you like it?” That’s just cherry stuff on top. We wanted to make sure that in our guts it felt right. So I think that pressure was pretty heavy. I don’t know that we subscribe to any pressure outside of that. I didn’t. I felt the pressure inside of me, even more so than inside of the band. But I didn’t personally feel any sort of pressure from labels or anything.

JP: Yeah, we started off with literally no pressure. So it made it really easy to come back to that point mentally to focus on the task at hand.

James: I felt a sense of responsibility more than pressure. That is definitely increasing as records go on. Right out of the gate, kids were getting tattoos of lyrics and I didn’t want to let them down. I love these people who are rallying around us and I just want to make sure we keep doing things that they’re proud of.

Kayla: I think the overall community continues to push each other to a higher level. Everyone’s got each other’s backs on that. And it seemed like Polyvinyl was really hands off on the record.

James: Almost to a fault. They didn’t touch anything. What they got was the delivered final record. No one sat in on recording, no one sat in on the mix, nobody touched it. They didn’t see the art until art was delivered. It was pretty incredible, the freedom that we had.

Kayla: That’s a really good experience. Is this a full-time gig for you guys?

JP: I wouldn’t say we’re living off it yet, but we’re going full time at it. We’re definitely giving it everything. All our time and attention.

Kayla: And you guys are touring insane amounts.

JP: But we’re still holding down jobs back home or working freelance.

Ruben: Not all of us!

James: I had to make that decision where it was like, “Do you want to stay at the agency or do you want to pursue this silly dream of being in a rock band?”

Kayla: And it’s always gonna be that silly rock band dream, huh?

James: Yeah, a fraction of a second later I said, “Pursue the band.” We’re flying by the seat of our pants. We get to go home and do little pick-up things, but we’re touring seventy-five percent of the year. It’s kinda hard to have a career outside of that.

JP: We’re having a blast. We’re out here because we really love it, so that makes it really easy.

Ed: We get to basically have a party every night.

James: It could be worse.

Kayla: Get to hang out with your best friends.

James: Totally. We love each other and what we get to do every night.

Kayla: You’re also a new dad, right?

James: I am.

Kayla: So how’s that going, being on the road so much?

James: Well he’s amazing, a little charmer. He just crawled for the first time while we were out on this tour. So stuff like that is obviously a little difficult. At the same time, it sorta feeds that hunger. I see outside of myself now. I want this thing to break for reasons bigger than just stickin’ it to the kids who picked on me in high school. I want to give my kid a good life. It’s really nice to have that.

And if I teach that kid nothing more than just follow your heart kinda vibes, then he can see his old man doing that. It’s easier to subscribe to when it’s not just taught to you in story books.

Kayla: It’s tangible. Real life.

James: Yeah, like, “My dad does that. Cool.” But we’ll see. Maybe he’ll be a young Republican or an accountant. He might go the other way with it.

JP: He’ll be throwing the records on the roof, like that Patton Oswalt thing.

Kayla: It’ll just give you something to talk about at family gatherings.

James: I mean, it’d be super punk rock, right? If he went against his punk dad and decided to be different. Atta boy. It means you fought for yourself. I love it!

Ruben: He rebelled!

Kayla: You have so many songs about coming from hardships and wearing your scars and finding your way despite those circumstances. Are there any days that you get weighed down by all that?

James: No, I don’t think I get weighed down. Writing songs is like a baptism and then playing them live is like an exorcism. I think there’s the balance that I strike. I’m in a constant state of healing. That’s why I started to write in the first place. It’s why I got into punk rock. Now I get to live in that full time? It’s kinda hard to feel overly weighted down. I have a place to go whenever that muck starts to sneak up on ya. You get out a notebook or grab your guitar. My life is really that simple. I’ve sort of cracked the code.

Kayla: It can be a real struggle to keep your head up and wonder, “Does this matter to anyone?”

James: For sure. I swear somebody—I must have a guardian angel. Whenever that stuff starts to happen, I get a letter or some sort of thing happens where something will land on me really sweetly when I need it most. That has been so consistent that there has to be some truth to it. Then it’s like, look, I’m in a band with my three best friends. Even when we argue about something really ridiculous, everybody is really good at popping that pressure cooker. Regardless of what the thing is. There’s a really cool synergistic sense of humor going around in this band. We pick on each other like brothers. I wanna get into specifics but I don’t want to tell those dumb stories.

Ed: We don’t even need to bring it up. [All laugh.]

JP: I spend a lot of time laughing. I get to so many shows and by the time it’s over, my cheek muscles in my face hurt. Just doing this every night. [Rubs face.]

Kayla: That’s awesome. That’s a great place to be in life.

JP: There ya go.

Kayla: A lot of bands focus on romantic relationships. Lyrically, Beach Slang is great at capturing youthful nostalgia and platonic relationships. I’ve always thought that if I wrote songs they’d be about how much I love my friends instead of lost love. What kind of took you down that route?

James: Well, Steven Hyden (music critic at Grantland and Pitchfork) referred to the record as my love letter to rock’n’roll, and I think that’s really accurate. To me, I’m at a point in my life that these feel like stories about me and my friends. I think back about how I came up, the people I came up with, the people I’m coming up with, and just all the sort of ridiculous, beautiful trouble we’ve gotten into together. And right now that feels like the most honest thing to write about. Who knows? LP two could be about something completely different, but now that feels really right from the gut. And that’s what we sorta hang our hats on here.

Kayla: Do you always feel like you want to keep that positivity train going?

James: Oh, without a doubt.

Kayla: I think it’s really nice to have a smile of a record to put on.

James. For sure. I think I have an anti-jaded machine inside of me. I just refuse for that to happen. I don’t know any of my friends who’ve taken that path where any good has come out of it. So I just opted not to subscribe to it. Someone needs to be the torchbearer for “Things are going to be all right.” We’ve got enough of “Everything sucks.” Well how about if we don’t think that way? We think things are going to be okay. Does it change how we see it? I think so. ‘Cause we think things are gonna be okay and we’re having a hell of a time.

Kayla: Definitely helps to hold on to that PMA. So I read that the band name kinda came out of spite. Someone wrote that you can’t be a good band with the word “Beach” in the name and your response was “Fuck you.”

James: That’s exactly it. We had a list of names going. I’m from New England and I used to skateboard with this girl who made fun of the way I talk. I use all those ‘80s words like “radical,” “totally,” and she called it “beach slang.” But at that point it was just on the list. Then I read an interview with a band who said exactly what you said. I hope that now they’re seeing everything that’s happening to us.

Kayla: Well, what’s your favorite beach slang then?

James: Hmm… Well, geeze.

Ruben: I like “gnarly.”

James: I say “rad” probably the most.

JP: “Rad,” “totally”…

Kayla: I’d go with “stoked,” I think.

Ed: I’m gonna go with “pitted, so pitted.”

James: See he knows the real deal.

Kayla: The deep cuts, huh?

JP: We’ve been saying “kook” a lot because of Ed. Puka shell necklaces… 311 lyrics…

Kayla: It permeates plenty of other cultures, too. You don’t have to have grown up by a beach.

Ed: Oh, for sure. You should meet our friend Drew tonight. He always says, “So chill, so chill,” and he’s from Colorado.

Kayla: It’s like, “You didn’t see the coast till you were like twenty-five.”

Ed: [laughs] Exactly.

James: A big Newport one was “locals only.” We tried to steal it from the Dogtown folks but we weren’t nearly as tough. We just wanted to be.

Ed: Not being locals, when we go to the beach we say “tourists only.” [All laugh.]

Kayla: I do really miss those East Coast beaches. I moved to the Northwest when I was twelve and I was like, “This is nota beach.” It’s cold, I can’t get in the water.

Ruben: Yeah, rocks, driftwood.

Kayla: What are some of those records that hit harder than the pain for you guys?

Ruben: I like the Broken Social Scene self-titled. That’s a really important record for me. Maybe AFI’s Art of Drowning.

Ed: Chixdiggit?!

JP: [laughs] I actually had a bad experience when I was a kid. My house burned down. I was left with not much stuff and for an entire summer I had Anthem for a New Tomorrow (Screeching Weasel), A Day Late and a Dollar Short by The Queers, and Energy by Operation Ivy. So those three CDs will fix any-fuckin-thing. Those are still the go-to for me.

Ed: For the past few weeks what we’ve listened to every day and we all really agree is awesome, is an EP by this band called Dyke Drama from Olympia. Just six songs, sounds like later-era Paul Westerberg, Goo Goo Dolls stuff. It’s just phenomenal. That’s the first thing in a while that I’ve been like, “Music is gooood.” Someone can do it, and it’s this band.

James: Our record didn’t convince him. [All laugh]

Ed: Well it’s different if you’re part of it!

James: It was a joke!

Ed: Put a little asterisk here and lead it back to earlier where we said we joke around.

JP: You see what’s happening here?

Kayla: Totally.

James: No, I completely agree. That record is absolutely gorgeous. We’re playing with them. We’re gonna do a house show in Olympia.

Ed: We’re doing Portland that night, but on the way down we’re gonna swing off to Olympia and play with Dyke Drama and Divers.

James: And that’s one of those great things, when—between writing and the records that I’m stuck on, that I grew up on—I get turned on to new bands now more by happenstance than by actively seeking. I guess time’s just not a friend of mine anymore. So it’s this really beautiful pop of “Fuck yeah” when something like that happens. That record just sorta appears. I really flipped out about it when I heard it.

Kayla: Well, I’d like to thank you guys for exposing me to early Goo Goo Dolls. People kept saying, “Oh, Beach Slang sounds so much like Goo Goo Dolls.” And I’m like, “The frosted tips and ball chain necklace band?”

JP: [laughs] Ball chain necklace band! That’s such a funny way to refer to the Goo Goo Dolls and I love it! Oh my god, it makes so much sense. The big ones they used to sell? You could put a puka shell or two on there.

Kayla: So I checked out their early stuff and was like “Holy shit, I had no idea.” And Paul Westerberg worked with them for a little while too? Wow.

Ed: Wasn’t early Jawbreaker going for a Goo Goo Dolls sound too? Or am I just making that up?

James: Yeah, yeah. For sure. That “There You Are” song they said they tried to rip off countless times.

Ed: That’s awesome.

Kayla: Last question. A lot of people tend to give up on DIY after a certain amount of time, but you guys look like lifers.

James: We’re still here.

Ed: Yeah, as a band we have in-house artists and in-house screen printers. We’re playing house shows on our days off. I don’t think it’ll ever be lost on us. It’s safe to say we’re in it.