A few months back, bang in the middle of a tour across the states, the beloved Beach Slang of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had a wobble. An on stage wobble that had the potential to break hearts and crush dreams. With tensions high on stage, front man James Alex allegedly made comments all night that their show that evening in Salt Lake City, Utah would be their last. But the actions of one fan post-show made sure the pieces were put back together and the steps were retraced. In a statement released on their Facebook, James Alex revealed that a fan rushed after him once the show was over, hugged him and said “Don’t do this. We need you.”
The popularity of these four friends from Philly is something that’s not gone unnoticed. All over Twitter and Facebook, post-show reactions always read near enough the same: “Life Affirming.” Their brand of heartfelt, emotive rock and roll is something that’s been hitting the spot worldwide for a number of years.
Having had their equilibrium restored thanks to that one fan (with throngs of others in backup, one can imagine), Beach Slang made their triumphant European return this month, kicking off their ‘The Things We Do’ tour in Barcelona for Primavera. A few other festivals followed, bleeding into their UK leg of the tour which kicked off at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells. It’s in Manchester, at The Deaf Institute, where I first meet the quartet, catching them a few hours before they’re welcomed to the stage with open arms.
“It really set some weirdo, awesome tone for it.” Comments James, reflecting on their European arrival. “…then we went into club dates. We’re sort of born of that world, so then it started to feel sweaty and dangerous and real again to us. It’s been great.”
With the hype surrounding Beach Slang, it’s hard to believe that their live debut was only two years ago, with the quartet having seemingly been around forever. This year alone, they’ve been racking up festival slots left and right, with an appearance at this year’s Reading and Leeds still to come. “Today’s actually our two year birthday of playing shows.” Smiles James, brushing his hair out of his face and contemplating. “I think it’s still kind of new to us, we’re still sort of cutting our teeth in the big festival world. But we’re starting to learn how to tame it a little bit more. The transition now is less wonky than it was when we did our first few.”
A big helping hand in the Beach Slang UK love-in comes courtesy of indie super-label Big Scary Monsters. With fingers firmly on the pulse, BSM really helped kick start the Beach Slang push over here, releasing their initial ‘Cheap Thrills’ EP compilation as well as their debut album ‘The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us.’ The latter in particular has really shifted. “People have been pretty stoked since it came out.” Says bassist Ed McNulty. “I remember it went through the first colour variants on vinyl pretty quickly. It was like – wow, we actually needed to keep up with that. The support over here has been pretty overwhelming.”
“We have gauged our success on vinyl records, like – oh, we’re getting a new colour pressed? That’s amazing!” Grins James.
This April, a year on from the release of that first BSM Beach Slang release, the band teamed up with acclaimed artist Drew Millward for a Record Store Day picture disc exclusive that sold out in some areas almost as fast as the Alan Partridge picture disc!
“We still get knocked out…” Adds James, factoring in the fan response over here to not only the vinyl records that BSM are so happy to reprint in all manner of colour variants, but also their live shows as well. “I say this a bunch, but we just think of ourselves as friends who play in hope some friends show up. To start seeing shows grow and stuff, it’s like – woah! We’ll even look for beautiful scapegoats, we’ll be like – well, the Record Store Day thing sold so well because of Drew’s beautiful artwork” The band laugh and nod in agreement “We’re struggling to give ourselves credit. We always said humility would captain the ship, so we’re holding onto that principal.”
Having made their UK debut little over a year ago, and with returns due a few more times this year, it’s fair to say the admiration goes both ways. History buffs and music aficionados alike, cities like Manchester and Liverpool have seen Beach Slang go into tourist overdrive, with guitarist Ruben Gallego sporting a huge grin discussing their trip to The Cavern Club. “In Manchester alone we’ve gotten to see Ian Curtis’s grave” Adds Ed. “We went to Morrissey’s childhood home today, with The Salford Lads Club – Another Smiths site. We love all the Britpop stuff, so being over here we’re able to see all the landmarks.”
It’s not just Britpop landmarks and gravesites for these four though, with their European visit being a particularly favourable break from America.
“It’s gorgeous out here.” Nods drummer JP Flexner. “There’s many differences between here and the states, but one of them is just like, we walked by park benches in Nottingham that’re older than our country. It’s incredible, a really humbling experience to be out and about in these areas.”
European tours, festivals and club shows aren’t the only areas of note for Beach Slang as of late. They recently made an appearance at the Kerrang! Awards in London, as well as a live appearance on The Chris Gethard Show back home, the mention of which during the interview gets big laughs from the band.
“Man, that was a dream come true.” Grins James. “We were all super-fans of the show… It’s just this raucous, punk-rock comedy talk-show thing. When we made our little list when we started being a band, one of the things on the list was to play The Chris Gethard Show. Then we got to play the season finale of Season 2.”
The format for the show is all over the shop, but hilariously so. Most of the show takes place in a wrestling ring, featuring ex-WWE wrestlers Rhyno, Colt Cabana and X-Pac mixing it up with the show’s host and his arch nemesis Vacation Jason (“It was wild…I got to jump off the top rope onto the wrestling mat.” – James.) The show even featured a surprise appearance by Jon Hamm, the Mad Men star eventually teaming with Vacation Jason against the good guys. “That sort of legitimised rock and roll as a career choice to my mom – that we were on a show with Jon Hamm.” Nods James.
From that fan in Salt Lake, to all the people who take to social media and praise the band or show off their Beach Slang tattoos, there’s something about this band that touches a nerve. Later that evening when they took to the stage, one guy stood as close as he could possibly get, singing every word, one hand pressed firmly against his heart. Two recent Retweets that caught my eye had one couple celebrating their 14th Wedding Anniversary at a Beach Slang show (“What better way!”) whilst another couple were just starting out (“…our first night out since the arrival of our baby…Can’t wait to sing my guts out with her”) What is it about Beach Slang that’s getting people so worked up?
”I throw around the sort of honesty – I think it just connects. It became this sort of uncool or unpopular thing to throw your heart on your sleeve and mean it. Not use it as a marketing device but really mean it. I think we do that unabashedly, unapologetically.” Sums up James. “I think people have waited for the return of something like that. No gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors. Plug in, turn up, play and mean the things that come out of our mouths. I think that’s it. It’s hard to intellectualise how something so intangible like art connects, but if I was putting money down on it I’d go with the honesty vibe.”
Back on the subject of that infamous night in Salt Lake, one of the most interesting aspects for me is the film-like appearance of the fan, chasing after James and embracing him, with a quote to rival that of some of Hollywood’s best. “That was heavy.” Says James. “In the middle of all that sort of emotional hurricane-y stuff… I was at least a half-a-mile away and she literally sprinted to catch me. It felt like a rubber band snapping back, where it put everything that shook loose back together that quickly. It’s amazing; I get asked a lot about how do I feel with Beach Slang tattoos and that whole thing. It’s heavy and humbling and incredible to think it means what it means to people. I suppose that’s all you really wanna do when you make work in the world, right? Make it matter on some level or connect or something. We’ve had the good fortune of somehow threading that needle. If we never make a dime doing rock and roll, I’m more than ok. I’ve had that sort of pay cheque, and that’s just… my soul’s rich.” He laughs, the whole room joining in when I ask how the 24 hours surrounding the incident were. “Well the last 24 hours were a lot better…”
“You know, they were weirdo and wonky. The thing that happened is, to really tear it down… “ Continues James. “Like any four-way marriage, there’s things that bubble under the surface that need to be addressed and worked out. Our trajectory has been kind of weird, like we got in before we even knew what we were and then we were kind of going. I just think we never really properly talked about things, we’d been on the road for about a year and we just had a moment. A microcosmic moment of whatever happened. Like many, many rock bands that have come before us, we had a bubbling over of tension.”
“I suppose to me personally, it wasn’t as big of a deal as it got made out to be. Had that happened pre-internet, it would’ve been whisper down the alley folklore. It was on the internet before I got back to the hotel, it was already this kind of thing that was starting to just sort of… Nobody wrote to us to and asked us or tried to figure out our side of it, so it just became this molehill that bulldozed into this mountain. To me, it wasn’t a very captivating headline – Rock Band fights on stage. We thought we were The Kinks for 30 minutes. It really to me wasn’t a big deal. However, I will say this. I think what came out of that, if we look at subscribing to silver linings, I think we’re a stronger force for having gone through it. I don’t think we developed a skill-set of how to fight, how to have a tough moment, because we’ve just been like a little pack of fuckin’ boy scouts, you know what I mean? It’s gone so smoothly and quickly that we never really had that moment, never really learned that skill-set. It feels stronger and more loving to me now, having gone through that. Not that I wanna do it again…”
“We were just lucky enough that Spin felt it worthy…” Laughs Ed, the initial story having been picked up by a number of news sites mere moments after the amps had been switched off and doors had been slammed.
“Just through all that, these were places that had no trouble reaching out to us prior to it to find words from us.” Adds JP. “It was funny that we’re still just as accessible. I don’t know if that would’ve fit the narrative, but they would’ve heard some honesty.”
“…wild-eyed and ready, our hearts bashed back into shape. If you’re still in, we are” read the statement released following the incident. Beach Slang sure meant it, with another album on the horizon to show for it. Their second album is now complete, with a date for release pencilled in for September. The writing process this time around saw a change in location, mainly down to the time constraints that come with the constant touring life of the band.
“It was weird ‘cus I never really wrote on the road before, I found it really really hard to do. But to hit that timeline, which was important to us – we don’t want to idle as a band.” Comments James. “So these guys would go out and see these really beautiful places in Switzerland and things, and I’d be in the van with my guitar, writing stuff” He laughs, continuing “With that said, something good came out of it – I really tapped into that Kerouac kind of thing. I kind of embraced that idea of being on the road, writing stuff. Writing for me is very isolating, and I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it on the road with distractions. I suppose I tapped into that way to do it.”
Later that evening, James announces on stage that tonight is the second anniversary of their live debut, but that their plans to celebrate the occasion never materialised. No cake, no candles. All of a sudden, in the most perfectly timed arrival, a single red balloon floated down from above and toward the stage. The audience burst into laughter, whooping and cheering this random gift from the heavens that had decided to make its presence known at that precise moment. Whilst the rest of the band grinned at the arrival, James just nodded as if it was meant to be. Back in the dressing room a few hours prior to stage time, the band reflect on the past two years, with Ed commenting “It’s appropriate that you’re bringing that up on our second birthday. Our first show was in a record store in Long Island, New York. If we ever thought in two years we’d in Manchester for the third time, it’d be pretty wild. It’s pretty crazy to think about.”