Interview: James Alex (BEACH SLANG)

Interview: James Alex (BEACH SLANG)
Before and ever since triple j put Philly punks Beach Slang into their rotation they were taking our scene by storm, bleeding their coming-of-age angst into the iTunes libraries of indies everywhere. We caught up with frontman James Alex earlier this year when Beach Slang hit up our shores for Splendour In The Grass to chat about their new record A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, why honesty trumps marketing, and why you should never park your dreams.

How was Splendour In The Grass man?

Pretty otherworldly, you know? We’re trying to get acclimated to the whole truth that this isn’t a daydream, you know what I mean? It’s actually happening to us. It’s been a blast, man. We got to hold a koala, we went surfing, we just really checked off all the little things we were hoping this would be and it’s just even greater than that. We’re leaving early tomorrow morning and everybody’s bummed out, we’re already talking about how we’re gonna get back to Australia again soon. It’s one of those deals, you know?

Happy to hear you wanna come back. Have you been surprised at the reception at all? You guys have been playing on one of our major stations, triple j, since your first release. Did it shock you that you do have such a huge following?

Yeah, I mean, it still does, right? It’s like, the first day I got here, I came in myself and I was just doing press. So I’m riding around Sydney with my publicist [we love you Janine] and we get to the first thing, and we’re just sort of waiting in a room, waiting for me to go back and I hear “Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas” come on the radio and I flipped out. The point I’m trying to make is you can know these things are happening but then when you’re actually there, and you’re sort of wrapped up in it, it just feels bigger and warmer. Like “wow, this is actually happening”. It’s not just like we’re told it gets played on the radio, like it gets played on the radio. I’m sitting here listening to it get played on the radio. It sort of knocks you back in the best way. Even though we knew we had a cool thing happening here, to see it in real life just makes it different.

Absolutely. I wanted to talk to you about the new record, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings. It’s great.

Aw! Can I just say to you thank you? That means so much to me. I always have that very, very nervous tick in me where it’s like, there’s these songs that I really laboured over, and now they’re coming out into the world and I start to get votes of confidence. I mean this sincerely, it just means the world. So thank you for that.

That’s okay! Is there anything you wanted to do for the record to distinguish it from your debut? The time period between the release of the albums has been quite short, and when that happens a lot of artists try to emphasise the difference between them.

I guess I’ll preface this with the fact I get really restless when we’re idle. I write everyday. I’m literally stockpiling songs all the time, so us putting out a record per year is almost necessary. We have the thing – we’re a rock and roll band, we put out records, and we play shows, right? But to your very direct question, I feel like the thing I always want to do with the things I’m making for this band is that [what I write] is honest of the way I feel at the time. And if that hasn’t evolved I want to make sure I have the guts to do that and hope that people will accept that, and hope they accept if there is a surge forward, too. I think with this it’s like, I think people will hear it and be like “that’s a Beach Slang record”. But I think they’ll also pick up on the steps forward. It’s a lot more shoegaze and sort of Britpop, which I love so much. I think there’s a lyric shift, LP1 was sort of written, I call those songs two minute novels about me and my friends. And that’s what they are, right? For LP2, I started writing from the lyrical standpoint of everybody that I met touring on LP1, and writing through their eyes. Like it’s their narrative. I’m really open, how I write with Beach Slang, specifically lyrically. So I think in turn people are really open in talking to me, whether it’s in letters they write, at shows, things like that. You know, you kind of get knocked out by that level of honesty. So it’s all very natural to write from that voice – their voice. So to me, those are the moves I made. I never said to myself you need to differentiate, I think the best way to summarise it is that “I’m gonna be true to what I feel at the time I’m writing it”. There’s no manufactured junk to Beach Slang. There’s no marketing plan. It’s just honesty, you know?

Totally, and you kind of don’t need gimmicks when you have that. Was there a moment where you felt like you had the choice between pursuing your dreams in music or compromising that and going another way?

For me it was definitely always music. I wanted to be a writer at first, but I mean, to actively set out to do something like touring…there was always that moment where it could have almost fallen the other way. Almost from like, parental pressure. And when I say parental pressure I mean I was just raised by my Mum, right? And her pressure was out of just loving me so much. She just wanted to make sure I could pay bills as an adult and eventually take care of myself and have a good life. And she saw rock and roll as dangerous, in the way that it’s so risky. Just given the way I was raised, and how important that she was to me, almost for her sanity I flirted with taking a safer route just to make sure my Mum wasn’t losing her hair. But we’re close enough for me to have the heavy conversation with her, that “I love you and this is going to break your heart but I’ve gotta do the thing that feels right”. And she’s begrudgingly supported me this whole time and I think we’ve made our peace. She’s supported me throughout the whole deal.

Was there a point where you realised that success in music, and following your dreams, didn’t necessarily translate to being blissful all the time? That sentiment that you can get to the point where you achieve what you’ve been striving for, but you’re still affected by what haunted you before that.

Oh yeah, certainly. Because bigger than you being someone who plays in a band, regardless of that level of success, you’re still also a very ordinary human being who has all the same ups and downs and swings and shifts of anybody else who does whatever they do for a living. We get to do this really cool thing. But it doesn’t safeguard us from what it means to be alive. All those weirdo ups and downs that come from this experience, that stuff is there, but in a lot of ways it should be. It’s the stuff that keeps you grounded. The thing that prevents you from becoming some self-indulgent, buying-into-your-own-hype embarrassment.

A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is out now via Cooking Vinyl Australia.
Interview: James Alex (BEACH SLANG)
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