Photo By Jessica Flynn
There is a reason that the myth endures of rock ‘n’ roll playing the role of savior. In every rung of society, there are still young misfit kids — isolated, ostracized and on the outskirts — who turn to music for their companionship. Just because it’s a cliché, doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
That is the philosophy of Beach Slang’s James Alex, a punk rock veteran who still views himself as one of those misfit kids and still believes that music can save his life. Bereft of irony, and heavily schooled in the institutions of Springsteen and Westerberg, Alex’s band plays songs that are joyous paeans to the redemptive power of rock.
“To me, this is music that can’t be explained,” said Alex, who has been playing in punk bands since the early 90s. “I don’t know how to make songs any other way. This is in my guts — these are my love letters to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Formerly of the punk-pop outfit Weston, Alex formed Beach Slang on a whim in 2013 and the Philadelphia-based group released two excellent EPs last year. The band’s debut full-length album, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, came out on October 30, featuring songs that blend the verve and immediacy of punk rock with the melodies and swirling guitar work of indie bands.
In the songs on The Things We Do . . . Alex amps up the melodrama, bellowing about being “Too young to die/ too late to die young,” and imploring that, “We are not alone/ We are not mistakes/ Don’t whisper now/ We’re allowed to be loud.” It’s easy to be jaded, particularly at Alex’s age (he’s in his 40s). It actually takes courage to sing songs that are so nakedly celebratory and inspiring.
Outside of the Replacements, the most obvious parallel to Beach Slang would be Japandroids, whose 2012 album, Celebration Rock, dealt with the same themes of vitality and community — of finding solace in your rock ‘n’ roll buddies. Yet where Celebration Rock was an album for people in their late 20s — adults unable or unwilling to deal with an uncertain future — The Things We Do . . . is an album very much for teenagers. These songs are about dead-end kids living in dead-end towns, who dream of running away. Simple themes, yes, but Alex proves that sincerity trumps needless experimentation. And unlike the Japandroids’ songs, there is eternal optimism in the music of Beach Slang.
“I can’t fake it, I can’t make something that is plastic and not me,” said Alex. “These songs are sonic scrapbooks of my life. These are stories about me and my friends falling in love with rock ‘n’ roll. I write music about the moments where you’ve been kicked down, but my message is to not stay there. It’s to get back up and move forward. I’ve been down, and my friends have picked me up.”
Alex expresses amazement that he’s even being given the opportunity to dissect and explain his music. When he formed Beach Slang, he had no idea the band would garner the attention and acclaim it has received. The group is set to embark on a massive tour that has dates scheduled until next June. That required the band members — Alex, Ed McNulty, JP Flexner, and Ruben Gallego — to all quit their day jobs and commit 100 percent to the fledging band.
“Easiest decision we ever made,” said Alex. “I don’t think of any of us had the slightest idea we’d be where we are now. But we’re playing guitar for a living. That’s more than any of us could ever ask for — we’re keeping the lights on by playing music.”
The band’s tour includes a stop at the Rickshaw Stop, where they’ll headline a November 12 bill that also features punkers Lithuania and Worriers.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Alex. “I really feel like I’m living the dream.”
Beach Slang, Lithuania, Worriers
November 12, 2015, 8 p.m.
$10 – $12