Punk rock ain’t all about stickin’ the finger to the man. It’s got a sensitive side, too. Just ask Beach Slang frontman James Alex, 39, whose lyrics have a youthful conceit and a sense of yearning that could be notes ripped from a romantic punk rocker’s diary. Beach Slang’s punk rock cocktail consists of smart, bookish songwriting a la Jawbreaker; the dirty, fuzzed-out soundscapes of Dinosaur Jr.; and the Replacements’ attitude. And it works: The band’s critically acclaimed debut album The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us topped dozens of year-end lists. You’ll probably hear much of it when Beach Slang comes Downtown for Neon Reverb, at the Bunkhouse on March 12.
Let’s get this out of the way: What are some of your favorite beach slang words?
Oh, man. The two I’m guilty of saying are “rad” and “totally.” I came up in a beach town, and I spent my summers in Rhode Island with a Navy family. You’d see “locals only” spray-painted everywhere, so that’s another one to add to the list. I always found that cool and ridiculous at the same time. [During that time] I listened to a lot of surf punk and picked up some of that slang. … I’m basically a walking ’80s Valley Girl film.
So how do we do The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us?
It’s real simple: Keep your eyes and heart open. I have a weirdo magnet inside that draws me to the types of people who are kinda like me—the people who are kinda flawed, a little scuffed, but who are just so fucking goddamn hopeful, they don’t realize it. I don’t know what it is, but I embrace it.
I’m a studier; I like to keep my eyes open. Traveling, hitting the stage and beating up a guitar put me in a position to meet these people. I’m not really into myself; I’m more fascinated by the people I see and meet in these treks.
The album is one of the most talked about records over the past couple of months, and you released it after a year as a band …
It’s weird, right? I’ve been playing in bands for such a long time, and the grind of it all is nuts. When I was touring before BandCamp and the Internet, we had to map routes with raggedy atlases. After the gigs, we’d ask people in the crowd if we could crash on their floors.
Then, Beach Slang came together in late 2013, wrote its first EP, and Noisey wrote about it. Right away, people cared about this band, and it’s really wild. … [Being in this band] is playing an awesome game of catch-up. I could have bigger complaints.
You’re a little older than your peers, and typically play to a bunch of 20-somethings. Is there any disconnect?
I don’t think so. Generally, our shows have a nice age span of 18-to-50 year-olds. What I write, and where I write from, is universal. You feel this way when you’re younger and figuring it out, and you feel it when you’re older—trying to determine where to land. It’s not barricaded in certain age groups, and maybe I’m even fooling people who don’t know how old I am. I’m just doing it the way I feel, and I hope people hang around for much longer and stay invested in what we’re putting out.
Is there new Beach Slang material in the works?
I’m writing LP No. 2 now. … I’ve been listening to a lot of shoegaze and Britpop stuff, and that’s shoving its way into the songs. I try not to get stuck in a particular year. Of course, I’m eternally rooted in the things I love—the Replacements, Psychedelic Furs and others. That style just sneaks out, even if I’m trying to write a song that rips off Jesus and Mary Chain. But our sound is going to evolve with those threads of consistency.
What’s it sounding like?
I’ve been listening to a lot of shoegaze and Britpop stuff, and that’s shoving its way into the songs. I try not to get stuck in a particular year. Of course, I’m eternally rooted in the things I love—The Replacements, Psychedelic Furs and others. That style just sneaks out, even if I’m trying to write a song that rips off Jesus and Mary Chain. But our sound is going to evolve with those threads of consistency.
How do you feel about your top billing at Neon Reverb?
We lost our minds. I can’t fucking believe our name is next to the Melvins. Ty Segall puts on a hell of a show; Chuck Ragan is cool. … Traveling around, I’ve only been able to see some of these bands in videos. We’ll be waiting our turn, and we’ll show our stuff when the time is right.
Have you been to Vegas?
I have! It’s easily been a decade or more since I’ve been, though. I’ve been twice; I came in, played a show, and had to split to catch the next thing.
Beach Slang, as a unit, hasn’t, though. So needless to say, we’re pumped. This time, I know we’re gonna indulge. We promised each give a hundred bucks to each other, [on the condition that] each person had to gamble it. You can’t buy something from a gift shop or snacks. We’re there to have fun and see what sort of responsible trouble we can get ourselves in.
How will this gig differ from others?
Our shows are everything to me. I’m a hopeless optimist; I’m gonna go out there and think I’m gonna have a good time, because why do anyting if you’re not having fun? Getting to play alongside all of these bands is just the beautiful cherry on top.
Most of the time, we forget we’re playing shows and treat them like house parties. If something feels or doesn’t feel right, we’ll change the setlist on the spot. There’s always an exchange of energy between bands and fans. There isn’t that weird thing that says “We’re the band. Listen to us!” Fuck that! We’re in it together. Our setlists are scripts that are loosely written.
Will you break out your cover of Jawbreaker’s “Boxcar”?
Fuck, yeah. If somebody shouts it out, we’ll do it.
With Mercy Music, Leopold & His Fiction, Fredward, The Pluralses, Good Grief and DJ Fish. 7 p.m. (Beach Slang at 1 a.m.) $15, Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-854-1414; NeonReverb.com.