Concert preview: James Alex punches back with Beach Slang
Should Beach Slang singer/guitarist James Alex ever consider a career change, he'd fare exceptionally well as a motivational speaker.
Reached in Connecticut in the midst of the band's current tour, which stops at Rumba Café on Thursday, Aug. 6, the musician offered advice that spanned generations. He directed encouraging words at those just getting started making music ("It's going to be the craziest, sloppiest, hardest, sweatiest, most beautiful thing you ever do … and your heart is going to be fuller for that") and older heads who might have lost some of that youthful spark ("Reconnect with the thing that lit you up when you were 20, when you believed you were going to change the world and your life was going to be amazing").
It's an infectious spirit that bleeds into a pair of earnest, heartfelt EPs the fuzzy pop-punk quartet released last year: Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? and Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street. Both efforts arrived jammed with ragged, anthemic sing-alongs that sound engineered to lift up the various broken, lost and confused characters populating the band's songs. The phrase "fuck up(s)" repeats a couple times over the course of the two discs, and when Alex directs a verse at the sprawl of "accidents, whores and wrecks" trying to make the best of things, it becomes clear he's generally inclined toward those more wayward souls.
"I think there's beauty in broken things," the singer said. "I really love somebody who knows what it's like to have to punch back at the world a little, even if it's with soft fists."
Alex includes himself among these ranks, noting the various failures that followed the breakup of his previous band, the much-loved Weston, and preceding the formation of Beach Slang. As he sings on "We Are Nothing": "I'm figuring out my life/ Let it cut/ The failure is worth the fight."
"I did some things before [Beach Slang formed in late 2012/early 2013], but those were sort of failed experiments, like where the beaker explodes in the lab," he said. "It's weird to look forward to failure, but I think it's the thing that really keeps the razor sharp. And there's something good about falling down, as long as you remind yourself getting up is more important."
When Weston first called it quits in the early 2000s following more than a decade together, citing, in part, increased tensions within the group - "The conversation we had was we can continue to be a band or we can continue to be friends, because it was so volatile at that point," he said - the musician wondered if those days of "piling in a van and really going for the thing" were over.
"It was never over in terms of the music; I'll die with a guitar in my hands," said Alex, who reenrolled in art school following the split, intent on landing a more sustainable 9-to-5. "But as far as a career, it seemed far reaching to think that was a thing that could happen again."
Beginning in 2006, a series of Weston reunion shows, as well as an aborted 2011 recording session the band hopes to one day revisit - "The stuff we were just beginning to knock around had a little moxie to it; it sounded like where you might think Weston would be at this point in time," he said - reignited Alex's interest in making another go at music.
"We did a little recording and played Riot Fest [East in 2011], and it was this weird reminder that, 'Wow, you can write things and make things that actually matter to other people,'" said the frontman, who is also performing a one-off show with his Weston mates at Florida's the Fest this fall. "Kids would talk to us and tell me what those records meant to them, and that had a really profound impact on how I came into Beach Slang. If I'm going to say something, and it's something even five kids are going to carry with them, I want it to have a little weight to it."
Though a bit older on this second go-round, Alex has no intention of easing up on the gas as Beach Slang prepares for the October release of its full-length debut. "I hope when I die/ I feel this alive," he sings defiantly on "American Girls & French Kisses," a live-in-the-now feel that permeates every song.
"I've seen too many friends hit a point in life where they subscribe to that notion, like, 'Well, now you need to get serious about life. You have to pack that guitar up and do whatever it is your parents or your counselor told you a responsible adult does," Alex said. "I guess I want to remind people through my work that … it's all how you approach life. I want to embrace that Hunter S. Thompson notion where you're skidding into the grave sideways, because as far as we know we only have one go around on this thing. For me it's about sounding that alarm."
8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6
2507 Summit St., North Campus
ALSO PLAYING: The Kyle Sowashes, The Easy Pieces