Although the angst-ridden alt-rock of the early ’90s was very much of a time—like the movie Singles—Beach Slang‘s music feels current despite borrowing from that lineage. The furious distortions manage to capture the paradox of every new generation, young hardheads running wholeheartedly toward something, though they’re not quite sure what. That’s a genre trope, but frontman Alex James’ pen carries a welcoming specificity. Take the lyrics to “Warpaint,” the closing track of last year’s A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, for instance: “Don’t be afraid to want to be alive.”
James says that song is dedicated to a friend, but in a sense, it could be a reaffirmation after a particularly brutal 2016. Drummer J. Flexner was fired and guitarist Ruben Gallego split after sexual assault allegations. The changes forced James to tour solo as Quiet Slang, and after finishing their US run, he discovered tour gear was stolen. Any one of those incidents are enough to derail a lesser act, but Beach Slang still subsists on its tested optimism.
This year has been a hard reset: Alex has recruited drummer Cully Symington (the Afghan Whigs and Okkervil River) and lead guitarist Aurore Ounjian (Mean Creek) as touring members, and he also released Here, I Made This for You Vol. 2, a set of covers, last month. Beach Slang hasn’t found a permanent member yet, but after surviving 2016, James is content.
“I think the way we’re trying to do it right now is just leave everybody unofficial members,” James told SPIN before their showcase at Mazda Studios. “It gets messy when you’re swapping things out, so we’re just going to ride it out with touring members to see how it feels.”
“It’s just personal,” he added. “The people we started with, we loved them, but ripples and tears kind of start to show themselves. I don’t see them coming but I didn’t see them coming before either. So we just want to make sure we get it right this time.”
Alex has already been part of the punk outfit Weston, which lasted from 1990 through 2001. Beach Slang seemed at the brink of also becoming past-tense (it even looked like they broke up on stage during a show last April), but the forty-something frontman hasn’t tired. “I just want to keep hammering,” he said. “That way, if this whole thing goes away, at least we gave it everything we had.”