Beach Slang: meet the punk rockers who are ready to ‘bleed for you’

Dont be fooled by the bowties: Phillys finest might just be the most raucous band of the moment if they can hold it together

If James Alex ever gave up the day job, you suspect he could make a decent living as a motivational life coach. Barely a minute of conversation with the Beach Slang singer and guitarist goes by without him offering up a quotable nugget of existential advice: A life without regrets is not a life well lived; Theres an infinite amount of reasons to be happy to exist; Never retire from being alive! Theyre the sort of aphorisms you might see pinned up on an office noticeboard accompanied by dodgy clipart. Alex, though, really means this stuff, and he delivers it with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that, after an hour in his company, youre ready to believe it too.

Sadly for the lifestyle guru industry, Alex has chosen to use his powers of persuasion in the pursuit of punk rock, something he believes in with evangelical ardour. Rocknroll to me is holy. I want to honour it properly, he proclaims. Beach Slang are certainly living up to that aim. On record the Philadelphia band are making some of the most giddy guitar music of the moment, accompanied by live shows that are rarely less than a riot.

Perhaps Alexs zeal for punk rock is down to being afforded a second chance at practising it. He spent his 20s in a sloppy three-chord punk band called Weston but then gave up on the idea of making music for a living, went to art school and found a job in graphic design. The bug never left him, though. He spent his free time working on new music, which hed perform at open mics. When he played his songs to drummer JP Flexner, he in turn recruited bassist Ed McNulty and guitarist Ruben Gallego, and Beach Slang was born.

What followed is indicative of the strange accelerated world of the post-internet music industry. Before theyd ever done any live shows Beach Slang recorded an EP, which received a favourable review on Pitchfork and garnered buzz on social media. By the time the band got around to playing their first gig people at the show were singing every word.

In truth, Beach Slang are the kind of band you want to belt out every word to, preferably while showering yourself with a keg of beer. Their songs conjure up the sort of bratty but romantic visions of the Replacements and, latterly, the Hold Steady and Fucked Up adolescent in their outlook, conjuring up the confusion and excitement of negotiating adult life for the first time. That these songs of teenage abandon are sung by Alex, a man in his 40s, make them more rather than less affecting.

When I write I imagine that Im scoring a John Hughes film, Alex says. When youre hitting those teen years, its the first time youre tasting freedom, finding your voice, shaking things up. That doesnt stop after youre a teenager, but the thrill of that first awakening is what I tap into.

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Beach Slang perform live at The First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, December 2015. Photograph: Greg Pallante/PR

If the songs are stirring on record, live Beach Slang are something else. Alex likens the gigs to a huge drunk house party: crowd members are invited onstage to have a bash on bass, and in turn Alex spends much of the time splayed out on top of the audience. Stage curfews are ignored if not wilfully broken. At one recent gig the band played for 50 minutes and then returned for an encore. It went on for another hour and a half.

For Alex these sets of almost Springsteenian lengths are all about sending paying customers home happy. Its not a hostage situation, he laughs. But what we find is that people dont want to go home. Listen, I get the value for the money you work hard for. You go out and do the thing and you work hard and now youre spending that to come see me do the thing that I love? Im going to bleed for you.

In this Beach Slang take their cue from college rocks original hellraisers The Replacements, who wreaked their own booze-stained trail of havoc across the same venues 30 years before. To me they exemplify rock and roll, Alex explains. It felt a little dangerous, it could be a car crash or it could be brilliant, but it was never predictable.

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Beach Slang perform at the Best Kept Secret Festival, Hilvarenbeek, June 2016. Photograph: Danny Payne/REX/Shutterstock

If Beach Slang have inherited the Replacements good points, theres a danger they may have also taken on some of the self-destructive spirit that resulted in that bands sorry demise. In April there were rumours that Beach Slang had split after a disastrous live show in Salt Lake City. Reports of the gig and the footage that emerged proved pretty damning. The bands usual exuberance is almost entirely lacking, with heads pointed at the floor. At the end of the set, as the rest of the band storm offstage, Alex tells the promoter to refund the audience. We were Beach Slang, he says ruefully.

Thankfully, reports of the bands demise were premature. Alex wrote a Facebook post a few days later stating that he was gigantically sorry for the performance, but denying the split rumours. If youre still in, we are, it ended. Looking back, he considers it the most cliched thing weve ever done, the result of frayed emotions at the end of a huge tour. We felt we were the Kinks for 40 minutes and we fought on stage. Since then, Flexner has left the band, but the rest of Beach Slang are powering on. Next month theyll release third album A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, which Alex describes as more powerpoppy, with a Kerouac poet troubadour spirit. It will, of course, be followed by more of those house party gigs the band are known for.

Still, Alex sees the dangers of band life souring. Once it stops being fun, why are you doing it? That goes for anything I do in life. If for a season I really enjoy gardening, Im going to garden the hell out of that thing. But if next spring I go out there and its not doing it for me, Im going to stop gardening. Its the same thing as rocknroll.

For now though Alex is just happy to ride this out and see where it takes him. He switches back to motivational coach mode. I know the science is still out on this, but as far as we know we get one shot at this being alive thing. I just want to make sure that, whenever it is that my lungs start to collapse on me, I dont want to die saying I wish I wouldve… Man, I dont want to say that. Im doing what I can to not say that. If hes still in, we are.

A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings is out on 23 Sep; Beach Slang tour the UK from 22 Aug

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/17/james-alex-and-philadelphia-punks-beach-slang