Interview: Beach Slang – ”Ego is the embarrassment of rock’n’roll”
Unedited English version of interview previously published in Swedish in Gaffa magazine.
Bad Art And Weirdo Ideas from last year was about a friend of yours who wasn’t aware of how talented she was and the song was your way of telling her what she needed to hear. Do you think people in general don’t make use of their talents?
– Yeah, I do, at least in my group of friends who I hang out with. A lot of creative, eccentric, outsider types you know. They are the most talented people I know but also the most self-doubting and I suppose those two things go hand in hand. It makes for a rough existence but for great art. I just need some of them to know it so more people than just me can see or hear it. Unfortunately those to things go together quite often.
Was that how you felt about yourself when you started Beach Slang?
– Without a doubt. Beach Slang started when I got nudged out of my room of writing these songs because I let a couple of friends hear them and they were like “These are pretty alright, you know, you should record them” and then I felt like “Okay, that’s all it’s going to be, a recording project” and then just hide again after poking my head out. I have this horrific fear of rejection so I thought that if I just kind of peak out I can duck the bullets a little easier. So we did the first EP and it just connected and I was sort of forced out of my bunker as it were. It’s been good for me. It showed me the world could be pretty soft if you allow yourself to see it.
On stage you were saying how you didn’t expect anybody to show up. Did you really mean that?
– It’s true. To me, with Beach Slang I still play songs with my friends hoping some of my friends will show up. We’re knocked back by it every time and we have played enough shows and toured enough to maybe see that we’ve got at least a little momentum going. I don’t know, maybe I never want to buy into that. I like the wonderments of surprise. It’s really beautiful when you’re not seeing it coming and the room fills up with people singing your songs. It’s nice.
I suppose it’s a different feeling compared to if you would’ve hoped for it?
– For sure. To me, ego is the embarrassment of rock’n’roll. When you start believing your hype, your press or whatever people are telling you. There aren’t many rules to Beach Slang, right, but one that we sort of agreed upon was that humility would captain the show, and I think that has served us well. We haven’t lost any of that yet and we don’t plan on it either.
Now, I’ve got to compliment you on your clothes. I really like your Beau Brummel, dandy style.
– Sure, I’ll take that! My mom raised me on The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Buddy Holly, that stuff, and they always seemed to dress. You know, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan with the suits. To me, it goes from… I’m really like a wallflower in life, kind of quiet, read books, but when I put my little suit on it’s kind of like Clark Kent going into Superman or something! I saw a documentary on Freddie Mercury who I love dearly. He’s really quiet too and then he goes on stage and becomes larger than a thousand lives at once. Just an enormous, gigantic personality. It’s that little switch, I guess. I get to find my voice in rock’n’roll. Out in the world I’m more of an observer.
You read a lot and you’re often credited for your way with words in lyrics. Have you ever considered writing a book yourself, like a novel?
– I have and I want to. I wanted to be a writer long before I was a musician. When I daydream I’m just in a quiet house in New England typing and writing books. I haven’t cracked the code on how to make a living on doing that yet, but I’m hoping! Maybe I can gather enough weirdo adventures with this rock’n’roll thing that would make a good book someday.
I promised myself to not bring up the Salt Lake City incident [where a frustrated Alex on stage called out that the band was breaking up], but would you say that social media reporting from fans and other observers blew that out of proportion?
– Without a doubt. It was a molehill that became a mountain. When we woke up the next day and saw the hurricane of coverage we were shocked. It was everywhere. We were like “wow, I didn’t think we mattered that much”, to be honest. It’s just one of those weird things where I’m in a four-way marriage, a relationship where you have moments when things bubble over and tensions were there and then you immediately run out and get roses and make up for it, you know. We had a change of personnel and a lot was related to that. We’d been putting a band-aid on a broken leg for a very long time and I think that was the catalyst for fixing it. We’re all still very good friends.
Now you gave me an explanation although I didn’t expect that much, but I’m glad you did.
– You know, there’s one word I use about Beach Slang and that’s “honest”. Heart on my sleeve, there’s no smoke and mirrors here. I don’t know how to have secrets!
Is that sort of scenario the back side of social media?
– It is, everything happens in real time. That window for human flaw these days is minimalized at best or non-existent. You’re really not allowed to make mistakes unless you’re a band like us who not only embrace it but we celebrate it. What we’re about is the human experience. The glory, the flaws, the scars, the triumphs. All of it, man. While I wish that hadn’t happened, I’m remiss to apologize for it because I don’t want to look like some plasticized, manufactured image. We’re just like everybody else, you know, we have a bad day and we have good days.
It gives you an identity to have flaws as well.
– Without a doubt. It rounds out the story and makes it more real and honest. That said, I don’t plan on repeating it, ha ha!
Seeing as your heroes are the Replacements, do you think that you sometimes can come too close to following their footsteps…?
– I mean, that case was a little too close to their self-imposed self-destruction stuff. Somewhere in the deeper parts of my head I glorify that sort of myth of bands but I’m a real romantic, man, I hated that that happened, I hated that it took that sludge for us to get to the root of things. But I stand by this statement: I doubt that any occurrences of us thinking we’re the ‘Mats or the Kinks or Oasis, slugging it out on stage. It was just boiling under the surface for a while.
Where did you get the idea for Punks In a Disco Bar.
– When I first started writing it I came up with that riff and I was just trying to rip off Cheap Trick, all those Rick Nielsen kind of things.
Yeah, I see that you’ve got a Big Star badge on your sleeve. Are you a power pop fan?
– Without question, in my dreams we’re a power pop band. Anyway, so I had that little thing and was in the headspace of two sorts of things coming together that seemingly don’t belong and then they surge each other forward. The work becomes better, everything benefits from these two things that aren’t supposed to collide. I like the symbolism of a couple of punks going into a disco bar and having the greatest night of their lives. There’s something really cool in that. I refuse to believe that we all don’t belong, because we do. We just have to have the moxy to believe in it. Then I just wanted to nod at the Replacements with the little scream at the end, “I’m a bastard but I ain’t no one’s son”.
Let’s pretend you made your Sorry Ma… album last year with your debut. I haven’t yet heard your new album. Will it become your Let It Be, if you know what I mean?
– It’s pushing in that direction. That was the first thing the label and my manager said to me, that even if I delivered it in my home demos they went “you’re definitely evolving this”. It’s going at Let It Be, Tim and Pleased To Meet Me, that stuff. And that’s the stuff I celebrate, the stuff that turned me on about Westerberg as a writer. Even on Stink, that really raw, punk stuff, you could hear that something more was coming. He delivered on that promise he made me.
– I also feel like I draw more from my love of Britpop, shoegaze and power pop, stuff that I love so much. That showed itself and kind of sculpted the sound. I never want to Xerox things, I never want to paint Beach Slang into a corner, so yeah, I think you’ll feel the stretch.
Another band I come to think of is Buffalo Tom and their first two or three albums. You combine the rawness with good lyrics and Bill Janovitz is also a great lyricist, I think you have that too.
– Sure, yeah. Thank you. I always say that I don’t think Beach Slang does anyhing overly original, but what I think we do well is we draw from a real broad brushstroke of influences. To me, we can have a sort of seering, early Replacements guitar but then I was really tapping into Teenage Fanclub, where you have sweetness partnered up with that grid. I guess that’s the cool thing we get to do, so we never really get pigeonholed into anything. To me, rock’n’roll is holy, I love so much of it that I never want to… This is the thing we do.
– By the way, I love that you’re analogue, man! (Points at my highly old-school notepad…)
A lot of rock stars have died this year, as you know. Which one has affected you most?
– The Bowie thing iniolated me. I was really shut down for a while. I was writing LP two when that happened and for no other reason than to just say “I love you, you’re going to be missed”. I called a song on the record “Hot Tramps”. Lyrically, it has nothing to do with absolutely anything, I just wanted to put my little flag in the ground to say “You meant a whole lot to me and a bunch of people”. You know, when Prince passed away that was brutal. We went through Minneapolis on that tour, you know all the flowers and the wall and everything on First Avenue. It was incredibly moving. People were there singing songs, really sweet. Those are the two that really rocked me.
You wear a lot of badges of various kind. Are you following politics and how do you feel about the election.
(Grunts) – Ugh… You know, we’re all planning to move if Trump gets in. We’re terrified! We really thought we had a chance with Bernie Sanders. It really, really looked like he had momentum in the same way no one thought Barack Obama was going to get elected it just took on, this grass roots kind of thing and we thought we had that with Bernie Sanders. Then all this flawed, rigged government stuff… It’s a (lesser to evil?) situation to us now. But Trump is just not an option. I have everything crossed, fingers, legs, whatever it takes. We’re hopeful that that won’t happen.