By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – Philadelphia punk band Beach Slang play a kind of music that has been traditionally steeped in alcohol and sweat-soaked propulsiveness. It’s music for turning up loud until your speaker distorts and rocking the fuck out. With singer James Alex’s new album as Quiet Slang, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening, he’s taken the same songs, replaced the guitars and drums with a piano and cello, and transformed them from blistering fury into orchestral pop. It’s as though he’s taken the line from their song “Filthy Luck” that yells, “This guitar wants to die” at its word.
Beach Slang are known for their earnestness. Alex opens most shows by saying “We’re Beach Slang and we’re here to punch you right in the heart.” There’s an optimism in that and in the songs themselves. But stripping down the songs showcases a more melancholic side to the very same songs. Alex describes how this works: “When I write these things, I write everything on acoustic guitar or I can club at a piano, I’m not a very good player but I can club at one, so at their starting point they are all rather melancholy to me. And then when I can pile on the guitars and drums and make them rock and roll all of a sudden, this energy just smothers optimism on top of that stuff and I like that. I’ve always wanted to temper that. I want Beach Slang to be the charge of optimism. I think with Quiet Slang, cutting back and framing the lyrics a little differently and putting them to the forefront as opposed to walls of guitar it’s nice to have that pause.”
Alex’s earnestness and love for the fans also helps explain why the album contains no new songs, or even covers, just re-workings of previous material. He explains, “It was something I was considering. I’ve been writing the next record as I was gearing up for this so I had stuff. I sort of approached it like feeding a small animal. I wasn’t even sure anybody was going to accept or care about this. I was nervous expecting the response of just stick with your guitar so I think it was a bit of way to ease people into the ride. I never want to disappoint people who connect with this thing. So I didn’t want to throw too wild of a curve ball.” He doesn’t rule out the possibility of that kind of thing in the future, now that the test run is out of the way. “If I’m lucky enough and people care enough to hear a second Quiet Slang that one will have original material on it because I’ve introduced to people.”
While the album consists of a pianist and cellist, travelling on tour with such things wasn’t financially viable so he’s worked on a different way of dealing with the live show, one using his previous career in design. “What we’ve done is use a lot of programming and stuff. We’re singing together. I’ve worked on a film and we’re going to show a projection of that. We’ve been building stage props. We’re thinking of it almost like an art installation as much as it is a music show.” So while this suggests a completely different atmosphere as a normal Beach Slang show, it does keep with Alex’s fan-first philosophy. “We’re going to have this immersive, hopefully transportive experience, intentionally very different from a normal Beach Slang show, which is plug in, turn up and go have all the mistakes and car crashes. That’s what’s so dear to me about Beach Slang and that will never change. With Quiet Slang it’s got to be different.”
Quiet Slang performs at the Biltmore Cabaret June 22The Biltmore Cabaret