From the banks of Lake Erie with Beach Slang

PHOTOS: ORIANA BELAVIC | The crowd is gathered close to the band, singing every word to every song and casually chatting up singer/guitarist James Alex Snyder between breaks in the music. The band brings friends and other artists from the show on stage to take over bass duties or sing a song. Their set, crafted with old stuff, new stuff, and a few covers, is a tight 45 minutes.

Based on just the facts as written—and honestly the feel during the show—it could easily be mistaken for a local “scene” show in someone’s living room. Except it wasn’t. It was Beach Slang’s last night on tour with indie rock luminaries Cursive, playing to a room full of kids who desperately looked forward to seeing both bands.

There’s a certain amount of casualness around how Beach Slang goes about their business and Snyder is the center of it. He’s incredibly charming and polite, both one-and-one and on-stage. He’s so likeable, it builds a connection with anyone he interacts with. Success has been building fast, but the band is grounded. All of the members of the band have previously been involved in other projects (Snyder in Weston, bassist Ed McNulty in NONA and Crybaby, and drummer JP Flexner in Ex-Friends), so the band seems relaxed to the ebb and flow.

“We’ve been having a hell of a time for sure. The shows are just kind of us having fun doing it,” Snyder says. “It’s nice to have that grounding to cut our teeth before. It’s not like Beach Slang just started and it’s the first thing we’ve ever done and we’re like ‘oh wow, this is just how it is.’ We’ve been humbled enough to not take anything for granted.”

As the band plows through its set on the Grog Shop stage, Snyder’s growl disguises some seriously emotional lyrics. The bearded, pierced, dyed, and generally outsider crowd sings along to every word. This is music written for people who lock themselves in a room with a stack of records and their feelings, and it totally resonated. The proof is in the lyrics:

It’s Friday night and I’m in the basement screaming out my lungs with my best friends.

and

We should scream until the police shriek, “Hold it down.” We’ll tell them “Yeah, alright.” Then bang the amplifiers. We’re not violent. We’re just some dumb kids getting wasted and knowing we’re alive.

“I kind of made this pact with myself that whatever it is I do next, and at that point I don’t know what I’m doing or know there’s a band coming, that I’m just going to tear it wide open. I don’t want there to be any security blankets or any sort of weird armor,” Snyder says. “I just want to be really open and honest with what I’m going to write. The sonic hitting of it all came with the courage I had this time. I wanted to be unguarded. The sound came with that because that’s how it was supposed to sound.”

But being emotive can be a slippery slope. Often some great bands are tight and lay their heart and souls out lyrically and it comes off as overwrought, so the songs fall short. In the writing process, it’s obvious that Snyder and the band put thought into not only how the songs are structured but how to convey their feelings through the music.

“Specifically with Weston, I was just trying to put chords together with words, it was almost less about what I was trying to say and more about how to get through this where it becomes a song,” Snyder says. “I’ve been putting words to chords long enough that now it’s like ‘what am I trying to say with this song?’ And I’ve lived long enough to have something to say.”

The band has been together for a little over a year, and their DIY belief system has led to fast and steady growth. It’s all been done on small indie labels, putting out two EPs pressed to vinyl (one of which is in its second pressing) and playing a ton of shows. Beach Slang recently signed to respected indie label Polyvinyl Records which will help exposure, but you get the feeling that exposure doesn’t matter as much as getting exposure the right way.

“It’s not lost on us that people care. It’s a really incredible thing given how short we’ve been a band—it feels even more incredible,” says Snyder. “This is what we believe in. To us, that’s how a band should do it.”

“Even within all of that, the look and everything of the band, that’s all internal. We all get to do the art on our records. It’s a self-contained unit. And about the label thing, when we had discussions about where we were going to go next, we ultimately landed with Polyvinyl and they dug the whole picture of Beach Slang. It sounds like a really basic ‘of course’ thing, but it’s not really. Labels always want to get in and get their thumbprint on things and then things get blown apart.”

Live, there’s a punk edge to Beach Slang. Not enough to whip up a pit, but everything they do is built on top of the groundwork of punk and post-punk. The band plays loose and teetering on the edge of falling apart. The band stops mid song because Snyder wants to talk about a never-ending breath mint that was in his mouth. The touring guitarist wears goofy x-ray glasses half the set. They let various friends and members of Cursive’s crew step in and play songs with them.

It was revealing that Snyder says Paul Westerberg from The Replacements is his favorite songwriter. It’s one of two bands that Beach Slang is most compared to by the media. The other? The Goo Goo Dolls. Not the coolest comparison, but the laid back personality of the band shows in their reaction to the comparisons.

“It depends when you got hip to the Goo Goo Dolls. If it’s that later stuff, you just take a step back,” Snyder says. “There was that moment of taking a step back and thinking about it. Then you go back and listen to their first few records and I was like, ‘I totally can dig that!’”

“When I first saw it, I balked. I thought about their first couple of their records and I totally got it. What the Goo Goo Dolls were trying to do was a Replacements thing, so we just fit in the legacy… My head’s on straight and I’m just enjoying the ride. Let’s be honest, there can be worse comparisons. I want to make our own thumbprint on the thing.”

So when it’s all said and done, Beach Slang is a “blog buzz band” that doesn’t try to manufacture the buzz. They do what they do and let the world react. It’s refreshing for someone to care so deeply while still not really giving a shit. In the current universe of how hype is manufactured, Beach Slang’s approach is truly an outlier.

“If you really break it down at its basic level, at least people are talking about what we’re doing. We could just be insignificant enough to not even care about it,” Snyder says. “At the end of the day comparisons are cool and nice to compartmentalize things, so people can understand it. But we’re just Beach Slang and we do that thing. Ultimately we’re going to fight through those easier comparisons and stand on our own merit.”

As the Grog Shop show winds down and both Tim Kasher (singer) and Ted Stevens (guitarist) from Cursive join them on stage, Snyder reads a few paragraphs he wrote about the experience of touring with Cursive. It was incredibly heartfelt. In those words, Snyder says that it’s always incredible when idols become friends. You can tell there is a deep bond and a friendship that’s been built between both bands forged over this tour.

While much of that can be chalked up to how kind Cursive treated Beach Slang (Snyder on Cursive: “They are the sweetest human beings. Just looking after us and making sure we’re being fed and that kind of good stuff.”), I have to believe a lot of it can be attributed to just how likable the guys from Beach Slang are. Every moment they were on stage included a smile, a childish giggle from Snyder, or just general fucking around.

Beach Slang is killing it right now. Doing it their own way—with kindness and a passion for the music they want to make.

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