Beach Slang: Catharsis + a Few Chords

Music Features Beach Slang
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Members: James Snyder, Ed McNulty, JP Flexner
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.?
Current Release: Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?? EP
For Fans Of: The Gaslight Anthem, Jawbreaker, The Replacements

Philadelphia’s Beach Slang are a cordial bunch, and they want you to know it.

“We might be the most well-mannered, sweetest band in rock,” frontman James Snyder tells me, chuckling. “You can take us all home to your mom, she’d be okay with us coming into her house.”

But Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?, the trio’s debut EP for upstart Long Island label Dead Broke Rekerds, is anything but well-mannered. Clocking in at just under 11 minutes, it’s a strident slice of noise pop that runs the gauntlet of what it means to be young, dumb and heartbroken. Marked by feedback-ridden guitar and Snyder’s confessional wordplay, it’s the sort of record that pummels your heart, but not without first mollifying your soul with its unashamed candor.

Beach Slang formed last year as a collaboration between friends who frequently crossed paths in Philadelphia’s punk and hardcore scene. Snyder, who previously played with legendary Pennsylvania punk band Weston, crafted the handful of songs that would become Beach Slang’s debut in his bedroom. Without a proper band to back him up, Snyder considered tracking the tunes on his own—until drummer JP Flexner (of formidable Philly punk band Ex Friends) convinced Snyder to get in a room with him and bassist Ed McNulty (formerly of NONA, now of Crybaby) to try and add some meat to Snyder’s skeletal compositions. It wasn’t long before the trio realized they were on to something.

“Pretty instantly we knew we had a pretty cool chemistry thing going, which to me has always been the hardest thing about a band,” Snyder says. “When we kind of came together, it felt like we had been a band a lot longer.”

The band would eventually track Broken in a two-day surge late last summer in New Jersey. Recorded mostly live with minimal overdubs, the EP possesses a raw, boisterous quality—something Snyder says was the intention before the band ever set foot in the studio.

“You can labor over a record so much that you massage the soul out of it. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t do that,” he says.

Released in late May, Broken was quick to catch on with tastemakers. With a few flattering press clippings to their name, the band hit the road with labelmates and friends Crow Bait for a four-date tour of the Northeast—their first live outings as a band. During that brief run of shows, Snyder says audience response was unlike anything the band had expected. As a YouTube video from a show at Suburbia in Brooklyn (only the band’s second gig) attests, crowds connected with band’s anthemic vitality swiftly.

“We were really blown back in the greatest way you can be blown back,” Snyder says. “It was just like ‘Fuck, we didn’t see that coming. There was hope that people would be there. That’s pretty much where our concern began and ended. ... It was pretty awesome, we were floating for days after that run of shows for sure.”

But talking to Snyder, it sounds like his feet have returned to the ground. Throughout our conversation, the levelheaded songwriter talks in length about following his gut when it comes to damn near every decision that confronts the band. The way he describes rock ‘n’ roll (“A few chords and you letting out whatever that thing is you wanted to get out”) is downright admirable without sounding overly romantic. But for a guy who likes his guitars loud, Snyder has an astute literary sense—something he says frequently creeps its way into his songcraft.

“Before I picked up a guitar, I wanted to be a writer. I think very naturally my stuff has that sort of emo, poetic kind of approach. But we want to make sure we hit a point where it doesn’t fall into taking ourselves too seriously or it gets pretentious or it gets calculated or anything weird like that.”

But between the grandiose and the discordant is exactly where Beach Slang resides—a sort of musical no man’s land The Replacements used to patrol in earnest. Snyder’s songs are keen observations on the human condition, complete with clever turns of phrase and heart-on-your-sleeve brazenness, all funneled through a dynamic and abrasive lens. Snyder knows he and his bandmates are toeing a dangerous line between the overly elegiac and the detrimentally combative. But he’s willing to walk that tightrope as long as there is valuable emotional resonance at the end of the line.

“I want to, at least when I sit down with my pencil, I want to try and write some lyrics that can be kind of affecting but at the same time it doesn’t fall into ‘I’m just going to sit out with a thesaurus and a dictionary and try to show how profound a person can be.’ Like fuck that, right? That could sound really intellectual but it doesn’t scrape some part of your bone and your heart or your guts or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. Then it’s just sort of intellectual masturbation,” he muses.

Though Beach Slang only recently started to gain some traction, they’ve already completed work on the follow-up to Broken. Slated for release in late September, the four-song EP will be the band’s first effort for Charlotte, N.C.-based label Tiny Engines, which has put out some of the best punk-inflected records in recent memory.

“I think we’re going to be ready to drop some more music on people pretty much right when they’re ready. That itch seems to be getting a little more, which is great. It feels incredibly lucky that people want to hear more. We’re excited about it. I’m really, really jazzed about the songs,” Snyder says.

Snyder is a seasoned veteran when it comes to baring his soul on record, but he admits that he feels no inclination to slow down. And that’s good, because if Broken’s introductory lyric (“I’m a slave to always fucking up”) is any indication, he’s still got a lot more ground to cover.

“I feel just as energetic and driven and angsty as the first day I picked up a guitar. And that’s the thing I always say to anybody who cares to listen,” Snyder says.

“Man, if I still feel that way, I’m going to die with a guitar in my hand.”