James Snyder describes the formation of Beach Slang the same way 99% of all punk bands do — they had no idea what they were doing, they’re just a couple of knuckleheads with no plan, etc. “We aren’t setting out to be U2, y’know,” he says, which is funny, since I’m not even sure U2 set out to be U2. But in Snyder’s case, the cliché rings uniquely true — the entire project was born from a simple, boneheaded act of contrarianism.
“Basically, I read an interview where a guy said no band with the word ‘beach’ in their name can be taken seriously. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah? Fuck you,’” Snyder says. “I need some sort of grain to go against and I thought, ‘I’m gonna put beach in the name and write the best fucking songs I’ve ever written in my life.’” “I had already brought the name up to the guys in the band and they were like, ‘Uh, I dunno.’ And then I read the interview, and then I said, ‘It has to be this.’”
He muses that if they’d been the typical young upcoming band, “someone in marketing would’ve told us, you can’t call yourselves that.” But regardless of their name it’s tough to picture any marketing team giving them the go-ahead: They’re led by a 40-year-old man previously best known as the frontman for Weston, a Pennsylvanian mid-’90s pop-punk band who was wildly uncool even by the standards of Pennsylvanian, mid-’90s pop punk. Snyder currently works as a graphic designer at an ad house whose clients include the Philadelphia Eagles.
After years of post-Weston dead ends, Snyder’s goal on Beach Slang’s debut 7″ EP Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? was to make a record that he might’ve actually bought himself, something that would’ve fit between “the Replacements, Swervedriver, Jesus and Mary Chain, all that incredible stuff that I grew up on that affected me.” He hit the mark – first single “Filthy Luck” is a tour-de-force of huge, harmonized hooks and Westerbergian ne’er-do-well lyricism.
Truthfully, Snyder’s influence came more via another band of Westerbergian acolytes: early Goo Goo Dolls. It’s another name that “doesn’t fall off the lips the way the Replacements and Jawbreaker do,” he admits. “But they were doing the Replacements thing too.”
Beach Slang is a quintessential Philadelphia band just as their city becomes an epicenter of just about everything great about American guitar music, and like many Philly bands, they require a roll call of the numerous other projects they’ve been in. Bassist Ed McNulty came from the just-disbanded NONA, and JP Flexner comes from rugged melodic punk band Ex-Friends. McNulty was booking Ex-Friends shows, while Flexner was designing posters for Weston’s reunion shows. Upon the release of their second EP Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street, Beach Slang is now referred to as a “Philly punk supergroup” and they’ve signed to Tiny Engines, a label that has experienced their own unforeseen rise in 2014 thanks to the likes of the Hotelier and Dikembe. Beach Slang is set to enter the studio later this year to work on a full-length. With decades in the business, Snyder embraces the opportunity to be punk rock’s 40-Year-Old Virgin. “I’m still the kid who believes rock ‘n’ roll can change the world; if I go to Woodstock or the theater where Buddy Holly played, I still want to stand there. It still feels super magical and once that’s gone, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
How did you deal with your band Weston breaking up?
For the first three months, I did nothing. I had a little money saved up, but I felt paralyzed, you know, “everything I identify myself with is gone.” The way we ended messed with the whole reason we did this thing to begin with, and burned me out in a bad way. I’m still the kid who has the posters on his walls and that all went away.
We fixed it doing the reunion shows — we were friends for so long and hated how it ended. It was as much for us as the kids who wanted to see the shows. If I didn’t play guitar, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.
I was probably being a complete downer to everyone around me. Then I just went back to art school, thinking, “If I have to be a guy who goes back to a desk every day, what can I do without jumping off a ledge?” I always made show fliers, but I thought, “Let me have this marketable skill set.” Which was cool, because now with Beach Slang, we get to keep everything in-house.
How does Weston’s legacy figure into what you’re doing now with Beach Slang?
It’s strange — even on the tour we just finished, we were getting callouts for “New Shirt” (from [Weston's '96 album] Got Beat Up). This stemmed from the reunion shows, we’d get stories from fans like, “the first time I ever made out with a girl, I had a Weston mixtape playing in the car.” Now that the kids are a little older, it parcels itself out into Beach Slang and it’s a super warm feeling. I tried to be, “Hey, we’re Beach Slang.” But there’s a spark and a gleam in people’s eyes about those [Weston] times and it was a great time in my life too. It’s good baggage. Every time I hear a story about how Weston affected people in high school, they’re the sweetest paychecks I’ve ever gotten. Not that I’ve gotten a lot of paychecks, but those stories are my, “Fuck yeah, that’s why I do it” moments.
Beach Slang has a member in his 20s, 30s, and 40s. Is there any difference in how you react to being in a band?
When you’re my age, you’ve done it a little bit more and you’re adjusted better, things don’t get under your skin as much. Our bassist comes from a different generation that sees things differently. He’s a mature mid 20s, though — I know people at 25 who I could never be in a band with. They’ve all toured, they’ve all done the “climb in the van, squat at people’s houses.” There aren’t any surprises like, “I thought we were gonna be in a bus and staying at the Ritz.” Everyone’s in love with the idea of piling in a van and being dirty and sweaty and having a time with your friends.
As for me, I might as well be 20. I’m in it full bore. For whatever reason, my body’s holding up. If you dig it enough, it’s bulletproof to all the junk that comes with it. The payoffs and the adventures and all that awesome stuff is just worth it, so sleeping with your knees to your chest in the van doesn’t rattle me at all.
Does it feel weird to be an indie band that is consistently being compared to the Goo Goo Dolls?
At first, [the Goo Goo Dolls comparisons] were like, “Wow, I never really thought of that.” A friend told me a rumor that Paul Westerberg ghostwrote some early Goo Goo Dolls songs, I don’t know if he was trying to make me feel better. I definitely have their first two or three records, right before that Meg Ryan stuff. I don’t want to namedrop, but somebody wrote me who was really digging on the record and he was in a band I adored when I was younger. And he said, “We totally tried to pull some early Goo Goo Dolls.” After that, I never worried about a review dropping that name and wondering whether it was good or bad, that fixed everything. If it was post-Meg Ryan, I’d think I was bleeding out more honestly than that. But if we’re doing that kind of stuff in the future, you can call me out on this interview.
Most Beach Slang lyrics seem to address the collective “we.” Do you draw on your own personal experiences or are you hoping to speak for others?
There’s a line on “Get Lost” where it says, “We’ll grow high, not up.” We can have kids and cars and houses and not forget what it means to go to punk rock shows and get sweaty and loud and drunk. You don’t have to retire from being alive when you’re 35. That’s something I can say to my brothers in arms. The happiest people I know are the ones still playing in bands and painting and writing. But then there’s also the new generation picking up guitars and I can say, “It’s gonna be hard and it’s gonna be awesome and it’s gonna be all of those things. Do every part of it.”