Published Nov 03, 2015Just two years ago, few could have predicted that James Alex Snyder would get a second kick at the punk rock can. Now in his early 40s, the singer and guitarist cut his teeth in '90s pop punk group Weston before attending art school and taking a job as a graphic designer in the early 2010s.
Yet, after years on the sidelines of Philadelphia's red-hot punk scene, he hooked up with Ex-Friends' drummer JP Flexner and Nona bassist Ed McNulty to form Beach Slang. They dropped two EPs of earnest Replacements-meets-Jawbreaker punk last year; the band play with a sense of urgency that puts most musicians half Snyder's age to shame.
"Right now I feel like I'm in this really nice stride," he tells Exclaim! "We just never saw this happening to us, so we're afraid to stop. So yeah, there's a lot of urgency happening out of fear and excitement."
The band's flurry of activity culminated at the end of October with the release of debut album, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us on Polyvinyl. "There's something oddly legitimizing about having a full-length," Snyder says. "[The EPs] are like little abbreviated records and now we get to put this full thought out into the world. There's something cool about that."
Recorded in July between tours, the record follows in its predecessors footsteps, recorded in the same studio with the same team that helped shape the Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? and Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street EPs. "It didn't feel broken to us, so we didn't want to mess up the works."
Nominally a quartet (live guitarist Ruben Gallego joined the band in the studio to play on the new record), Snyder nevertheless is the band's sole songwriter, labouring over demos in his home studio before bringing them to the group to flesh out. "All the harmonies and little guitar dingers are there," he says. "My internal testing system is pretty rigorous, so there's not much room for it to change."
The 10 tracks conform to what Snyder calls the overarching Beach Slang mindset: "Live life so well that you leave death trembling," he says, paraphrasing Charles Bukowski. "You're here, you're alive, know what that means and how valuable that is."
The American writer looms large in Beach Slang's legend — Snyder mentions him several times during our conversation and he's one part of Snyder's three-part writing process.
"The first thing is I think, 'If I was scoring a John Hughes film, what would I write?' Okay I got that, 'So how would Bukowski say it?' Then you get the lyrics. Then it's 'What chords would Westerberg put behind this?' In my head, that's the formula. I never know how close I get to the target, but when I feel I'm within throwing distance, those are the things that tend to make it."
Still, Snyder doesn't limit his musical outlook to that holy trinity. Many fans and critics have pointed out that Beach Slang's take on the Mats sounds surprisingly similar to early Goo Goo Dolls. It's no coincidence.
"Those first three records, I have those and I still play them all the time," he says, quickly distinguishing between this phase of the Buffalo trio's career and the later, grating balladry that would make them AOR radio staples. "I always saw the Goo Goo Dolls as wanting to be the Replacements. If you listen to those early records, it's undeniable."
The Things We Do… captures Beach Slang at a particular moment in time; Snyder explains that he's "trying to do that Robert Pollard thing" writing, recording and releasing material sequentially as it's written.
"The whole thing with Beach Slang is that I want to be super honest," he says. True to the group's restless nature, he's already working on material for album number two. "You need to push yourself and keep charging forward."
Beach Slang have a series of North American tour dates book, including some here in Canada. You can see their complete schedule here.