One of the rising stars in the crowded Philly rock n' roll scene is Beach Slang. They're one of the great un-sung live acts working the beat now but that won't last long. Beach Slang headed into the studio this month to cut first full-length album and you can bet they will be back on the road in full force this fall. Epiphone caught up with James Alex--lead singer, writer, and fan of the mighty Epiphone Dot ("that's my guitar--that's our sound"), on the eve of producing the band's inaugural summer studio date--their first as a quartet.
Epiphone: Thanks for speaking with Epiphone.com, James. You're about to bring Beach Slang into the studio. Is that an easy process for the group?
James Alex: Yes, right now we’re going into the studio to make our first full length for PolyVinyl so we’re in that one-week left surge of making sure we’re ready to make the thing. We're working pretty much as a unit. We’ve only put out two 4-song EPs but we’ve each been cutting our teeth in bands before. We’ve done enough that we’re comfortable in the studio. We made the first two EPs with our friend Dave and we’re making this one with him, too, so it’s like we’re in a room with a friend of ours. That takes a lot of those studio anxieties out of the picture.
Do you feel you have to make any adjustments for a full-length album?
I think off the kick we feel hungrier. We've been living off those 8 songs for a good bit. We’ve been really excited to make this record. We’re going in as a quartet this time. We did the EPs as a trio but we’ve made our live guitarist a permanent member. He’s been the perfect fit. I did all the guitar work on the first two and I produced the records so now I can sit in the studio console room and put on a little more-of-a producer hat and really massage the thing a bit more. But our overall approach will be the same. We’re a rock and roll band and that’s what we want to be. We don’t want to oversaturate our records with goop and overproduction just because we can afford to make a record. I don’t want to remove that “thing” that makes us unique out of it. We’ll probably keep to the basics and the foundation the same. It feels like its working for us.
As a producer, do you focus on the performance or creating a unique sonic signature in the studio?
I play with guys that I trust and the sound that we make naturally is there. There's no reason to fuss with it. The production--sonic wise--has an emphasis on the guitars. It’s not like a smattering of tones. It’s almost a glorified live record --that's what I’m striving for, rather than creating weird sounds just because they’re available. Sonically, it’s a lot more like: let’s do the things we do but use nice microphones. I thing that comes with me being the writer—they are my babies and I sort of see the entire painting. The other guys are looking at their brush strokes but they’re not really looking at the whole painting and I think that’s where I live, reminding not only myself but everyone of the entire picture. I just make sure that doesn’t get skewed as we move along.
How did you take on the role as a producer?
With this band, it was an assumed role. They just sort of expected me to be there. Our friend Dave is definitely my guy. With the full-length, we’re gong to call it co-producing. I’d be lost without him. I can speak with him in my "record collection language" and he’ll get that. If I say—“oh what about that sort of vocal tone of whatever record...—he’s super helpful in that way. He sculpts more of the sonic end we’re trying to get—that more comes from him. He’s got a really good ear and he’s made a ton of records in that studio. In terms of me coming into that role of producer—that was the vibe from the other guys. There’s no tension there. They look at me to bless it. We don’t try to put pressure on our recording, we keep takes to one or two. We want to present our band very honestly, not this glorious studio thing where there is some wild disconnect from the two.
How did the band get together?
We were playing in various things around the Philadelphia scene and we would see each other at shows. Half the guys are artists or designers so we might see each other at art shows—crossing paths. JP, our drummer, would fill in on projects that I was in and he played rock and roll cupid-- “hey this would make sense if we got together as a trio.” And we did that and rehearsed at a friend’s house and looked at each other and said: “I think we might have a band here.” It felt right. It’s not lost on me that doesn’t happen everyday. It’s wildly difficult to find two or t here other people where that chemistry syncs up. It’s hard work but it’s really that chemistry that’s making the thing fly.
What Epiphone are you bringing into the studio
I swear by my Epiphone Dot. It’s become signature to the sound of Beach-Slang. I can’t replicate that sound. If I could, I’d have one of those big traveling cases where you’d flip it open and it would be filled with white Epiphone Dots.