Beach Slang Break Down “The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City” Track by Track

James Alex cites everyone from AC/DC to Jónsi as influences on the band’s fourth LP.
Track by Track
Beach Slang Break Down “The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City” Track by Track

James Alex cites everyone from AC/DC to Jónsi as influences on the band’s fourth LP.

Words: Dean Brandt

photo by Charlie Lowe

January 10, 2020

Beach Slang has never been subtle. Well, that’s not exactly true, but in terms of their influences, the James Alex–fronted rock group has never been shy about making their influences known—and this has never been more so the case than on the group’s latest release, the homage to all things hard-rock The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City.

With overt nods to glam, power-pop, hair metal, and other heavy-hitting movements in 1980s rock, City is a rolodex of familiar radio favorites, an intentionally reverent homage to all of Alex’s favs. “I wanted to write a mixtape,” he says. “A love letter to rock and roll. A record that time travelled a bit. Something that sounds like a Trans Am in 1978, drunk power-pop in 1987, and a Warren Zevon demo. I wanted T. Rex, AC/DC, Kiss, Joan Jett, The Cars, and Cheap Trick all over it. With just enough Paul Westerberg and Kitty Wells—to make it howl and weep.”

That’s…remarkably apt. Stream the love-letter/mixtape below, and read on to learn when, exactly, Alex’s muse struck for each individual track.

1. “All the Kids in LA”

This thing is scattershot. I aimed at a nod to Dick Dale (the title is a bent lyric from “King of the Surf Guitar”), but my hands shake too much to shoot sharp. So, it ended up being a smashing together of these things: 1. The orchestral introduction to “The Wall;” 2. The surf instrumental “Cecilia Ann;” and 3. The guitar solo from “We Got the Beat.”

“Hey, Charlie, spin it ’til it’s dimed.” I’m a sucker for studio fodder.

2. “Let It Ride”

This was the first song I wrote for the album. And the only early one to survive. A trashy, blues dirge about the bang-ups of rock and roll. You know, it’s a weirdo thing to feel cracks of light writing a song about self-doubt. But I suppose that’s when they’re really meant to show up.

3. “Bam Rang Rang”

The first half: I was listening to an interview with Paul Westerberg about the way he went at writing songs for a particular record—Come Feel Me Tremble, maybe? I don’t know. But, yeah, he called the way he’d hit his guitar as “just going bam, rang, rang.” I heard that and it shot me good. I knew, straight away, I wanted to write a real dirty burner and call it “Bam Rang Rang,” something that made you want to buy a motorcycle, smoke a cigarette and land a hangover.

The second half: I heard someone say I wasn’t a very good guitar player and I wanted to prove them wrong. I mean, they’re right, but I figured I’d just play loud enough to let them know they weren’t. There’s something about a sleazy riff on a ratty guitar that makes everything alright. So, I smashed Angus Young into Marc Bolan and got a great, big, messy chunk of glam and swagger. Pick your heroes right, you know?

4. “Tommy in the ’80s”

We were on tour, somewhere outside of St. Louis. I was sitting on a scratchy hotel chair trying to write something. Nothing came. Charlie walked over, real still, and told me Tommy Keene died. I went all-the-way numb. You grow tired of the wrong people dying.

I took the “Saturday night” bit from “Nothing Can Change You.” I took the title from “Warren in the ’60s.” I took the horn part from “Deep Six Saturday” and the thump from “Turning on Blue.” Look, if you don’t dig this thing, no sweat—just listen to Tommy’s records. They’re the real deal.

5. “Nobody Say Nothing”

It’s a messy thing to be born unwanted. It keeps you second-guessing. It keeps you quiet. It keeps you stuck. You see, that’s the thing about being cut too deep too early—the scar sticks around. You think you’ll shake it, but you don’t. You think you’ll shove through it, but you can’t. And every time you swing, it slips the punch. 

So, you build blanket forts and read books. You talk to stuffed bears and wear red capes. You make a run for it. Some kids get there. Most don’t. Me? I’m still running.

6. “Nowhere Bus”

You feel some junk way about yourself. So you try to rake it off. You try to trade it in. You convince yourself if you say it enough, the feeling might switch. It doesn’t.

7. “Stiff”

When I was a kid, my friend Joey and I would sit, for hours, and draw pictures of Kiss. When we were twelve, he got sent away because of his head. Some people are just too ahead of the curve, I suppose. But, yeah, Ace Frehley was always my favorite. And I think that’s all this is—me trying to do my best Ace—for Joey.

8. “Born to Raise Hell

I wanted to write a snotty little thumper about a real good night out. Something reckless and defiant. Like, if Link Wray recorded “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash” or something. That was the aim. That’s where I was running. Then, I heard this weirdo, sweetly creepy Beach Boys harmony and chucked it in. It needed some unnerving, some absurdity. It needed to rattle. So, yeah, I hijacked Brian Wilson and that snapped it together.

9. “Sticky Thumbs”

The first half: No matter what you’re born into, there comes some sense of being stuck, some gnaw of yearning. This is the sound of getting out.

The second half: I just really wanted to write something The Runaways would dig.

10. “Kicking Over Bottles”

I cracked my head open at a particularly drunk show in Brooklyn. After the set, I got hustled backstage to get zipped back up. The room was yelling and my heart was thumping and the whole damn world felt so alive. Like, when everything flips electric. I shuffled back out, encored and bloody, in love with every good reason to be in love. This song is about that. And the whole reason I picked up this dumb guitar in the first place.

And the horns—yeah, that’s a great, big, sloppy, French smooch to The Mats.

11. “Bar No One”

Vanity, I suppose, is the last thing to split. Look, I don’t know where I’m going to end up, if we end up anywhere at all—I just want to look alright when I get there. I guess, for once, I just want to feel handsome. And no better time than when everyone you love comes to have a look.

Bonus Track

I read about Paul McCartney and tape loops and fell head-over. So, I took a crack at it. This is mostly my son, Oliver, reading a story about shooting stars. The rest is me doing my best Jónsi, a field recording of a cathedral in Barcelona, kids at a museum in Milan and the one laugh that always snaps me back together.