Hutch Harris (the Thermals) Talks Beach Slang’s The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us

The Philadelphia band's new album has a drinking problem. And it feels terrible. But it also feels great.

I saw Beach Slang open for Cursive earlier this year in Portland. It was a packed house, and I was glad to not feel like the oldest person at the show, as I have often lately. I turned forty this year, and I don’t say that out loud very much, for fear my cred card will be revoked. This was another night of celebrating nostalgia, specifically a shared adoration of Cursive’s Ugly Organ (2003), which they were performing in full that night. To say that Beach Slang stole the show would be an overstatement. There was no fucking with Cursive that night — they were as good as they ever are (which is to say great), nailing one of their best records for the rowdiest late-thirties pit I’d ever seen. But before that, Beach Slang got up and owned it. They played to Cursive’s crowd like it was their own. They were jumping and sweating and shouting and falling down and the audience was right there with them. When Beach Slang was onstage, the crowd was theirs, and I had an instant respect for them. These days any band can sound good on record. The true test is whether you can bring it live, especially when you’re performing to (what should be) disinterested dudes in black waiting for their favorite band to play their favorite LP.

The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us opens with some kind of crazy distorted breath, like a rapid inhalation of thirty years of beer-fueled, nicotine-stained guitar-rock. Post-punk, pre-endless-hangover. What follows is a half hour or so of loud, sweaty exhalation. Imagine staying up all night sucking down your favorite old seven-inches so that in the morning you can vomit them all up into the perfect new band.

“The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk” growls singer James Alex Snyder at the start of “Noisy Heaven.” This is in-the-moment shit. We’re young, we’re hungry, we’re out drinking (non-stop, apparently). But although Beach Slang is a young band, the members themselves aren’t that young, giving The Things We Do… a knowing touch of hindsight, and therefore sadness and regret. In the present we are always fucked up, we are living. In the future we are always dead. It’s hard these days to just live in a moment. We are usually stuck preparing to destroy, or wallowing in the ruined aftermath. Beach Slang have managed to find a way to do both at once. We’re running loose in the streets, soaked on the outside, rotting on the inside. Our ears are ringing, our bodies are decaying. But we’re old enough to be self-aware. We know what we’re doing, and what we’ve done. We’re not proud of it. OK, maybe we’re a little proud of it…

One of the best tracks on The Things We Do… is “Too Late to Die Young.” Yeah, it’s a ballad. No matter how loud you turn up your amps, no matter how much you rock, bro, odds are that your best, or at least most relatable, stuff is gonna come from a slower, sadder place. Just ask Jawbreaker (or, uh, Def Leppard). Live, Beach Slang reminded me of Jawbreaker. Really, what decent post-pop-punk band doesn’t sound at least a little bit like Jawbreaker? If I go see your band and there’s not even a hint of a 24 Hour Revenge Therapy influence, I’m checking out. On record, the Jawbreaker influence is still there, but more so is a Replacements influence.

The Things We Do… and “Too Late to Die Young” specifically ensure that Beach Slang will never stop getting compared to the Replacements. I, for one, have heard enough of the Replacements, possibly for a lifetime. Look, I love the Replacements, we all do. But there comes a time when you just have too many memories attached to bands and their songs. This is why we sell our old records, why we move to other cities. We need new bands, we need new songs. We need to move the fuck on with our lives, and we need a new soundtrack for this.

The refrain on “Ride the Wild Haze” is “Get high enough to feel alive.” On “Too Late to Die Young” Snyder sings, “We’re animals, we’re drunk and alive.” Yeah, this record has a drinking problem. I never cared much for straight edge music, which, to my ears, only sounds good after six or so beers. If you’re gonna preach to me, preach to me about how fucked up you are and how great and terrible it feels. Not that I don’t know, I just want to hear you say it.

For me, and for Beach Slang, it’s too late to die young. But it’s never too soon to die old, and it’s always the right time to die fucked up. I would never advise any band to drink or smoke in the pursuit of artistic or commercial success. Drugs and alcohol have ruined a lot of lives. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” In “Porno Love,” Snyder sings “We took a lot of time, but not enough drugs.” That sounds about right to me. When would it ever be enough, right? Living a reckless life isn’t for everyone. It’s just one of the things we do to find people who feel like us.

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)