Recently, we shared a fantastic unplugged session with James Alex of Beach Slang, featuring the band's usually wild and fuzzed-out songs stripped back to soft, gentle acoustic ballads. The Philly-based band's music is currently some of the best the underground scene has to offer, but as Alex proved with his session, his lyrics pack enough emotional vulnerability to hit just as hard without a Marshall stack and a drive petal to back them up. A lot of thought and care is clearly put into the band's sound, so we asked Alex to give us the run down on the five artists who made him who he is today:
1. Charles Bukowski
Reading the work of Bukowski is reading the work of the American underground. More than any other writer, he gave a voice to the abandoned, the alienated, and those left behind as a result of a broken social system, often using abrasive language but still conveying a sense of heart and sincerity. In other words, Bukowski's clearly served as a template for Beach Slang's music: Loud and confrontational, but warm and emotionally candid at its core.
2. Stephin Merritt
Stephin Merritt has the kind of voice that sticks with you, which suits the atmospheric instrumentation and sharp lyrics he writes and records with the Magnetic Fields. From acoustic guitars to banjos to synthesizers, you never know what you'll get when you put on a Magnetic Fields record, but you can tell that their eclectic sound has proven to be a big influence for artists across genres.
3. Jenny Holzer
Holzer isn't exactly a conventional poet, but rather a contemporary artist that uses LED signs and language as a mode of public, visual expression. Her massive, lit-up signs already leave an impact when you look at them, but when they're also one-liners like "It is in your self interest to find a way to be very tender," it's the kind of work that sticks with you.
4. Blake Schwarzenbach
Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker is the kind of punk rocker that uses loud and fast music not just to blow off some steam, but also to convey raw, real emotion and describe feelings like love, loss, and frustration in a very real way. It's hard to find that balance between thrashing and caring for most people, but Jawbreaker is a good example of how to do it right, and they have continued to inspire bands like Beach Slang to this day.
5. Paul Westerberg
Emotional potency and un-classed lyricism doesn't get much better than the Replacements frontman and punk underground's troubadour poet, Paul Westerberg. From his time with the 'Mats to his sprawling solo work, Westerberg may be one of the most criminally underrated songwriters of all time, yet his influence has inspired plenty of punks acts, from Nirvana to the Cribs to, of course, Beach Slang.