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    With Quiet Slang, a lifelong punk turns down the volume

    Frontman James Alex has repurposed some of his band’s music with gentle vocals, cellos, and piano.
    Frontman James Alex has repurposed some of his band’s music with gentle vocals, cellos, and piano.

    As leader of the Philadelphia-based punk band Beach Slang, James Alex preaches the gospel of loud guitars, teenage kicks, and rock ’n’ roll salvation. Yet for the solo tour that brings him to Great Scott Wednesday, the man who once sang “turn the amps up to nine/ I don’t want it too loud” is unplugging entirely.

    Released under the name Quiet Slang, Alex’s new album “Everything Matters But No One Is Listening” recasts rousing anthems like “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids” and “Filthy Luck” in a gentler, more wistful light, his tender rasp accompanied only by cello and piano. The chamber-pop arrangements, inspired by the Magnetic Fields, accentuate the beautiful-loser romanticism of what Alex calls his “three-minute poems.”

    “I’m an unapologetic sap,” Alex confesses with a chuckle.


    He’s also a married father in his mid-40s, but Alex’s passion for music exceeds that of rockers half his age. It all started when, as a teenager in Bethlehem, Pa., he fell into the local punk scene, eventually joining cultishly beloved ’90s pop-punk group Weston.

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    “That was sort of where the whole thing happened for me,” says Alex. “I was lost . . . and that was where I found community.”

    A decade after Weston’s dissolution, Alex formed Beach Slang, and what started as an outlet for his frustrated rock dreams quickly turned into something much bigger. That band’s Replacements-esque odes to the ecstasy and agony of disaffected youth struck a chord with fans and fellow musicians alike, leading to opening gigs for everyone from SoCal punk godfathers Descendents to emo titans Dashboard Confessional.

    “[You] learn how to be a band at that level — not that we’re there yet, but it gives you the blueprint, should the time ever come,” says Alex about these experiences. “It’s cool to be that intimately involved, getting that peek behind the curtain.”

    With Quiet Slang, however, the goal was to get as far from the sweaty, euphoric arena-punk of Beach Slang as possible. Instead, Alex approached these concerts “more like an art installation,” complete with floral stage decorations and a film component. He was a little anxious about leaving his comfort zone, but now that he’s played a couple shows and gotten some positive feedback, the nerves are starting to settle.


    “It’s kind of a terrifying thing for me,” says Alex. “I know how to be in a rock band, I know the security of holding a guitar and screaming into a microphone. But I think we’ve got the rhythm [of Quiet Slang] now.”

    He’s also enjoyed returning to smaller venues like Great Scott, which Beach Slang outgrew years ago.

    “We planned it so even the cities where [Beach Slang has] a good thing going, we wanted to keep it small and intimate,” says Alex. “Great Scott’s been a fantastic spot for us.”

    Beach Slang’s story might sound like the ultimate middle-aged ex-punk’s fantasy, but it hasn’t come without turmoil. The band has had its gear stolen, almost broken up on stage, and watched members come and go at an alarming rate. When bassist Ed McNulty quit a month before this year’s tour with Dashboard Confessional, it left Alex as the only original member.

    “[McNulty] just burned out, and I can’t fault him for that,” says Alex. “That’s the one part of our story that has no drama — just being self-aware enough to know [he couldn’t] give everything anymore.”


    Though as he sees it, “Beach Slang really is me and whoever plays with me,” Alex feels optimistic about the current lineup’s stability. He certainly has no intention of slowing down; as soon as this tour ends, he’s going into the studio with a batch of new songs and hopes of having a third Beach Slang album ready by January. Rumor has it that synthesizers and a pronounced power-pop influence will be key ingredients.

    “I’m finding these conventional pop sensibilities I didn’t know I had,” says Alex. “I’m not a big chorus writer, but they’ve been coming out pretty naturally. Maybe Quiet Slang pushed me to think differently.”

    That drive to forever be seizing the moment helps explain how Beach Slang has burrowed into so many fans’ hearts. If songs like “Young & Alive” accurately capture the messy beauty of being, well, young and alive, it’s because their author is old enough to know just how precious (and fleeting) those moments are.

    “I do think about things now, being a father,” says Alex. “One day I’ll be dust, and what am I leaving behind for my kids? What dent am I leaving before I split?”

    The specter of mortality crept into the band’s last album, 2016’s “A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings,” but these days Alex feels “born again with the spirit of rock and roll.” It’s not easy keeping that fire burning when you know it’s destined to fade, but that doesn’t stop him from trying.

    “It’s the same spirit of, ‘You’re here, you’re alive, do it all the way,’ ” says Alex, “but now with the understanding that I can hear the clock tick a little more than before.”


    At Great Scott, Allston, July 11 at 9 p.m. Tickets $15,

    Terence Cawley can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @terence_cawley