An Interview with Coastal Club’s Alex Hirlinger

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A week before surf-rock infused indie-pop band Coastal Club is set to perform at Final Fling, WMSR Redhawk Radio’s Senior Editor Annie Eyre talked with Coastal Club’s singer/guitarist Alex Hirlinger about positivity, nostalgia, and the unique atmosphere of live performances.

Annie (WMSR Senior Editor): So how did Coastal Club come about? I think on your website it said that you guys were friends, first. Is that how this started?

ALEX: Yeah, so I would say that I’ve been lucky enough—and I think the guys would agree that we are lucky enough—to be playing music with some of our best friends. Myself and the guitar player [Alex Mobley] were the original two members of the band. There was a third member, a drummer, who has since moved away to Florida for a job, but he started the band with us in 2016 under a different name.

I had just known the guitar player because we had kind of grown up together, we had been friends for awhile, and then I met the bassist [Avery Benter] and the now-drummer [David McGuire], we’d gone to college together, and so around the time that the old drummer had been moving away, the bassist had come up to me at one of our shows.

So he basically, literally, just came up to me at one of our shows and asked if he could join. And one of his best friends was a drummer, and he had heard that Cody—who was our drummer—was moving away and he was like “My best friend David also plays the drums and he would be very interested in playing as well.”

So we started playing all together around 2017 or so, and then have just kept making music together since.

That’s pretty cool that it ended up working out like that!

Yeah, pretty organic.

So you guys have a surf-rock sort of sound, is that right?

Yeah, we would describe our music as indie-rock or indie-pop with sort of a hint of surf music laid in there. It’s not always present but it sort of leaks through at some moments who have a sort of surf-y vibe to it, yeah.

And you guys are based in Cincinnati, so what inspires the kind of sound that you guys create?

Yeah, we chose our name ironically, obviously, we’re definitely not on a coast by any means. But that sound is kind of inspired by The Beach Boys. I listen to them a ton, they’re one of my favorite bands. And so, kind of just listening to The Beach Boys and some other surf rock bands as well—some of our favorite bands are bands like Colony House who are, I would say they’re indie-rock, but they have a little bit of a surf thing going on at moments and so we kind of have taken some inspiration from them as well as classic surf rock music from the 60s.

We sort of blend them together with more modern pop sounds and then that’s just the concoction of Coastal Club, I would say.

And what do your songs tend to be about?

Oh man, a variety of things. I would say mostly our songs have a sense of nostalgia to them, or we at least try to give them a sense of nostalgia. Kind of the idea behind our name, Coastal Club, is that our music is very positive and joyful in a way that—not to say that we’re not going to get depressing with some of our topics—but we definitely tend to lean more towards the idea that “we know it sucks, but we’re just trying to make the best of it,” and try to be positive in some sense of darkness.

Most of our songs are about events that have gone on in our lives—like I’ve got some songs about graduating college and friends moving away, and different stages of life change happening. And then we’ve also got songs like “Alleyway,” which address the fact that that stuff is all happening, but we’re still going to focus on what’s ahead of us and what’s in front of us, and positivity in those things.

Some songs deal with bouts of depression that I have, or dealing with the idea that time consistently moves on even though we try everything we can to, like, rewind the clock in different ways.

So it’s honestly a wide breadth of topics, but I would say mostly we just try to focus on the positive sides of those topics, and hit home on those.

Do you have a favorite song to perform?

Of ours, that is?

Yeah. I mean, also I’m interested if you guys have one you like to cover!

(Laughs) Yeah, um, I think of our songs it’s hard to choose. I think that my favorite song is always changing, because as we’re writing something new, that is generally my favorite thing to play because I haven’t played it a whole bunch before. But, then again, if we’re writing something brand new those ideas probably haven’t been fleshed out all the way, so there’s probably a balance there.

I would say that I really like playing “Dreaming Of,” which is a newer song of ours—it’s going to be coming out on our next release. And it is a very fun and kind of pop-y song, and the riffs are really fun to play. Sometimes I’ll get off the guitar on that one, and just kind of dance around a little bit, and that’s a lot of fun. So on the dance-y side of things that’s probably my favorite song.

And then on the other side of things there’s another new song called “Conversation,” which is probably my favorite song to play, intellectually. Some of my favorite lyrics that we’ve written are in “Conversation” and so every time I play that it kind of re-inspires the words behind that song and I kind of find a different meaning to it in every scenario we play it. That feels really good on kind of an intellectual level.

So, yeah, I would say those are kind of my two favorites. And then outside of our music, I love playing Michael Jackson songs. So, like, “P.Y.T.” is my jam.

And you referenced a new release you guys have coming out this year?

We are! We do! We have music that we’re trying to release soon; the release for that has not yet been planned and we’re still sorting the details out. But we have a collection of about six songs that we’re going to be doing double releases for—so three double releases. So that should be coming out at some point this year, and we’re trying the best we can to get that out sooner rather than later.

So what do you think makes a good live performance? What have been some of your favorite live performances that you guys have done?

So I was listening to NPR a couple of weeks ago and I heard a quote that really stuck out to me. It was by Rosanne Cash, and she basically said that she used to think of live music as a place that an artist would go to be judged, but she now believes that it’s more about energy exchange. It’s about people sharing one temporal experience—an experience together—and the audience members take away a unique perspective of the same songs, and kind of apply them to their life, kind of making those songs their own personal artwork, in a way. And so I think that that is why people go to live shows, really. There’s an exchange of energy that happens there, an experience that happens together that is really special, and really can’t be duplicated in many other ways.

And so, when I go to see some of my favorite artists creating as many moments as possible, when they create all those moments, that’s what makes a show really special to me. When I connect to what the songs are saying, and the lyrics behind the songs, as well as kind of what is happening in the room, and the energy that the artist is giving off.

So I guess that’s a very intellectual response, but on a very less intellectual response, I think that what makes a great show is just personal engagement with the audience. As much as you can, just interacting with the audience and making it less of an experience that’s like “I’m gonna go to this thing and the artist is going to play their songs at me” and more so of “I’m going to go to a show and the artist is going to include me in this experience and it’s going to become kind of like a once in a life collision of people in one place that happens.” There’s something really special that happens there.

That was a great answer, honestly, that gets me so excited for Final Fling!

Thank you!

What have been some of your favorite artists to watch perform?

I think Young the Giant is probably my favorite. Or, one of my favorites, I should say. Everytime I see them, there’s just a sense of energy in the room that’s electric, it’s like every person on stage, every note that they play, every move that they make is perfectly placed and it’s all so intentional and it just really blows you away. So they’re one of my favorite artists to see.

Also COIN is pretty incredible, I’ve seen them once or twice live and they are really really good and incredible. Same deal—they engage the crowd really well and every move that they make seems like it’s very intentional and placed there for a reason.

Do you have anything else you want our readers to know?

I think the biggest thing is we’re going to be coming out with music soon, so if anyone wants to they can stay tuned with us on our Instagram [@wearecoastalclub] and all of our social media—we’ll be posting all about that when the time comes. And we’re excited about what’s to come!

Coastal Club will be performing at Final Fling at Uptown Park. You can see them May 2nd at 6-8pm.

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