Monthly Archives: October 2015

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/Langhorne Slim

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“Sometimes you can make a louder sound quietly”: the beloved Americana-tilting rocker talks about his new album, relocating to Nashville, and finally getting sober. Oh, and something about receiving prototypes from the Stetson factory….

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been a strange three years for Langhorne Slim.

Since the release of 2012’s The Way We Move, an album that took the Pennsylvania native across the globe and to his biggest audiences yet, the alt country/punk rock/folkie has relocated to Nashville where he bought a house, completely quit drugs and alcohol, signed to the influential indie Dualtone label and turned in his most personal album yet.

Despite decades-worth of life changes crammed into just three years, Slim is still every bit of the aw-shucks, roll with the punches, ego-less musician that has won over everyone from punk rockers to the Americana crowd, tearing through raucous foot-stompers like “The Way We Move” or mellower fare like “Changes”.

Calling in from his Nashville home before heading out on what will likely be months on the road to promote the new record, The Spirit Moves, Slim spoke openly about sobering up, co-writing songs for the first time and his new gig as a hat designer.

BLURT: I’ve been listening to the new album for a month now and the one thing that jumped out at me, from someone who has been listening to you for years now, it seems a lot mellower than some of your earlier albums.

SLIM: If that’s how you take it then you’re reading it perfectly right. I think if you just talk about the quickness or tempo of a tune you might be right. I would say that it rocks as hard, if not harder in my opinion. Sometimes you can make a louder sound quietly if that makes any sense. I think there were truths from within my soul (laughs) that needed to come out and so that was a focus; how to put that to music. With the last record too there’s a real hope and openness to put the emphasis on the lyrics. Perhaps that comes in a slower song sometime, but it’s just what comes out at the time.

In this journey and process of writing music and making records, I never think to myself I’m going to make more of a ballad-type record or I’m gonna have more of a punk-type sound with this record. It’s just what makes sense at the time I’m writing. It doesn’t even occur to me. I’m just trying to capture the essence at the time.

I know you recorded this one down in Nashville, but you still worked with (producer) Kenny Siegal on this one, right?

Yeah, I sure did. I moved to Nashville three years ago and even bought a house here and I love it. But this is the first record that I co-wrote songs with anybody. The band, for years, I brought songs to and they helped arranged them and they wouldn’t be the same without those guys, but with Kenny, we actually co-wrote. I would come up with some ideas and some pieces and some nearly full tunes and then I would fly to New York and drive up to Catskill and meet him and he would help piece them together. In him, I found a real soul brother, a musical comrade that somehow understands my craziness and helps me put it together. And then we drove to Nashville together to help make the record at the Bomb Shelter.

Were you uncomfortable at all the first time you started writing with him and sharing ideas?

No, because it happened so naturally. It happened because it was so clearly meant to happen. He and I grew to be very, very close friends through making The Way We Move record at his studio. I found a sort of spiritual soul connection with the guy and so what happened was I was going to Kenny for some demos. I had some song ideas and the band is scattered – everyone lives in different places and has for pretty much since the band’s existence. I was going to him to cut demos to send to the band and in that process Kenny would be like, “Hey bro, I hear this bridge.” I never would write bridges, I do a little now, but I’m more verse/chorus/verse type of fella.

And at first maybe I thought it was peculiar and I’m a pretty open cat, but when you write, and I don’t know if it’s part ego, but you really need to trust the source around you to be open to the suggestion. That comes with playing with people and you sometime get to the point where you not only trust the person, but you’re also eager to hear their contributions. Siegal is much more than a friend, he’s like a brother and it came really natural, so he’d say, “maybe I hear another part” and at first I wasn’t sure if I was up for hearing this “other part” he was suggesting for a song I had been working on for a month. And then he would play it and it would make complete sense. And it just felt good.

For me, I hear a lot of music in my head and I have a lot of ideas floating around and sometimes they come as full songs and often they don’t. Working on so many songs in a month is both awesome and terrifying because it starts to overload my brain and the creative part of my spirit and it shakes me up and I really feel it. To say it makes me feel uneasy would be an understatement. In Kenny, it’s like going to a therapist if you’re having a rocky marriage or going through some shit at work. Siegal is like my creative therapist. I would go to him with all this information and some would be fully fleshed out… and others wouldn’t be and I would go there and we would get fucking deep. It’s not fun all the time. It’s not the thing I would invite friends to come sit in on – “Hey, come check out the fun writing process.” And yet, something strange happens and there would be breakthroughs, we would cut the tunes and send them to the band and the proof was just in the pudding, it felt right and the guys were into it.

For-All-Eyes-SiteLanghorneSlim_roeth4-24-15-03-copy-2

Is this the same band you’ve had for the last few albums? Have there been any changes?

Yeah, it’s the same exact band as The Way We Move record. David Moore on keys; Malachi Delorenzo, the drummer, has been with me since the beginning and Jeff Ratner is the same bass player from the last two records, so about six years. And then there’s some various other folks. Josh Hedley, one of the best fiddle players and country singers around and he’s toured with us a bit and he sings on the song “Changes” and plays fiddle on “Spirit Moves” and a few others. There are a number of Nashville bad asses that are buddies that came in and helped us with it.

Nashville seems like it would be a good fit for a musician. Tons of talented people and studios and a lot cheaper than LA or New York.

Nashville is perfect for me. I’ve moved around a lot and it’s the place I have loved the most. It suits me. The people are so hospitable. It’s been a beautiful place to move to and to have shifted my life to in certain ways. It’s been a beautiful chapter… Nashville has been a huge part of this record and a huge part of the last few years for me.

In the press materials, there was a mention that this is the first album you’ve written completely sober.

Yeah, that would be very true.

Was it different approaching this album?

Completely.

Harder?

Harder because I never did that before and easier because it’s easier (being clean). But I didn’t know it would be easier. I don’t know if that makes any damn sense. I’ve been an excessive drinker and drug taker from a pretty early age and I made most of my music and lived most of my adult life that way; I got sober two years ago on my birthday when I turned 33. And it was a spiritual shift in my life and there are always obstacles, demons and challenges, that’s just a part of life. But there are some that we carry with us and we know they’re there and we may even know we can do something about it, but we just aren’t ready yet. I’m very proudly sober and it’s weird… I didn’t decide to be a musician. I was just born and started doing it to the best of my ability. With that shit, I had the creature in me and tried to do it in a way that made sense and I could still have my relationships and career. It was a creature that I battled for a long time and I knew at some point it would take me down and I would have to jab it in the throat with some sort of blunt object so that it could release me, or I could release it.

I knew if I could do that before it took me down, I would be able to step into a more fully realized version of myself and into a more enlightened existence. When that shift took place, of course it was difficult and you feel like shit and it’s scary, but as soon as that wore off I was in a more elevated place all around with my relationships; with my relationship with myself, friends, my music. We all create identities for ourselves and its interesting when you can shake some of that off and realize not only do you still exist, but you’re kind of groovier… It’s helped me to be more in tuned with the spirits that are creativity. I gave drugs and alcohol several of my records. We dated for a long time. I dated that shit longer than I dated any human and it was time for us to break up and I’m the proudest of that break up.

I want to end by talking about your Stetson deal. Every time I’ve ever seen you, either live or in photos, you’ve been wearing a hat. You are now, I guess sponsored by Stetson hats. How did that come about?

Yup, I’ve pretty much always had a hat surgically applied to my head. We were brought to them by this great New Jersey band we were on tour with called River City Extension. They were friends with those guys and they said, “We gotta introduce you to our friends at Stetson, they give us free hats and we got a good thing going over there.” Seeing as I’ve worn a hat just about every day of my life it seemed to make sense. We met them and hit it off and just continued the relationship for the last several years up to this record. I don’t know if it was a dream or a friend who said to me, “You should talk to Stetson about designing a hat.”

It was just another example in my life that nothing is out of reach. If you dream something up and are open to it and show excitement and enthusiasm for the potential thing, wild shit can happen. We brought it up and I didn’t think they would come back with any interest, but they did and that grew into me about a month ago going to Texas and working with them and their head hat designer on a new hat. I’m receiving prototypes of the hat and holding it going what the hell?!

It’s such an honor. My grandfathers wore Stetson hats and I’ve had a love of hats my whole life. To have the opportunity is surreal… I think it’s just growing into your place in the world. I mean, somebody’s got to design a hat. Why can’t it be me?

Fred Mills: Don Henley Must Die! (not…)

Don Don

In which a former detractor (sorta…) decides maybe it’s time to eat his words (or Mojo Nixon’s words…) and become a huge fan (okay, maybe that’s overstating matters…). But that “Boys of Summer” song will always be a guilty pleasure, right?

BY FRED MILLS

Starting back in the late ‘70s and lasting roughly a decade, there was a distinct us-versus-them mentality at play if you were a denizen of the Amerindie underground. No righteous punk, college rocker or avant-tilting muso would be caught dead listening to the likes of Journey, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates or The Eagles, with even the occasional grey area artist such as Pink Floyd—who at one time epitomized the very notion of “underground” but became semi-permanently stained when Johnny Rotten decided to rock that infamous Floyd teeshirt emblazoned by the scrawled prefix I hate…—generally falling on the wrong side of “cool.”

Hold that thought.

Nowadays, the tracks-downloading, history-eschewing, tradition-ignoring musical milieu known as the millennials clearly fails to grasp the concept of The Enemy. How else to explain the aforementioned Hall & Oates’ inexplicable latter-day ascendancy, the annoyingly adoring cheers that greet Steve Perry’s every appearance at a Giants baseball game, the historical revisionism that under-thirty music journalists routinely deploy when according the Eagles’ members “Americana godfathers” status, or the criminal lack of criticism that greeted Billy Joel’s 2013 Kennedy Center Honor? I mean, seriously; for the record, once upon a time Perry would have gotten a pie in the face if he turned up someplace in public without one of his handler/bodyguards that routinely flanked him back during his Journey tenure, such was the vitriol “we” harbored. But those days are gone, and to this day I still cringe reflexively when certain artists’ names are uttered in hushed, admiring tones. And I say this freely admitting that, yes, there will always be certain songs that rank as guilty pleasures for moi, like “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Maneater” and “Takin’ It Easy”—although, let me be clear, I absolutely draw the line at that Joel toad.

Getting back to my denim-wearing, coke-snorting whipping boys the Eagles: in the mid ‘80s I became friends with gonzobluesabilly rocker Mojo Nixon, having reviewed his albums and regularly hanging out with him whenever he’d come to town. At the time I was living in Charlotte, NC, and as these things turn out, in 1990 I was working as the Music Editor for Queen City alternative weekly Creative Loafing, the same year Nixon released the album Otis containing the scathingly satirical song “Don Henley Must Die.” Per its title, the tune poked fun at the Eagles co-founder, essentially calling him an uptight, humorless, pompous egomaniac—which, at the time, was generally the reputation Henley had garnered; a laid-back, taking-it-easy, Laurel Canyon hippie type he was not. Mojo Nixon, of course, had made a career sending up pop culture and its icons, but the Henley track was particularly brutal—or sweet, depending on your perspective.

Here’s the Nixon song; the lyrics follow, and after those there’s a revealing MTV interview with Nixon (“What the hell does Don Henley do? It’s not rock and roll!”)

The lyrics to the song read thusly:

This is the sound of my brain.
Then I said, this is the sound of my brain on Don Henley!
Then I said, 1 2 3 4…

He’s a tortured artist
Used to be in the Eagles
Now he whines
Like a wounded beagle
Poet of despair!
Pumped up with hot air!
He’s serious, pretentious
And I just don’t care
Don Henley must die!
Don’t let him get back together
With Glenn Frey!
Don Henley must die!

Turn on the TV
And what did I see?
This bloated hairy thing
Winning a Grammy
Best Rock Vocalist?
Compared to what?
But your pseudo-serious
Crafty Satanic blot
Don Henley must die!
Put a sharp stick in his eye!
Don Henley must die!
Yea yea yea

Quit playin’ that crap
You’re out of the band

I’m only kidding
Can’t you tell?
I love his sensitive music
Idiot poetry, swell
You and your kind
Are killing rock and roll
It’s not because you are O L D
It’s cause you ain’t got no soul!
Don’t be afraid of fun
Loosen up your ponytail!
Be wild, young, free and dumb
Get your head out of your tail
Don Henley must die!
Don’t let him get back together
With Glenn Frey!

Don Henley must die!
Put him in the electric chair
Watch him fry!
Don Henley must die
Don Henley must die
No Eagles reunion
The same goes for you, Sting!

***

Er, yeah – Sting. Please add him to my above list. But I digress… The Nixon song gained a good deal of notoriety, and while I don’t specifically recall reading whether or not Henley ever came out and made a public statement about it, there’s no way he wasn’t aware of it. This was not a man to shy away from taking on the critics (for you youngsters out there, think of Henley as the Ryan Adams of his generation).

As I would learn one Monday morning later that same year…

End-of-the-Innocence-COVER

The setlist wiki site Setlist.fm details the 1990 Don Henley tour for his Top Ten-charting The End of the Innocence, noting that Henley appeared at the Charlotte Coliseum on Saturday, July 7. As fate would have it, on that same Saturday my editor at Creative Loafing was working at our office, trying to do some catching up and taking care of preliminaries for the upcoming week. As he subsequently would inform me on Monday, the office phone rang while he was there, and since neither the secretary nor the office manager was on hand to take the call as usual, he picked up:

[brusque voice]Is this Creative Loafing?”

“Er, yes it is…”

[combatively] This is Don Henley.”

“Um… gotcha.”

[more assertively] “No, I AM Don Henley. And I do not appreciate the negative comments you published about me in your so-called ‘newspaper’!”

What the person on the other end of the Loafing phone line was referring to was a concert preview blurb that had appeared in that week’s issue. Each week we compiled column called “Music Menu” comprising a selection of 75-to-125-word mini-previews of our concert picks for the upcoming week. And as I was the Music Editor, the lion’s share of those blurbs was penned by yours truly, so let the truth be told, I took it as my mission to keep the paper credible by also including pans alongside the picks. (This caused the ad sales execs no small degree of vexation when they had to placate local club owners who did not appreciate my dismissive comments about their tired cover band and whiteboy reggae bookings as opposed to the struggling punk dives’ attempts to bring in truly unique indie and underground bands, but that’s a story best saved for the memoir I’m working on…)

Henley rightly divined that he was on the receiving end of a pan; I’d love to know who brought it to his attention, or be a fly on the wall while he was reading it. But this was not just any pan; my Music Menu blurb for his concert that Saturday night—which, let’s face it, was probably sold out or close to selling out by the time he picked up the phone to call us—consisted totally of the above-quoted Mojo Nixon lyrics, no side editorial commentary by yours truly necessary. (Did I mention that compared to the vanilla approach taken by the local daily paper, we took to heart a CREEM-type snarkiness to our music coverage of the city?) By my way of thinking, it summed up our paper’s general disdain for the overtly mainstream rock acts that regularly passed through the larger venues of Charlotte.

You can check in, but you can never check out, dude.

Henley, revealing himself in all his thin-skinned glory, proceeded to read the editor the riot act, barely giving him a chance to get in a word edgewise. Eventually my boss was able to point out that (a) all we were doing was quoting lyrics, not writing a negative review; (b) we frequently adopted an irreverent attitude, which of course was at times the mandate of alternative weeklies in the U.S.; and (c) since we actually respect both Mojo Nixon AND Don Henley (& the Eagles), if he—Henley—would be interested in commenting for the record or even writing a rebuttal, we would absolutely publish it.

[Aside: just in case you are wondering at this point, no, we never questioned whether or not it was actually Henley calling. I would have asked him to sing a few bars of “Witchy Woman” just to be sure, but my editor told me that the agitation was so clearly personal that it had to be him, and that anyway, he’d heard enough interviews with Henley over the years to more or less recognize the voice. “Plus,” he added, “Don’s a known prick. No way would he delegate a call like that to some roadie.”]

Henley declined the latter offer, but he did seem somewhat placated, and calming down his tone a bit, he just groused a little bit about how the Nixon song painted him as an asshole when he was really just passionate and very outspoken at times, and that by this point he was just so sick and tired of hearing about the damn song that it rubbed him the wrong way in a major way, blah blah blah.

Fair enough. The conversation apparently ended on a moderately civil note, although I don’t think he offered to put our paper on the guest list or anything like that.

I got to hear the tale when I arrived at the office Monday morning to turn in some of my copy and check the mail. In the parlance of today’s times: WIN!!! It’s not every day that a journalist gets direct feedback from an artist about something he wrote, much less gets called on the carpet. My old friend Jim DeRogatis probably gets the Grand Prize in that regard, for his notorious Ryan Adams Telephone Altercation. But I’d like to think my crossing swords with Don Henley (admittedly, via an intermediary) counts for something.

Sometime later I was able to tell the story to Mojo, and he got a big kick out of it. And it is absolutely worth noting at this juncture that on at least one occasion Nixon and Henley intersected in a very public way: according to Nixon’s Wikipedia page, “Several years after [the release of the song] Henley jumped onstage with Nixon at The Hole in the Wall in Austin, Texas, to perform a new version of the song called ‘Rick Astley Must Die.’ When Henley jumped out of the crowd, the dumbfounded Nixon immediately asked, ‘Is Debbie Gibson here too?’ Nixon later praised Henley in this way: ‘He has balls the size of church bells!’”

***

Per my dek at the top, there’s a point to all this. I will freely admit to generally subscribing, for years, to the notion of Henley-as-asshole. All those tales of rampant coke snorting, groupie bonking, money-worshiping, ego-mongering Eagles die hard, no? Glenn Frey didn’t do much to dispel the image when he turned up on Miami Vice either. Ultimately, though, it’s the music that endures, not personas (or even urban legends). One of the greatest ever rock songs—and moving videos—is Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” (view it above). To this day it brings a little catch to my throat when I hear it, and the guy has written a slew of other terrific tunes, period. I suspect Mojo, who has his own radio show nowadays as part of the “Outlaw Country Channel” on Sirius satellite radio, would agree, at least partially.

Which is why the following article, posted last week at Rolling Stone as part of Henley’s promotion for his new solo album Cass County, caught my eye: “Don Henley on ‘Sloppy’ Songwriting, National Values and Cultural Decay” reads the headline. In a nutshell, the songwriter comes off as a serious stand-up guy for art, craft, musicianship and, above all, the people who practice them. Read the entire piece, as it’s both revealing and informative, but here are a few choice quotes worth thinking about:

  • “Rock & roll has always been associated with rebellion, but I think rock & roll, country music and all kinds of music have always had a role to play in terms of creating community.”
  • “[Music] crosses political, ethnical and religious boundaries and it brings people together, so that’s why I think it’s more important than ever that we focus more on the quality of the music we’re making in this country and the message that we’re sending to the rest of the world.”
  • “It’s incumbent on us to export something that has some quality to it, that reflects our culture in ways that are positive and meaningful.”
  • “[There is] a lot of bad [country] songwriting going on, really sloppy stuff… Music will get really slick and poppy for a while and then there will be an improvement back to pure country or neo-traditional country like Randy Travis. . . He ushered in one of those neo-traditional eras back in the late Eighties and I’m hoping that’s about to happen again.”
  • “It’s just ridiculous, the things we focus on, how shallow our culture has become, how you can get famous now for not really accomplishing anything. Fame, at one time, was associated with accomplishment, but in this day and age fame and notoriety have become confused. If you can build a multi-million-dollar empire just by taking your clothes off and going on the Internet, there’s something very wrong with our values.”
  • “The things we prioritize and the things we worship are upside down. I’m really worried about American culture, and American society and politics. I’m worried about the future of my children, what kind of a country they are going to grow up in because I’ve never seen a country this divided since the Civil War. It’s not like we’re all in this together anymore. It’s every man for himself.
  • “[But] the survival of the individual depends on the survival of the whole. If you can’t figure out a way to come together and go forward as a group or nation, or as a whole community, then you are doomed.”

These are not the thoughts and words of an egomaniacal power monger. Sure, the dude has had his moments—extended moments, let us be honest here—of coke-fueled narcissism. But what I’m hearing here, in 2015, is a gentleman who genuinely cares about his family, his fans, his country, and the music that nurtures us. And the stuff he’s saying needs to be said. We should have more artists who are willing to speak up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences; folks like Springsteen and Earle, even the Dixie Chicks, because I’ve never subscribed to that whole “shut up and play your guitar” mentality.

So while I can’t possibly take back any criticisms I might have made of Henley some 3 decades ago, any more than he can remove from the public record any of his comments, missteps or just plain arrogant, druggy escapades, well, hey—everybody gets a chance to grow up eventually, right? It’s up to the individual whether or not you pick up that option. Henley certainly did.

I guess I can as well. Good on you, Don. If you’re ever in the neighborhood some sunny summer afternoon, get in touch. We’ll catch a baseball game or something.

Rodney Crowell & Don Henley

Above: Henley, pictured with Rodney Crowell, receiving a special honor at this year’s Americana Awards in Nashville. Go HERE to read our feature on the festival. (Photo by Alisa B. Cherry)