“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.
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?
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?