Langhorne Slim

After the release of his latest, 'Strawberry Mansion', Langhorne Slim talked with QRO....
Langhorne Slim : Q&A

Langhorne Slim : Q&A

After the release of his latest, Strawberry Mansion (QRO review), Langhorne Slim talked with QRO. In the conversation, Slim discussed how songwriting helped him stay sober after treatment, the thankfully enforced “less is more” production, the thankfully enabled more is more number of songs, being okay being off the road, snow-to-80° over just a few days in Nashville, his many hats, and more…

 

 

QRO: How are you doing, during the whole COVID lockdown?

Langhorne Slim: I’m trying to keep it together, man. Ups & downs, and lefts & rights. But all-in-all, pretty good.

QRO: Are you in Nashville?

LS: I am. It’s like 80 degrees in Nashville today. We just had a snowstorm days ago. Wild…

Literally, everything was shut down a few days ago, for snow & ice, and now it feels like it’s June.

QRO: Is there still snow on the ground, though?

LS: It’s the last of the snow that the sun hasn’t gotten to yet, if it was under a tree or something. There’s still some lingering.

I’m a grown man who still loves the idea of a ‘snow day’. There’s something about it, energetically, that I still find enthralling, somehow.

 

 

QRO: How much was your writing for Strawberry Mansion affected by the pandemic lockdown? Did you try to keep it out, or just accept that it was going to be a factor?

LS: No, I don’t try to keep anything out of my thinking, I guess…

I hadn’t written anything for a while, so I was just delighted that songs were showing back up. I don’t know if it would have, if there wasn’t a pandemic. Cause that sort of forced me to be still, and to deal with some things within myself that I had been running from for a long time.

So, I guess I don’t think of it in literal terms of that kind of way.

It was a lot of things, I suppose. It’s wonderful, it’s challenging, it’s easy, it’s scary…

These things change with, of course, where you’re at, mentally, emotionally, and what your subjects are.

People used to ask like, “How has being from Pennsylvania, how does that affect your songwriting?” And I would think about it, “I have no idea.” “Now that you live in Brooklyn, New York, or Chinatown, Manhattan, how does that affect your writing?” “Well, I don’t really know.” “California?” Over and over again.

One writes from – and people do it in different ways – but from the emotional, mental, spiritual place that they find themselves in. I happened to find myself in a place of healing, craving, out of desperation, a slowing down and an attempt to find some semblance of peace and stillness, which I still struggle with, and never was a gift of mine.

And for a multitude of reasons, that coincided with a lockdown and a tornado, and other elements on the outside world, that allowed me to, for myself, for my little inside world, being me, internally, to have some time to sit…

I hadn’t written anything for a while, so I was just delighted that songs were showing back up. I don’t know if it would have, if there wasn’t a pandemic

I’ll put it this way: If I had like six months of tour coming up, and because I was feeling quite unhealthy spiritually, physically, emotionally, I don’t know that I would have taken that time to slow down and try to learn some different dance moves, if you will, to have a more graceful dance steps on the dance floor of life, if you’ll go there with me…

And so, I think, because of what I was going through, with getting clean and sober again, having run myself down to a point where I didn’t recognize myself anymore – I don’t necessarily mean in the mirror, but that too – but just I couldn’t find myself, couldn’t find my connection to the source of my own creativity. That being forced to be inside, and come back home to Nashville where I have a beautiful little home that I love, and to kind of start peeling some of these other layers apart, that kind of cracked me open for my creativity to come back.

I wasn’t expecting it to, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to come back in a way that I would write twenty-five or thirty songs and have a record. There was no intention or expectation to be writing for anything, which I think is partially why so much was able to come out, and that stream, that chord didn’t get cut.

There wasn’t any external pressure, or I don’t even think very much internal pressure, because I was just singing songs for myself and a couple friends of mine who I was around. It was like ‘child-like’ again, because it’s what I’ve done since I’m a kid. There was no bullshit put onto it, so I think I was able to ‘play in the ether,’ if you will, maybe more so than sometimes when you’re critical in your mind and you’re fearful, and then you find I & one can block that spirit world.

There wasn’t any external pressure, or I don’t even think very much internal pressure, because I was just singing songs for myself and a couple friends of mine who I was around.

QRO: Where did the idea of posting each song just after you finished it on Instagram come from?

LS: So, the only person I was seeing outside of my home for the first many months was my friend Mike [Linkous], one of my oldest friends, he goes by ‘Crackerfarm’, a great photographer, videographer, and one of my best friends in the world.

I don’t think he would mind me saying this, he’s also been a sober man for a long, long time, and has known me, like I said, for twenty years. Has known me through my struggles with alcohol and drugs, and my mental health stuff.

Right before the tornado hit, and the pandemic, I went into treatment. He brought me there, he’s a brother to me, he took me there, he picked me up, keep an eye on me, making sure I was doing alright.

And then this all stuff had happened, you know, the pandemic and the tornado. And so, we were still hanging out, and I had brought one of the initial songs to him. We’d been making videos together for fifteen years, or more.

He likes to bust my balls, and give me a hard time, and he also loves me like a brother as well. But he’s like, ‘It can’t be that hard. Why don’t you just write a song every day? Then you can just come over here and we can hang out, and I’ll shoot the song.’

And I don’t know that I even thought that much of it, but then songs started to reveal themselves. Every time I would write one, I would bring it over to him, and before I knew it – it was sort of day-after-day – I don’t know if I thought about it like that at the time, but in retrospect, it seemed like a cathartic exercise, which I didn’t realize I was doing. But kind of a ‘catch and release’.

Most of the songs were written very quickly, and I would drive over, down the street to his place. We would film them, I would post them, and then I would just start almost immediately after, a little time after, start to hear the next melody, or the next line would come into my head, or something like that.

Coinciding with, and maybe partially because of all the madness outside, maybe it allowed me an opportunity, as an extremist or something, to really seek some internal peace as the rest of the world seems to be going completely mad.

I don’t know that it seemed as much like a ‘songwriting exercise’ as like the bio or publicity stuff makes it seem, if I’m being honest about it. But I also don’t really remember. Maybe that’s what sparked it, or maybe it’s this therapist who was sort of lovingly pushing me to write within anxiety, within fear, within some of the stuff that was coming up a lot for me, to just write without any expectation of it being any kind of tangible, fully-formed song, but just to write just to play, just to hear the sounds, and see how that felt.

Which was another suggestion that I didn’t like at the time. I’m still like an adolescent in my rebelliousness, in certain ways, I think. To me, it sounds like homework, or something like that. I’ve lived my whole life to get away from that. But I see that there’s great value in doing the things that scare me, pushing myself beyond my comfort level, so that I can live an expansive life, not a stagnant one or a suffocated one.

I heard these things that were said, and now, in retrospect, when I get a chance to talk about it, I can sort of credit them for planting some seeds, but I think it’s just a lot of things that were happening at once that all kind of coincided into this little pocket of – that was challenging as it is, and continues to be, for everybody – but for me, on a deeply personal way, very sweet, and very safe?

I hadn’t felt safe for a long time, due to my own behaviors. I fell really fucking out of control. If I’m being very honest, I’d really lost trust in myself, in my own gifts or abilities. My sense of humor, if it wasn’t gone, it had really taken a beating.

And so, to start to feel those colors start to come back into my life. Coinciding with, and maybe partially because of all the madness outside, maybe it allowed me an opportunity, as an extremist or something, to really seek some internal peace as the rest of the world seems to be going completely mad.

So, I don’t know. Maybe there’s some truth to that, or maybe there isn’t. [laughs] But I think there is. I think there probably is.

 

 

QRO: How was recording during this pandemic lockdown?

LS: It was made easier. Because of the difficult situation, it took away options.

This record, I believe, was supposed to be a very stripped down, what you hear, in the record. I think that’s how the songs were written, the flow of the creative process there. It’s easy to overdo things, sometimes.

Because of the circumstances created by the pandemic, I couldn’t fly – I play with a bunch of the same guys for a long time. There’s some of them that play on every single record, some of them come back for a record; it’s the same family, but some of the members kind of rotate for a tour or a record, in the last so many years.

In this album, there wasn’t the opportunity to bring the whole family together. That’s a difficult decision for me to make, left on my own, because I want to involve everybody, and I think certain projects don’t necessarily call for everybody. I think this one benefited from a smaller cast of my musical family.

And I was getting neurotic about that. I called my bandmates to talk to them about it; I don’t want people to feel left out. They’ve been with me for so long, through so much. My group isn’t a ‘hired guns’ for tour, for record – they’re truly my family. So, doing anything without any one of them is always a little challenging for me, mentally and emotionally.

I think this [album] benefited from a smaller cast of my musical family.

That was coming up for me a little bit, also, when it finally was clear that there was a record to record. ‘Who’s gonna produce it?’ ‘What studio?’ There’s a lot of decisions one can make if you’re lucky enough to have some options or whatever. And I think because of the circumstances, the options were so few, that it led me to do it in, I think, the right way.

I don’t know that there would be a wrong way. It would just calling my friend Mat Davidson, who goes by ‘Twain’ for his music; he’s an incredible multi-instrumentalist, and I think one of the best songwriters that I’ve ever heard. My old friend Paul DeFigilia, who lives in Nashville, that has a little studio in his backyard. And Paul & I have known each other since the beginning, since kids; the first band I put together, he was the bass player for.

So, just the three of us. Doing very few overdubs, keeping it raw, not building a lot of extra parts to any of the songs. Just recording them, very accurate versions as to how they were created to begin with.

And I think, in my opinion, that serves this record well, that there’s not a bunch of parts, there’s not a bunch of new parts written, a bunch of people playing it. Less is more, often, and I think that’s the case with this record.

Less is more, often, and I think that’s the case with this record.

QRO: You say, “Less is more,” but then why did you decide to include so many songs, twenty-two in all?

LS: [laughs] Fuckin’ great! That is really great!

In the same idea as, ‘Less is more.’ In that, all of these songs were written back-to-back-to-back. It was one very long inhale & exhale, or something like that. One long wave, whatever cliché or metaphor.

I get songs sometimes that feel like they kind of write themselves. Sometimes the songs show up in a dream. Sometimes the songs, you labor & work on them for a long, long, long time, right?

These were songs that, more or less, were just showing up. And that happens sometimes over the course of my writing life, in twos or in threes, maybe even in fours, when I’m lucky. I don’t remember a time where they were twenty-five to thirty of them, and that was how they came. Just a burst of songs.

I was deliberating on that. It doesn’t matter if you have a hundred songs. And this is for anybody, I’m sure, that makes a record. You could have a hundred songs, or you could have nine songs – if the songs aren’t really good…

If you have a certain amount of songs that you feel are really honest and really good, that you could put them in an order that sounds good to yourself and the listener, for a record.

All of these songs were written back-to-back-to-back. It was one very long inhale & exhale, or something like that. One long wave, whatever cliché or metaphor.

And number one: they’re very short songs. So, there’s that.

There was encouragement from my friends who I was playing with that felt like, the songs are short and they all go together, in their estimation – Mat, in particular, “Why not just have a record that has 18 songs?” I think initially he had said that. I wasn’t even worried about that at the time, ‘Let’s just record it and see what happens.’

When the songs were mixed and I started listening back to them, there were some that I was thinking about taking off. And then, I’m very close friends with people at my record label & my manager, and I’d sent the songs to them, of course.

I was like, ‘I’m thinking of taking these songs off…’ And they were like, ‘Yo, don’t take those songs off!…’

After kind of meditating on it, I thought, ‘I’ve done this before. I’ve held songs back, but I still love those songs, and I don’t think that they’re throwaways. And maybe I save them for another record, but I’m not really in that place, energetically, so I never quite get to those songs.’

These songs were recorded, more so than ever before for me, they’re like journal entries, I guess. I wasn’t writing a song every single day, but a few a week, most all of these weeks, until we made the record, and even little bit afterward. So, unless there was something that stuck out with me that I didn’t like, or I didn’t think was up to snuff.

At the end, after talking to people that I’m close with around me, that I love & trust, I just decided, ‘What would be the point to hold them back?’ It’s a really accurate collection of songs of where I was at that time, and all of the songs just started to feel like friends to me.

Just the creation of those songs, they were helping me, I think, heal, and to teach me certain things that I needed to know. Teach me that writing totally sober is not only possible, but you can get some real nice results.

In a time that I had been abusing prescription pills, when the irony of that is, I was doing that to treat an anxiety issue, but because I abused the shit, it only exacerbates that anxiety.

And then, I’m starting to use drugs again in my life, because I had been sober for some years, prior to the relapse on prescription pills, I used drugs to access my creativity, because that is certainly something that can happen.

But then, when you abuse it in the way that I did, at least if you’re me, you betray your own creativity. You betray all of the things that are your true loves, because you’re numb to it. So, I wasn’t able to write for about a year, I wasn’t able to complete anything, because I was too fucked up.

I was like, ‘I’m thinking of taking these songs off…’ And they were like, ‘Yo, don’t take those songs off!…’

And not even that I was always so out of my mind in some sort of ‘wild party’ way. It wasn’t even like that. Whatever the light is was diminished so much that I my heart wasn’t fully open. I wasn’t around – no matter where I was, I wasn’t around.

It seems ironic and sad, and almost funny in a way, as well. That insidious fear, coming back to me again, of like, ‘Oh my god, I’m sober’ – which is very common, of course – ‘Will I write a song again?’

So, to have all these songs come back, right when I was getting sober again, felt almost like some sort of divine intervention, for me. To, I hope, give me that reminder and that lesson that I don’t need to trick myself again in my life to think to get closer to the spirits of creativity, or of love, romantically or whatever, that I need to hide myself in order to try to access that. Whenever I do that shit, I wind up feeling very hidden, vibrating at a very low level, and the darkness sets in.

There was a lot of different things that I think, if I were to try to psychoanalyze myself – which I tend to do, for one reason or another – that those songs just became friends and teachers. And I don’t know if that would make sense to anybody that listens to them, but it’s just, for me, that’s just kind of how they were.

So, putting them all on this collection, and then moving on to the next thing. So also, I’m not keeping one foot in my past. In an effort to be present, and to move forward, there didn’t seem to be a reason to hold any of the songs back.

That’s a long answer, but…

 

 

QRO: Are you bummed that you can’t immediately tour behind Strawberry Mansion?

LS: I hadn’t been bummed about it at all until yesterday.

And I still wouldn’t say that I’m bummed about it, but I saw both of my friends. One lives here in town, and I see him a lot in Nashville, and the other one came up from Virginia on his way back to Texas.

And I got that fire in me. I had just like a fantasy of us, being on the road together, playing these songs. And it was sort of a euphoric feeling.

But up until that point, my only feeling was that I’m sorry for my friends, for people that I don’t know, who or course rely on touring, and anybody that relies on doing whatever it is that they rely on, that they can’t do it.

For me, more than anything, it’s another teacher. I’m forty now; I’ve been touring I guess since like my early-ish twenties. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done in my adult life. I’m so incredibly fortunate.

I think it’s very interesting to confront a situation, if it doesn’t kill you – and obviously, it’s killed many people; nothing that I’m saying is to diminish any of the horrors that this has created. I probably don’t have to preface it by saying, I’m purely speaking about this on a personal way, because the question is about touring & stuff.

I was doing that to treat an anxiety issue, but because I abused the shit, it only exacerbates that anxiety.

For me, it’s interesting – and I think a lot of people are finding this – to kind of confront this forced change, where it’s happening to everybody at once, it’s nothing personal to any one person. We have to adapt to some new stuff.

For me, it’s like, ‘Do I know who I am, when I’m not going from show-to-show, and on tour, month-to-month-to-month?’ Or even feeling like a professional musician guy?

Which is a beautiful but strange feeling, too, because I haven’t done any of this in a year. And so now, I got to make a record, and now I’m back in that ‘promoting a record’ – [laughs] which is always an interesting place to be, depending on one’s own frame of mind, or heart, in the day.

It’s been an opportunity to sit through some discomfort.

I don’t ‘sit’ well. I’m itching all the time, to go someplace, to meet somebody, to play a show – whatever it might be. It’s a part of the drugs & alcohol thing for me, too.

Without some kind of adventure, even if that adventure is messy, or even if it’s dangerous, that’s how I’ve lived a lot of my life. And I’ve gotten a lot of beautiful things out of that as well. It’s lead me to some incredible places and adventures. But it also can be very selfish and destructive, the way I and certain other people do that.

It sounds cheesy, but ‘Trying to find the adventure where I am.’ I don’t know how to say it in a better way – you can put that on a bumper sticker or something…

It sounds cheesy, but ‘Trying to find the adventure where I am.’ I don’t know how to say it in a better way – you can put that on a bumper sticker or something…

That’s really what my goal is. What I’m seeking is to try to find the adventure where I am, and when it’s always down the street, or at another show, or in another relationship, or in a bottle, or in a pill, it doesn’t ever get me where I want to go, obviously.

You can understand that concept intellectually or philosophically – and I do, and I have – I haven’t lived my life that way. I have chased those adventures, trying to find peace, in some ways.

And sometimes the thing that you do to make you feel sane, or to keep you sane, is the thing that makes you go completely mad. And I have some experience with that.

So, it’s just trying to embrace some of the stillness. To try and find some quiet in the noise. Try and find some quiet within, where I can just be okay.

All that to say, yesterday I got real itchy to get back on the road. It was the first time in a year that I felt like that. I’m sure it’s just having the new record out, too.

 

Langhorne Slim’s ‘Live From a Strawberry Mansion’ performance:

 

QRO: Where did the idea for the ‘Live From a Strawberry Mansion’ filmed performance come from?

LS: My manager.

We weren’t going to do some kind of ‘record release show.’ There was a possibility of maybe doing something in Nashville with a socially-distanced, limited group of people. I actually have an annual show in Nashville for New Year’s Day, with me & a bunch of friends, and I cancelled that, which was very difficult to do for me, but I did.

Nashville was, for a time, number one in the country per-capita of COVID cases. Some people still not believing that it’s a thing, I don’t know…

All that’s to say, we weren’t going to do a live thing, and then how he came up with this, I don’t know; I followed his lead. I’m fairly limited with my tech stuff. I use my e-mail, I look at Instagram, I’m on & off of dating sites, and that’s pretty much it.

I don’t really know a YouTube show or whatever, but that was his suggestion. Another one of my best friends, who’s also a great photographer – it turns out two of my best friends are both photographers & videographers – my friend Joel Sadler, he worked for years for La Blogothéque originally out of Paris, he did these great one-shot videos of bands or artists playing, and that’s kind of his specialty, my boy Joel.

So, the idea was to do a one-shot whole set from my living room. I’m fortunate that I’m friends with people who can do that, and make it look really beautiful.

It was just an idea to do something with these songs, in lieu of a record release show. I think there’s something appealing in the record, obviously that’ll last as long for long as people choose to listen to it. Something like that lives online, and people can watch that at any point.

QRO: And do you still have your signature hat? Because you weren’t wearing it in ‘Live From a Strawberry Mansion’…

LS:  The Stetson Langhorne hat?

The one that I got to make with this guy Matt Deckard, this great hatmaker, and he used to work for Stetson. It’s sort of this oversized black hat with a bulbous top. I haven’t worn it for a while, because I wear these other Stetson hats.

To answer your question, I do have it, but I also have many hats. I’m gonna start giving some of them away – I have more hats than I need…

 

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