Interview with Langhorne Slim - 07 May 2010

Interview and article by Aline Giordano

Langhorne Slim Langhorne Slim is Sean Scolnick’s stage name. “My name is Sean and I respond to Sean, but I thought that a stage name would give me whatever I needed to step outside of myself, to have the confidence to do some things that maybe I wouldn’t”. Langhorne Slim exudes confidence onstage. The live performance is energetic, passionate and offers an exciting range of songs taken from the three albums to-date: the punchy ‘Cinderella’, the catchy ‘Say yes’ and ‘Restless’, the poignant ‘Colette’ and ‘Be set free’, the unplugged ‘Let it flow’ and ‘We love the animals’, the swinging ‘I love to dance’… and the list goes on.

Off-stage Langhorne Slim still oozes energy and confidence and despite a little discernible shyness he opens up trustworthily and adds: “The stage name, it kind of goes back to my grandparents. They used to tell my brother and me lots of stories about growing up in Philadelphia. In the stories they would tell about their little tribe of good friends and I always thought it was a romantic and cool idea to have these inseparable friends. These guys knew each other when they were ten years old until they died and they all had really cool nicknames. So I was attracted to that idea.”

Langhorne Slim talks a lot about his family and his roots during the interview and I sense that he feels more at ease talking about them than about his music. When I ask Langhorne how the closeness and complicity with his family affects his song writing, he replies: “I don’t know because it’s what I’ve always had. I know that I’m fortunate to have that but I don’t know what it’s like to not. I know it’s affected me… it’s just the way it is”. He then goes on explaining that his parents split when he was one and a half (or two) years old and that instead of it dividing the family his grandparents decided to unite. Sean and his brother grew up extremely close with their grandparents. His grandparents are important to him.

“Just lost my grandpop Jack”. Langhorne pauses and adds: “I guess about two years ago”.

He recently called his ‘grandpop Sydney’ and asked: “Sydney how long does it take?” Langhorne quit smoking a few months ago and was asking how long it’d take until he didn’t feel like smoking a cigarette. He recalls why he decided to quit. “You know, I’d smoke a packet of cigarettes then go on stage and not be able to sing as well as I would have liked to many times.” His mum and girlfriend really wanted him to quit, so he went and had electro acupuncture in his ear. Langhorne smiles sweetly: “They bought that for me for my birthday last year!”

Langhorne got into playing the guitar after his cousin, David, showed him how to play a few Nirvana songs. “Nirvana were my favourite band back then, I still love them. David taught me a couple of songs and Polly was the main one that… you know, I learnt those chords and played them over and over again and then from there reshaped, reorganised the chords and started making my own songs”.

Grateful for his family having a good appreciation for all kinds of music, Langhorne was able to pursue his musical aspirations with the full encouragement of his family. “Though I was gently warned that maybe it was a tough career to make a decent living, or you had to be tough or something”. And it’s been quite a journey: “Some days it’s tougher than other days but it’s what I love to do and it’s what I feel like I’m good at, and it makes sense for me. I never really wanted to do anything else”.

The hard work has paid off: Years of open mic nights, extensive touring and three albums. Langhorne has become what he always wanted to become: a busy touring musician, travelling all over and all the time. With this well-earned status Langhorne left New-York. “You need a lot of money to have a lot of space there and I was staying in very small places, not with a lot of money and it was too hard. I realised that I’m not as much a city boy as I thought I wanted to be. I moved to northern California and I’m going to move to Portland. I feel more at ease, I guess, in a rural environment”.

Portland is where Langhorne Slim recorded his last album ‘Be set free’ produced by Chris Funk from The Decemberists. “I knew I wanted to record in Portland Oregon. It’s a place I’m planning to move to with my girlfriend. Portland is a warm town, I don’t mean warm as in sunshine, but warm as in friendly. I feel there is a sense of camaraderie with the musicians and the artists. It’s a small town, you have rural elements to it, there are mountains and there’s the coast close by. It seems like an ideal place for me to live so I really wanted to get connected with that town”.

Laura Veirs sings backing vocals on ‘Land of dreams’. I ask Langhorne if there is a little story behind the collaboration. “We mixed the record at Tucker (Martine) and Laura’s house and I had an idea that didn’t get done in the studio for a little female back-up vocal. Tucker said ‘Laura’s upstairs, maybe she’ll do it’. She was kind enough to come to the basement, we set up a microphone and she did it in like five minutes and that was that. It worked really well”.

Trying to catch a glimpse of the soul that writes moving lyrics and uplifting music rooted in country, blues, folk, and rock n’ roll, I ask Langhorne how he finds it in himself to write songs that have this signature duality. “I just try to be true as much as I can, try to capture the feeling, capture the emotion and be able to turn it into a song. I don’t sit down and say “I’m going to write a happy song right now. Sometimes they come out when you’re not feeling that happy!” and it works both ways”.

In reference to the song ‘Rebel side of heaven’ I ask Langhorne to describe what that place looks like in his imagination. “I think we all have an idea of heaven and hell and I hope that mine is a little broader… if heaven exists at all! But the line… I didn’t make up the line. I was hanging out with a girl some years ago and she had a really great friend and we were in a bar one night. He was having a miserable day, maybe a miserable week, and we all had possibly one or two too many. He was on the verge of tears and saying all these things that he’d done and he felt terrible. I think he was just feeling like shit and beating up on himself. And he said - Slim impersonates the voice of someone on the verge of tears – ‘sometimes I just feel like I’m going to go to hell’ or something like that and my friend said, ‘you’re not going to go to hell, you’re going to go the rebel side of heaven’. And I thought: That’s a song! That sounds cool. I have to credit that situation for the line”.

I happened to meet with Langhorne Slim the day after UK citizens went to polling stations to cast their political vote. I could not resist but ask Langhorne about the incentive scheme he took part in during the US elections whereby free Langhorne Slim downloads were offered to those who’d go and vote.

“I agreed to do that with Limewire because, sure, I support voting. Most of us wanted to get Obama in. I don’t think I did anything to really help that but we were all very excited at a possibility that has become a reality. Coming from the eight years of Bush a lot of different companies and bands were trying to team up because everybody was really ecstatic about the possibility of having him as our president”.

I ask Langhorne how the reality feels. “Well, I think possibilities are so exciting and when they become a reality it gets down to, you know - he knocks on the table - solid! I personally think that somebody who wants that job is insane. I’m glad that we have him now over Bush but I think it’s an incredibly difficult thing to really make significant change and I think a lot of us got wrapped up in some of the talking. Still I think he has made some significant change for sure. But it’s easier said than done. I hope that America will vote him back in for another four years and see what happens. I think we’re in a better place now than where we were. At least from where I’m sitting; you know, some people would disagree with that”.

From where I’m sitting, in the comfort of my own home in Southampton (UK) we have a new government. I shall not comment on this but leave you with the lyrics of Hummingbird (all you have to do is play the song) instead.

When it's cold it's too cold here
When it's hot it's too hot, dear
We were up for a while
Now it's come time to fold

I've been leaning on you
Without reason or truth
Now I'm dreaming of leaving my demons
And the first one I'm leaving is you

Well it's foolish to pretend
I can't do it again
They tell you you live and you learn
Yeah but they never tell you when

I've always been waiting for something
Someone to come pull me through
Now I see that it's all up to me
There ain't nothing no one else can do

We've worn our backsides out
You know what I'm talking about
I wanted so much to please you
But we were living in doubt

Raise a glass for the memories
Some take all they can get
When we met you seemed so easy and free
How could anyone settle for anything less?

For more photos, visit… Aline Giordano's other website

For more details, visit… Langhorne Slim's website

Photograph © Aline Giordano 2010