If you haven’t heard of the Pennsylvania-bred king of rockabilly-folk-rock-roots-pop yet, you’re severely behind the curve.
Despite burning down clubs, festival stages, and concert venues around the States (and recently abroad) for ten years now, Langhorne Slim and The Law only seem to be getting started. We caught up with Langhorne Slim–and his outstanding band, The Law–in Atlanta a few weeks back, as they were wrapping up their 18-month tour in support of their sensational and “damn near perfect” album The Way We Move.
Dead Curious: So given the number of times I’ve seen you personally, not to mention caught your name on a blog or in a magazine, it seems like you’ve been going just about non-stop for the last year at least, what’s that been like?
Langhorne Slim: That’s been the last ten years really… When I first was getting my start–that’s even before Malachi, my dear friend who plays drums in the band, he’s been with me for about ten years–before we even had the band, my sort of coming up in music was just sort of obviously learning how to play guitar and writing songs on my own, but then having opportunities just to play out in front of people no matter I could.
Then I started getting little tours and shows and stuff like that… I never really had any other concept that there was any other way to go about it. And it just suits my soul kind of to always be in motion and travelling. So it’s taken like ten years at it to even consider maybe doing it a little bit less, and like after this tour we’re actually, and we’ve never done it, but deliberately going to take a little time off this winter for me to write, and hopefully get in the studio, and record this next record. But it just suits us as a band and as sort of, human weirdos that need to constantly be on the run I guess.
DC: How was it opening for the Lumineers out in the UK and at Red Rocks this past year?
LS: It was incredible. We got to tour a month in Europe with them and there we became really good friends and got to have one of our most fun tours that we’ve ever had. But yeah, ever since our last record The Way We Move came out… I’ve always said I would do this if there was nobody there, if there were a lot of people there, I’d do it if there was money, I’d do it if there was no money… I will say that I’ve done it both and its better when there’s some money and some people (laughs)… I’m not ashamed to admit that.
DC: It seems like The Way We Move was just about universally loved by people in all corners… Rolling Stone called it “damn near perfect,” for example. Did you set out to make a “perfect” record?
LS: Well, yeah sure, but I didn’t set out to make necessarily a perfect record, we set out to make you know, the best record we’ve ever made and the best songs that I ever wrote and to try to open myself up. And it wasn’t necessarily a heavy time, or a sad time, but in life as you know there’s transitional periods, there’s emotional periods… So if you’re a creator of some fuckin’ music or art or something like that, we’re lucky people to have that to put our crazy feelings into. And I was having crazy feelings (laughs) and I was able to put them into songs and I just wanted it to be really honest and raw and you know, not be afraid of anything, and so that’s what I tried to do. And if people can relate to it you know, that’s a beautiful thing, you always want that but in the beginning and then in the end you need it to be true to yourself obviously.
DC: What were the real motivating factors in your approach? I’ve listened to all of your records and was trying to think of comparisons… And I think Darkness on the Edge of Town by Springsteen for example really reminds me of this record in that it is so honest and raw and also in narrative structure, diversity of sound and scope, and its storytelling. Were you setting out to tell that kind of specific story by design?
LS: Well what happens for me when I’m alone and writing is just the process of there’s inspiration floating around, there’s a feeling, and I’m trying to be present to capture it and turn it into some sort of something that makes musical sense to me. What happens then when I bring it to the guys if its either a finished idea or a half-finished thing they add their awesomeness to it, then we go and record it.
To make more sense, it starts as a feeling before it becomes an intellectual process. So there’s a pursuit of the feeling to turn it into music or words, then after we record a bunch of songs its more of an intellectual process in terms of making a cohesive record. I’m not thinking of making a cohesive record when I’m writing individual songs I’m just releasing some sort of thing that’s inside and needs to come out, and trying not to think too much about it because sometimes the thinking suffocates the feeling, for me.
DC: Maybe I’m way off base here, but it seems like the album loosely tracks the lifespan of a relationship, am I at all on point with that?
LS: I think that’s fair… Though its interesting how some people that I’ve talked to and have written about the record consider it to be a breakup record, which is fair in ways. A lot of the songs were written when I was happily in the relationship (laughs), and I was happily in the relationship for a long time… But I suppose the break up and the coming undone of that helped push out the rest of it. I don’t believe that one needs to be in any kind of misery or heartbreak to create their finest art, but I will say that it has contributed to some of my better material (laughs).
DC: And out of curiosity, what’s the song, if there is one, that you’re most proud of off the new record? Sort of your “baby” out of the bunch?
LS: I really am, even now its been a year and a half since the record came out and we’re kinda done touring on it, I’m still super proud of the whole record and what we’ve done as a band together, more so than anything I’ve ever creatively been a part of. But as far as a specific song, the tune for my grandfather (“Song for Sid”) is one that is just particularly special and has grown to be even more special since the record’s come out and we’ve been touring on it.
You know every night we’ve been touring I hear stories about people’s grandparents, and to have been so close with my grandfathers and to have had that in my life and in my brother’s life and then to meet people and there’s a song that you write that connects so deeply with people is very moving and very moving for my family, and uh, its sort of like a gift… I don’t take even credit for writing the tune, it sort of came through me, maybe Sidney gave it to me I don’t know, but that song for sure [is one I’m proud of].
DC: Now I know that you’re from Pennsylvania, but if I understand correctly you’re out in the Pacific Northwest now, or were for awhile…
LS: I was yeah. I’ve moved around a little bit, when I was 18 I moved to New York City, I was there for about seven years, then I moved to Northern California, all the while being on tour, you know 8 or 9 months per year. But then Oregon then for two years, then just kind of rambling with the band, but I actually moved to Nashville a little less than a year ago.
DC: How’s that move impacted your music and influenced your songwriting? Is there a place that’s really contributed to you having such an eclectic sound more than others?
LS: Not geographically really, not a geographic location. When I first started people would be like “Pennsylvania? I thought you’d be from the South!” (laughs) And I was like “I dunno, probably was in a past life.” And I do identify with a lot, I feel connected with the South, and I feel connected with a lot of things that aren’t physically where I’m from or where I was born.
I’m sure that the places have shaped [my sound] from the experiences, I don’t know that the geographical location has shaped the sound. I think its more just all the traveling and rambling we’ve done and the experiences we’ve had just kind of fuel the uh, the stuff. Nashville now is super inspiring because there’s so many incredible musicians and there’s a warmth and vibrancy to that city that’s just very inspiring.
DC: Who are your biggest influences, both past and contemporary? And not just in your songwriting but since you’re such an electric and intense performer, also your live act?
LS: There’s people that I’ve watched that have been influences, that’s something though that I think has mainly… it just came with me when I was born, just being wild on the inside, and it got me into trouble when I was little and didn’t know where to put the wildness. And now thank goodness I learned how to play guitar and now people will come out and pay for it or feel good to hear it and I’ve learned to channel it into something positive. I really do think that if I didn’t have it I’d be in a lot of trouble, I’m sure of it (laughs).
But my influences are all over the place. Musically from early blues and jazz, and I love punk rock, and I love hip hop, and I love soul music, and all kinds of different weird, beautiful musical sounds. I just love raw, real shit, and so wherever that is, its not one thing or another thing, its whatever hits me in the heart, that’s where I like it.
DC: And so now you’re finally taking some time off?
LS: Yeah gonna take the winter off. I’m gonna take some trips I think, some inspirational trips, you know, in the search of songs. Girls… I’ll probably look for a girl (laughs), look for a girl to love me and to love. But in all seriousness, well that is in all seriousness, but I’ve got a lot of song ideas and they’re sort of fragmented and its time to kind of try to put some glue to the pieces.
DC: You alluded to this earlier, but now that you’ve got the Law firmly in the fold, how collaborative is that process?
LS: It’s as collaborative as the song needs it to be. In my opinion I’ve got the best dudes out there, the best band, and they’re not like my backing band, we’re out here doing this together every single night, there’s not one of us that’s more valuable than the other. And it starts with me, and me being isolated and weird someplace and writing a song and then bringing it to them. Like I said before, sometimes a tune’s half finished, sometimes it’s almost finished, and then it takes a different direction when I bring it to them. It’s a beautiful situation I’ve found myself in.
DC: A couple random, quick, kinda hopefully fun questions… If you could tour with any band who’d it be?
LS: Shit, that’s tough. There’s a bunch of them that I like a lot. You know we got to pick who was top on the list for this tour and Johnny Fritz was the guy that I was hoping could do it and so we were really pleased he could. The Lumineers shit was incredible, so we’d love to do that again with those guys. Other than it being really cool to play in front of a lot of people, which it is, we got really close with those guys and they’re sort of soul brothers and sisters at this point—well there’s only one sister in the band—but yeah. Really good, old friends with the Avett Brothers, haven’t gotten to do anything with them in awhile that’d be great. Shovels and Rope is great, shit that’s coming off the top of my head. Thank goodness there’s really just a ton of badasses out there right now… Uh, Shakey Graves, I’d love to do some stuff with him.
DC: What’s in the CD player of the tour bus/van right now, or what got the heaviest rotation over the last few weeks?
LS: I’ve been listening to Roger Miller pretty much nonstop for the last couple months, it’s been a real Roger Miller affair for me.
DC: What’s the most common fast food stop for y’all when you’re on tour?
LS: Well I’m a vegetarian, have been since I was eleven, so there’s not a lot of really dope fast food options (laughs). Subway unfortunately is the best, and I try not to do too much of that. Whole Foods stops have been the saving grace as a veggie… Taco stands are great
DC: If you guys had one show left in the lifetime of the band, and one show only, where would y’all most want to play?
LS: It wouldn’t necessarily be a particular place, that’s not coming to mind. But wherever it was it’d be with family and dear friends and it’d be a fucking party.