Langhorne Slim on ‘Getting Better and More Real’
Langhorne Slim’s first album, The Electric Love Letter, came out nearly a decade ago and he’s been touring and recording steadily ever since. Even though his most recent release, The Way We Move, came out last year it continues to pick up steam. Its folk-rock title track is a celebratory tune that has gotten some traction. Slim counts Conan O’Brien as one of his biggest fans and the late night talk show host recently sat in with the group at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Here’s what the singer-songwriter had to say about that experience and other moments in his musical career.
You recently played with Conan O’Brien. What was that like?
It was great. We got to do his show a few months ago. He’s become a big fan of our band. He got in touch with us and sat in for a couple of songs. We’ve been big fans since we were kids. It’s pretty awesome.
Did you get to rehearse?
He has listened to our album a lot of times so he just knows the songs. He played with us when we were on his show. We did a duet of “Blue Moon,” the Elvis version, and we rehearsed that together in the dressing room beforehand. But there wasn’t a lot of rehearsal.
Tell me about Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
It’s funny. My bass player and I were just talking about Bucks County. It’s a small suburban town that I didn’t feel particularly connected to. Now, going back to where I’m from, I feel like it’s my roots and where I began. I was always looking forward to getting older and getting out of there. I look forward to going back there now. I have a newfound love. Your perception of it changes when you grow up a bit.
Were you into music back then?
Yeah, since I popped out . . . from Day One. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t deeply into music.
Was there a scene there?
No. I think that was good. The scene was for me to feel slightly out of place. It’s not fun at the time but it pushes you to find that outlet. I knew I was a feeling person. In not having a lot to do or relate to, I discovered a deep love for music and guitar and spent a lot of time listening and playing.
Talk about your Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players experience.
I left Pennsylvania when I was 18 and I went to New York. I’m bad at time so I don’t know what year it was. It was in my early twenties that I started playing open mics and coffeehouses and parties. They saw me at the Sidewalk Café where I played every Monday night. You could play two or three songs in front of an audience there. It was really exciting. They saw me playing and they offered me a tour and I didn’t do my last semester of college and went on tour with them. My professors knew that’s what I wanted I do. They gave me passable grades so I could graduate without having been there.
What did you gain from that experience?
I made great friends with them. Jason Trachtenburg supported us with his band The Pendulum Swings on our first show of this tour at the Bowery Ballroom [in New York]. It was very natural. It was the beginning of a life that I wasn’t trying to seek out living. It was just what I wanted to do, which is be on the road and write music. It was an amazing thing at the Sidewalk Café. They were a big deal in that scene. You could go and see one act or go and see 12 acts. They were playing later in the night. They had just randomly seen me play. I don’t think they had heard of me. They were a national touring act. That was a dream. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to live and make a living doing this. To be a kid and have some of the all-stars pick me was very exciting. They took me to England with them. It was beginning of what I started to do. I have them to thank. They were an initial validation, which any young artist is lucky to have. They helped my self-confidence and gave me the opportunity to play in front of bigger audiences there to see them. You had to improve your chops a bit and your performance style.
Talk about the recording sessions for The Way We Move.
It was unique for us and by far the most exciting and successful. It was different for a lot of reasons. We recorded primarily live. I was accustomed to overdubbing. We did all the basics, including my singing, live. That’s what we should do for the kind of band that we are. The other part was that it was important not to do a traditional recording studio approach. We found an amazing historic house in the Catskills. We got to live in this house. We ate there and made music there. That was a really cool thing that I would like to continue doing. It’s as much of a communal recording experience as you can have. Going into this record, we were on tour together for almost two years. We toured eight or nine months of the year. We were a well-oiled machine because we knew each other’s musical language. We were a road-tested band at that point. We felt like we had a sound and something to say and we were ready to document it.
The title track seems so celebratory. What inspired it?
It’s a melody I came up with on piano. I was living in California and Oregon. There was a piano around and I came up with the melody from that. The words were inspired by a cat named Lilly who had a crooked tail. That reminded me of how our so-called imperfections are not imperfections but what makes us beautiful. It’s about the idea of letting our inner freaks out. I can relate it to social media. We all want to look great all the time and like we’re having such a great time. The truth of it is, there are more interesting things within the depths of who we are. If you open yourself up to the truth, there’s less fear of being vulnerable or out of place. You find truth within yourself.
You seem like somebody who doesn’t have a lot of inhibitions.
I suppose not. I don’t have someone to compare it to. I would just like to be as open as I can. That is my therapy. When we get on stage, we just let it all out. It’s not trying to be this or that. As I get older, I want people to see where it comes from. I’m more scared of holding things back.
How do you follow up an album that was “damn near perfect” according to Rolling Stone?
I don’t know. I didn’t say that. You follow it up the same that you follow up whatever you do that somebody says is a good thing. We’re just doing our thing. To be very honest, I don’t have a lot of things. I love music and I write it and perform it and I travel in a smelly van with my best friends and we try not to get on each other’s nerves too much. We’re going to continue doing that. I hope more people will see us. I hope the van gets a little bigger and cleaner. After this tour, we will take some time off for the first time in a ten-year career journey and I am going to spend some time in Nashville where I live now and take some time to write for the next record. Other than that, you just strive to keep getting better and more real with this thing.