Sean Scolnick, a.k.a. Langhorne Slim, is a man who does not just have a life, but is living a life. He loves music because it is a channel through which to express life.
During our interview, we talked a lot about the creative process and where inspiration comes from, which often became wordy because, as he mentions, there aren’t really words for it. Rather, inspiration is something immaterial, something trying to be expressed. It is a spirit, which is appropriate given the title of his band’s latest record, The Spirit Moves.
We spent some time on the phone this past weekend to talk about that spirit.
SS: Good timing.
HG: Really, how so?
SS: I’ve been driving from New Orleans to Lafayette and I literally just got out of the car. Maybe good timing on my part?
HG: I think those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
SS: Right. We can both take credit.
HG: As a band that takes a lot of time on tour, do you find that you have lots of different homes?
SS: Yes. As a traveling person I think what happens to most travelers—and definitely musical travelers—is that you get to meet people who are almost always immediately accepting. It’s the only way to travel where most people are excited to see you when you walk through the door. It’s a fortunate thing. I feel like I have many temporary homes out there.
HG: Something I’ve noticed about yall’s more recent records is that they seem to have a feeling of seasonality to them. Be Set Free feels like a fall/winter record and The Way We Move feels more like a spring/summer record. Would you say that’s true? Do you align that with The Spirit Moves in any way?
SS: They all seem like summer records to me. I’m a summer man. I’m a lover of the sunshine and the summertime, but that’s an interesting point. These records, they take a while to write, this last record was two years in the making. The songs are more where I’m at with my feelings and emotions and what the hell is going on. For me, it's trying to get something out when the feeling strikes, no matter what time it is.
HG: Lately I’ve been fascinated by the idea, for example, that your record is the state of the union for 2015 but the song writing process would have started in 2013, and probably the ideas for those songs before that, so even though this is a 2015 record, it started three or four years ago.
SS: Sure, and as we’re here talking about it now I’m able to take in music and feel inspired with where I am with my creative experience, so it is a really bizarre experience of creating music, recording that music, promoting that music, and carrying on in your creative endeavors. It’s strange to have an answer for how, when, and why, I feel like music and creativity exist in this plane where there are not a lot of words for [describing it]. It’s like it moves through you and you—well, capture is not the right word, but capture it in a way where you can put words and melody to it. I’ve been thinking about that lately, that I feel like I’m reminiscing when being interviewed about the record. It almost feels like [the songs are] ancient in some ways.
HG: I often find that what propels me to finish a project is that I’m so excited about the next one.
SS: Yeah, yeah. I think I can relate to that. I think what propels me is a deadline. I don’t know if a record is ever a finished product.
SS: You want to be proud of it but then move on. I guess I don’t want any one collection to be my grand statement. The frustration is an internal one I suppose because I keep feeling like there’s more to say and more to do and the fire never cools. Maybe for a minute, but it is kind of like a sickness. Maybe you should be happy for a month or two, but I don’t experience that.
HG: Over the years, listening to all your records, the band seems to have found these different gears. How would you describe that evolution of the band’s sound?
SS: With exception to Malachi, my drummer, it has been a different band…[but] no matter who is in the band, we have found our sound on the road. The songs change as one writes them I suppose, but as for the band, we’ve just grown together. When you play with people long enough on the road, something musically really does happen in an unsayable way. I’m very lucky to be a songwriter and to have people around me that have been so loyal and raw and talented. They can play like wild animals, but can also play refined and off the charts as far as talent.
HG: I saw you on the tour before you recorded The Way We Move at The Casbah in Durham. It was such a wild show. Very authentic and a ton of energy. Is that hard to keep that up over the years, show after show?
SS: No, that part is just the wild from within. Even when tired, that exists. I don’t know why or where it comes from but that’s my therapy, my exercise, releasing both the angels and demons from within.
HG: A lot of the songs you write have characters in them, are you writing those songs for real life people or are they more inspired characters? I know you have the one song about your grandfather’s passing (“Song For Sid”).
HG: But over the years there’s been so many: “Loretta Lee Jones” or “Collette,” do you find yourself writing songs true to these people, or are they more fictionalized versions?
SS: It’s true in the fact that the feeling is true. The feeling and the emotion are what inspire the story in the song. The feeling is there, a spark, and you feel inspired. But the more recent songs, they’re more the way it is going down. I don’t know about ripping myself open—that feels a bit dramatic—but being open to talking about finding strength through vulnerability, feeling a little bruised or raw, embracing that and being able to expose that through music. I guess that’s why artists and musicians sing songs. I’d hate to think that you need pain in order to do these things, but I will say in my experience it has helped. I don’t want to live that way, tortured all the time, but certainly in those times is when you turn to your guitar. Certain songs are a bit fictionalized for the sake of story and then some of these are the real, raw deal.
HG: Something that is paradoxical but interesting to me is that if someone is important enough to write a song about, then it can almost be impossible to write a song that does that person justice.
SS: Maybe I’m just too damn selfish, but for me, it is the feeling of the person and how I’m moved by it: Trying to do justice to that feeling and to myself, therefore it can be real and true because of my experience. Trying to sum up someone’s beauty just by looking at their beauty I think is nearly impossible, but summing it up when you really feel that beauty and it sets your soul on fire, you can maybe find the right words to present that feeling because it is alive and it’s real.
HG: That’s good. Anything else? Anything I left out?
SS: I never feel like there’s anything left out, especially when it feels more like a conversation. I appreciate that. It was nice to talk to you. I feel like we got it done.
More so than anything, Langhorne Slim is a man who is full of wonder, and you can feel that—his spirit—in his songs and his performance. It will move you.
Langhorne Slim & The Law will play The Pour House on Tues, Oct. 20th. $12 Adv/$15 Door.
For fans of: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Dawes, The Avett Brothers, Shovels & Rope