Analogue Music | Langhorne Slim

Langhorne Slim

By Matt Conner

It's best that Langhorne Slim can't quite explain it.

On the one hand, Langhorne makes himself available as an artist to do what artists do: to create. He knows to make himself available, to practice his craft, to go with inspiration, to work the industry hustle. Yet his latest album, Strawberry Mansion, is also a study in participating with the beyond. It's a set of songs from an artist who is quick to admit that he's not exactly sure how the melodies are channeled from a fleeting thought to recorded permanence.

It's that ethereal exchange with the muse, so to speak, that has provided so much healing in recent years for Langhorne Slim. These have been tough years in many ways, as the artist details his journey to painful self-realizations and getting sober along the way. Yet that's also given way to true community, to inner peace, and of course, to a lovely and sanguine set of new songs.

We recently sat down with Slim to ask him about the story behind Strawberry Mansion and how these songs affected very real change in his life—an important before-and-after release for an acclaimed veteran artist.

Analogue: I know because I’ve written them myself that an artist’s bio takes what you tell them and tries to shape a compelling narrative to get someone to listen to the album in the first place. That could be different from how you would tell the story. How do you tell the story of where these songs come from?

Langhorne Slim: I’m definitely an alcoholic and an addict. My first attempt at sobriety was without a connection to any kind of community who knows the deal and on a day-to-day basis, works to live a sober but expansive life. It changed my life dramatically when I first quit drinking and drugging. What it didn’t do was give me any guidelines emotionally, spiritually, of how to deal with life—as they say life on life’s terms, how to deal with control issues that I have that I never even realized that I have.

I’m still in awe that the first dream I had was to be a working musician, and I’ve gotten to do that for a long time now. There are so many gifts and beauty that that has offered to me. On the other hand, that has offered me a constant movement. For me, it’s an identity of self through that movement, that adventure. I am certainly still addicted to that as well.

I don’t drink and I don’t take drugs today. But the darkness of a relapse with prescription pills got so out of hand because of my own ego; my family, my friends, some of my fans, knew that I had gotten sober. It was something I really felt some shame in, and was really not wanting to get honest with anybody to reach out for some help.

"Sometimes the in-between is as important as whatever one views as the mountaintop or where they’re going, because there isn’t one without the other."

It got to a point where I no longer recognized myself. I could see in some people around me who have known me a long time, they didn’t recognize me. I had no connection, really, to my creative self. Whether that is spirits around that give us this art and music, or however that stuff works, one needs to be in a place to receive it, I think. And I’ve received it completely fucked up out of my mind at times. I had thought in my life that that was a zone to get myself into, to dance on kind of a divine dance floor. Once I become a slave to whatever it is, my connection to a higher self or the higher energies becomes distorted, staticky and then muted. And that’s where I was for a little while, until I got home to Nashville, out of necessity and desperation, getting honest with myself.

I knew that I needed to reach out to get help. I needed to try it a different way. That’s what launched, I think, into, then a tornado, then the plague, as I sing in the song. Then a forced going within for everybody, literally and figuratively. All of this noise in the outside world, socially, politically, it wasn’t that I was intentionally doing it, but it just coincided with this necessity for me on a personal level to explore other ways of getting healthy that I think led to an awakening. I don’t know how that stuff works. But all of that leads to how something broke open.

Analogue: With this last year as a heavy blanket forced upon you and all of us, and given your musical response that I am able to listen to today, it seemed like these songs healed you in some way.

Langhorne: Definitely. In some ways that I knew at the time, and in some ways I don’t think I even realize yet. I know these songs will be beautiful friends for the rest of my life, because of what I was going through personally. Something that’s very true from the bio, I was trying to finish a record that’s on the shelf now and will get finished, and was unable to do that because of the state that I was in. And in that time, which is a year or more, maybe I wrote a song or two songs—the least amount that I had ever written since I started writing music. Just in music coming back and melody and words showing up, that was very healing on a lot of levels.

Getting sober again, there’s this fear that I won’t be able to write if I don’t have some booze. What if I can’t write because I’m getting sober from this medication? The sad irony of that was that I wasn’t writing and couldn’t finish creative shit because I was numbing myself so much with that stuff. So it was healing for me just to have songs show up and kind of flowing through the house helped me to recognize myself again. It helped me to shed some of the weight I was carrying and get back to what I loved to do.

I was able to do it this go around, more so than I can remember since I was a kid, without expectation, the critical mind. I had no expectation that it would be a record. I was writing because songs were happening, and they felt good. And what a fucking concept. Doing your art for the love of the art; when it shows up to try to be present for it. Remembering that that’s a possibility is a huge gift for me, in and of itself.

'Strawberry Mansion'
'Strawberry Mansion'

Analogue: Was there a firstfruit, creatively here, of this batch of songs that broke through?

Langhorne: There were a few that happened really quick, like “Mighty Soul”, that started to form. The first ones kind of felt like pandemic jingles almost. In my mind, they were fun, a little bit silly. But they kicked it off. They were complete songs. For me, it had been a long time since a complete song would just arrive. I would get little bits and pieces, and it would take me a long time to put it together. These were just showing up as done or almost done.

My friend, Mike [Beyer], Crackerfarm, has been one of my best friends for many years, has had my back through ups and downs, and is a beautiful photographer and video artiste. He and his family were the only people outside of my own home that I was going and seeing for many months in the lockdown. I brought those initial songs to him, we’d make these little videos, and then post it on my social media stuff, drive home, and it became a very catch-and-release vibe. Once I posted it, it almost felt like it was released, and then I would hardly think of that song again, and another melody would show up on the drive home later that afternoon, and I would start that.

Mike had said, “Why don’t you just fucking write a song every day?” And I took that as like he was messing with me. But also, he has a lot of experience in some of these other things that I’m talking about. He’s been a best friend for many years, and I love him and trust him deeply. He’s like a brother. And he’s somebody that when I was using again, I was keeping at arms’ length, because I didn’t want him to know that I was. So in coming back home and being creative with him again, I think I viewed that as another gift of deepening our friendship.

It just became what was happening, that these songs were showing up almost daily. I wasn’t actually sitting and attempting a song a day. It’s just kind of what happened for two-and-a-half, three months. I think there are, like, 30 in total.

Analogue: From the outside looking in, and based on what you’ve talked about here, this feels like a before-and-after album. Does it feel that way to you?

Langhorne: I always like this little saying that came into my head, “There’s many lives to live in one.” And I believe that. This is a pivotal new beginning. It very much felt that way on a lot of levels. A new relationship with myself and therefore my creativity. And what I recognize and I hope I can keep sight of is to live for today, to write in the present moment. I don’t need to compare it to what I’ve done. I don’t need to wonder what it’s going to be. Every album and every song, just to be as honest as I can with what’s flowing through in that time.

I have to remember that when these songs were coming, it was just playing to play and singing because there were songs to sing. That’s really the energy that I want to tap into, and maybe one doesn’t have as much control as one would like to think. Thirty songs that I’m pretty proud of showed up when I least expected it. That sounds corny, maybe, but it’s just the truth. And I’ve been doing shit like that a lot in my life without realizing. There’s a part of it that is doggedness and passion. I have that, and I won’t lose that. It’s a part of how I’ve been able to have a career for so long. But there’s also an unhealthy side of that, as well. Sometimes the in-between is as important as whatever one views as the mountaintop or where they’re going, because there isn’t one without the other.

VISIT: Langhorne Slim