by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword), for FolkAlley.com
After six critically acclaimed releases over the course of 10 years, the unbridled Americana force that is Langhorne Slim recently issued his seventh project, ‘The Spirit Moves.’ Slim got sober two years ago and became a meditator in order to harness his energy in a whole new way. The resulting songs speak for themselves, reflecting the new level of openness and clarity that have emerged in the aftermath of that seismic life shift.
Kelly McCartney: You’ve had a few different firsts with this new record. For one: co-writing. The results are clearly positive, but how’d that go for you in the process?
Langhorne Slim: My process on this record was… and maybe it’s always been this way… I have some songs that come to me like the great gifts that songwriters have talked about from the beginning of songwriting. That occurs to me, thank goodness, from time to time. A lot of them are battles and they’ll come in through bits and spurts, little pieces that are floating around my head. Eventually they start to accumulate and drive me a little crazy, and I’ll just have a ton of recordings on my phone and bits and pieces floating around my head.
I didn’t do it on purpose, but I was out there working with Kenny [Siegal] in Catskill, New York, and I was playing him some of the new tunes… or the ideas. He was just effortlessly, in the beginning, kind of finishing my musical thoughts in a way that I hadn’t experienced ever before. And I had never really sought that out before. I don’t remember the beginning stages of the process. I just recall being in Nashville and building up these songs for a month or two, starting to feel very frantic and anxious and freaked out. [Laughs] Because what happens is, eventually, you have to get this thing out or else it weighs your soul down. It becomes a physical feeling, a kind of uneasiness. To get it out is certainly therapy. Then I could be a little bit calmer for a little while until the ideas would build up again and start driving me mad. Then I would retreat to the Catskills with Kenny and we would drive each other completely bat-shit crazy, but come out with songs. [Laughs] It was certainly madness. I don’t know what our method was, but… it worked. We got songs that I’m really proud of.
For two: sobriety. So what do songwriting and performing bring to your self-reflection and recovery and working through things?
I never attempted shyness through art or music. Some people connect with what I do and like it. Some people think it’s too over the top. I really find strength in being open and being vulnerable, in some ways. Something like getting sober and needing to… I had a lot to prove to myself and others — that I could take that step, make that change, and live that way, number one. Music is my air, in a lot of ways. It’s the driving force in my life. I hadn’t, for 15 years, performed or written or really been creative without some whiskey or wine or some other thing. I always had something. And something turned into a crutch that I was dependent on. I want to be dependent on love and friendship and music, but in a healthy, positive way — relationships that move me and keep me on my toes.
I was a very passionate kid. It got me in a lot of trouble when I was a kid. And that fire never went away. Now I’m a passionate 35-year-old man. I was pissing on my own flame for a while and sort of tempting it to see if it would stay awake. And it did. But it was having problems. That flame needs to stay awake and alive and be a healthy fire. I think for a lot of people who are very, very passionate, you can get yourself into trouble. I’ve done it my whole life. One of my main goals is to keep that energy and that intensity and that passion for it all… for life, for music, and for love. But to refine it and to unite with my inner bad-ass and not be a bee-otch to anything. Because it’s not me. That’s not my true self.
It makes more sense now that you are a meditator which, for someone known for a sort of uninhibited energy, is a bit unexpected… and yet not. I would imagine that’s part of how you are able to now refine and harness all that energy. So what are the best lessons you’ve learned or the best gifts you’ve gotten from that practice, personally and/or professionally?
To be still is an immense gift, when you put it onto yourself, when you struggle with restlessness or anxiety with addiction — or anything, I guess. Life is beautiful, but very challenging for us all, in ways. To be still and just breathe and allow yourself to be soft and try to be kind to yourself… our society and a lot of what most of us are all about are not really tying to the soul. It’s a lot of this exterior stuff that I believe is dangerous, in a lot of ways.
And I’m a part of it, too. I’m not wagging my finger. It’s a lot of “Where can we go and what can we achieve outside of ourselves?” And I’m continuing to find, through music and now through meditation and other things, I don’t know about the answers, but a lot of what I have been looking for is already there. I believe that deeply. Meditation can help with that. I’ve always been a restless guy. That restlessness and passion and fire has allowed me a career. But it also has presented me with a lot of problems and a lot of challenges.
Do you feel like the ‘The Spirit Moves’ is a new beginning altogether or is just the next chapter in the Life of Langhorne?
Uhhh… both. It’s the new beginning of the next chapter, I guess.
Or it could be a whole other story.
It’s a whole new book, but it’s still little ol’ me. Maybe it could be… it’s not a sequel when it’s a book… but, yeah, a new book but the same theme. I’ve opened the same heart, but it’s opening in a different way. That ain’t the end of that book. There’s a lot more to go.
I keep talking about hippie things, like energy and spirits, but it’s because I believe in it. And when these changes have been going on in my life, I’ve felt the shift in that energy. So when you write a song, I suppose it’s going to be a little different. I didn’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song about being sober now.” Similar to when I’ve gone through a break-up, music never works for me like that. It’s always been more of a spiritual, energetic thing in that it’s not a conscious process. It moves through me. But it moves through me differently now, I suppose, than when I was always somewhere else. [Laughs] For better of for worse, I’m right here, man. For better or for worse. And I’m grateful to feel that. It’s not always easy, but not everybody gets out of the other end.