The best singer-songwriters hold nothing back, putting pen to paper in a creative catharsis that expresses deeply personal feelings and connects on a meaningful universal level. “It’s not a conscious decision,” Langhorne Slim (real name Sean Scolnick) explained when we chatted about his process by phone a few weeks ago. “For me, it’s how I can communicate, it’s my release, it’s my life force. It’s a very natural process that happens, where I’ll write a melody and sing songs about some true shit that’s going on. I need to do it or else my head will explode.”
Slim’s lyrics are imbued with a clear-eyed, heartfelt outlook. His songs shift between heart-squeezing tenderness or bittersweet balladry, anthemic freewheeling barroom stompers and wildly joyous life-affirming barnburners. Verses and choruses are delivered in ragged gospel-soulful howls, easy rambling intones or sweet lilting warbles, and set against a sun-kissed fusion of alt-folk, Americana and country blues. In a live setting, his effervescent stage presence is magnetic.
The Langhorne, PA native doesn’t consider his bandmates mere hired hands. Drummer Malachi DeLorenzo started playing with Slim early in his career and appeared on his first full-length, 2004’s Electric Love Letter; upright bassist Jeff Ratner entered the mix during the making of 2009’s Be Set Free and was responsible for bringing banjo thrasher and keys player David Moore into the fold. By the time the foursome hit the studio last November to record Langhorne’s fifth full-length, they’d already been touring together for more than two years — “we really became sort of a family on the road,” Slim said — and were a well-oiled machine. “It’s definitely the most cohesive band record that I’ve ever done,” he commented. It was also Slim’s first time recording an album live, with few overdubs (those mostly horns) and joined by musicians intimately familiar with his material. “Us being on the road so much together, we kind of got it down how the songs would feel, and it was very important to us to cut it as live as possible and have it as raw and dirty as possible, more of a punk rock vein than an overly produced kind of thing.”
His bandmates weren’t involved in writing The Way We Move, but their creative input fleshed out the nearly 30 songs that were recorded — “We kind of thought we’d have a double record on our hands, but we decided not to do that” — and they helped Slim pick the 14 that ultimately landed on the album. Its overall warm and dynamic appeal is likely a combination of the organic chemistry the foursome developed performing together relentlessly, the quiet and cozy setting (Old Soul Studios in the Catskills), and the sense of immediacy in sound that comes with playing live.
The Way We Move dropped in June via N.C.’s Ramseur Records (the indie folk and roots label that reps the Avett Brothers) and was mostly financed by Langhorne Slim’s fans via a Pledgemusic.com campaign, during which he rallied online support to record the album from those people who’d be interested buying it most; the minimum $10 donation got fans access to private updates about its progression and a digital copy of The Way We Move upon its completion, while the maximum donation ($1,500) brought the band to the fan. (“Langhorne Slim and the Law will come to your house and play for you and your friends!”) “It was a way to keep it very independent, to raise money because I didn’t have the funds to put out a record, and to connect with people who are into what we’re doing and get what we’re doing, and have them support us, and kind of give something back to them as well.”
The response was tremendous. Langhorne Slim received 457 pledges, reached 156 percent of his goal, donated 10 percent to the American Cancer Society (an option offered by Pledgemusic), and put the surplus toward the album’s marketing and release. The experience was an overall rewarding one. “It went far beyond my expectations,” he said.
The cover for The Way We Move shows a freeze-frame of two vintage-era boxers that enforces the idea of rolling with the punches, whether you’re swinging the punch or dodging it. This theme is loosely tied into songs exploring how to survive and triumph through life’s endings, the album carrying a sense of glowing optimism amid the melancholic moments as reflected in “Song for Sid.” Dedicated to Slim’s beloved grandfather, who passed away last year, it’s not a despairing dirge but a soulfully poignant ode reflecting on his legacy and post-life destiny. (“Tell me, where do the great ones go when they’re gone?”) Performing songs like these live, Slim said, “brings me back to a place of just releasing that feeling and understanding that feeling, so I can perform it in a truthful way every night.” He added, “It’s not necessarily bringing me back to that place of agony or joy. It’s a connection with that emotion but it doesn’t overtake me. For the most part, it’s just about locking into that feeling again, to feel it but not necessarily re-live it.”
As far as what makes him happy and keeps him going on the road upwards of nine months a year? “Music and friends and family. That’s it. That’s what I’ve got in this world.”
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