“Life dictates these sorts of things. A friend of mine was going through some tough times a few years ago and something he said stuck with me,” says the newly sober Langhorne Slim. “He said ‘As shitty as this stuff has been, I realize the only way out is to get through it.’ I thought that was pretty awesome.”
Slim (born Sean Scolnick on Aug. 20, 1980) knows something about getting through tough times. He’d been addicted to drugs and booze since he was a teen, imbibing to summon the willpower to give interviews, make music, even go out with friends. His friend’s comment planted the seed that led to him kick his addictions on his 33rd birthday. As he looks back on his recent 35th birthday, he’s got a new album—The Spirit Moves—and a new fascination with life.
He corrects the notion that the album is “his,” saying that the members of The Law—drummer Malachi DeLorenzo, bassist Jeff Ratner and keys/banjo player David Moore—are not “hired guns” but his band of brothers who supported him through his recovery and the creation of the group’s August release, their highest-charting album to date.
He co-wrote most of the album with his other “brother” Kenny Siegal, with whom he has forged an undeniably successful musical partnership and what he believes is a lifelong friendship.
“I found a true partner in him,” Slim says. “We both adore each other and drive each other nuts. He helps finish my musical thoughts. That is an amazing thing to find.”
As is Siegal’s Catskills, N.Y. studio that was home base for much of the writing and recording of the album.
“The environment there is a strange one to me and in a way it was really beautiful,” Slim says. “It’s not a place I can see myself living, but I go there and I get a lot done with him. And just being there in his studio…It’s something that I could feel when I first was driving out there three or four years ago when we were making that last record. As I was driving closer I started opening up a bit and letting ideas and inspiration come in. So it allowed me to take off the mask a bit and feel very connected to music.”
That relaxation, even though it was mixed with some brotherly contentious moments, is something Slim found restorative.
“I distinctly remember my first record, and this guy looked at me and said ‘Geez, don’t you do this because it makes you happy and you love to do it?’” Slim says. “I said ‘Hell, no.’ I do it because I seriously have a need to do it or I will melt and deteriorate. It almost isn’t a choice. I really had to learn how to enjoy it, because it brings so much joy and beauty to my life. But it’s painful and deeply challenging.”
All those emotions seem to swirl in the different tracks of this record moving from “Changes,” about a soul being reborn, to a garage rocker called “Put It Together,” penned after his beloved 1977 Mercury Comet was stolen, to the ‘50s-tinged “Life’s a Bell.” Slim says that his sobriety has led him to be even more open about his feelings.
“It was immediately evident in a way. I think I stepped into my truer myself that I been hiding,” he says. “It put me in an immediate place of strength, and my love for music and my love for creativity and romantic love and my love for my friends, that all improved.”
“It was definitely scary, though,” he adds. “We made this record and I’m deeply proud of it, but I’m still moving and growing. I still have a deep need to be creative and inspired and moved and go onto the next thing. When I don’t, it kicks me in the head. [I worry that] I haven’t sat down with a guitar today, I haven’t had a song in my head.”
The latest album is so deeply personal he almost doesn’t need to articulate that desperation in conversation. Several of his new songs, particularly “Airplane,” fully explain what he calls the redemptive hope in desperation. He talks about how he’s come to see such desperation as a portal into another phase of life or even a new life.
“I don’t want to get into the whole thing of reincarnation, but I think of this particular life and believe I’ve lived several lives in my 35 years, found many opportunities,” he says. “I’ve learned to grow and change and dig deeper and live in the fear and not be scared. I can embrace fear and gain strength from it. [That allows me to] open myself up to it, face it, live it and ultimately write about it. That helps me connect with the audience that we have been playing for during the past 11 years.”
The philosophy didn’t come easily, he says, talking about both sobriety and musical growth.
“We describe it so it fits neatly and nicely into a whole bio thing we do. It’s not all a perfect package. It did have a lot to do with this new record and my way of feeling…since I’ve gotten sober after many, many years of living quite the opposite way,” he says. “For most of my life I was dancing in an intoxicated suit. I did that until I turned 33 years old and put on a different suit. It was strange and beautiful, as is life.”
It’s difficult not to wonder if the musical success he’s found with this, his seventh release, in glowing critical reviews and an album that debuted at No. 15 on Billboard’s Independent chart, serves as a sweet reward.
“To be honest, I haven’t really noticed the reviews,” he says. “Throughout my career I have read both that I’m great and that I’m terrible. Reading I was great felt pretty good and reading I was terrible made me feel terrible. As much as I enjoy this talk, I probably won’t read what [is published]. I just want to keep going and keep paying my creative dues and keep playing shows. I hope people love the record. I hope more people will come out to the party. But, really, I don’t feel different today than I did before this record came out. I just want to keep moving ahead.”