As Langhorne Slim, who performs Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4, at the Bluebird Theater, walks around California's Napa Valley before his set at Bottlerock Festival, he is thinking of a different time in his life.
"I used to live out here years ago, a lifetime ago," he says. "I lived out here with my ex, so I’m kind of in dreamland, going down memory lane. It’s incredible. I lived here for two years and wrote a lot of music here. It's nice to be back; it’s fucking beautiful."
While songwriters are by nature prone to reminiscence and reflection, recent changes in Slim's (born Sean Scolnick) life have caused him to be more reflective than ever. The singer, who released his first album in 2004, recently settled in Nashville after unceremoniously leaving Portland, experiencing bouts of "unsayable things" and finally getting sober.
The results of his life-altering journey can be heard on his latest album, The Spirit Moves. Released last year on Dualtone Records with his band the Law, it is Slim's most confessional and honest record to date. From the raucous title track to more downtrodden cuts like "Changes" and "Wolves," he narrates thirty-plus years of regret and reflection with a positive hue and a pledge that a new and promising phase is beginning.
Westword: The Spirit Moves seems to be more self-reflective than your other records; is that a fair assumption?
Langhorne Slim: That’s very accurate, yes. I went through some big changes recently, one of which was getting sober, and it entered me into a new phase that allowed me to feel more energetic and spiritual. It's like my first thirty-something years were one act of the play that had ended, and now the second act has begun and I’ve started writing differently. I’m seeing things with different eyes. For years, I had lent my eyes to intoxicants of all kinds, so I’m writing for the first time without any of that. In addition to not feeling chemically induced, I just feel that I’m in a more energetic space. I’m trying to be true to what comes and be open to the source.
It seems more musicians have made this decision to get sober around this stage in their lives. Is this a universal decision people make to reevaluate and put a new chapter on things?
I know people that have gotten sober older and younger than me, and then there’s people that don’t ever do it at all. I did it because it was a long time coming, and I feel like I gave it a good shot to try and drink it all. When I found out I couldn't actually be successful at drinking every last drop that was out there, I decided to stop doing it.
For me it got to a point where it was crushing the things I got into those habits for. It used to help me sit with my creativity, but then I started to become a slave to it.
Physically it was doing damage, and that wasn't really enough, but spiritually it began to cave in on me. I felt like I had to give so much time and energy to live one way that I could try to exist without it and see what happens. By design, I’m a man of extremes, and I could never be a good boy with that shit. Instead of trying to drink a little less, it was just time to take the opposite approach and leave it behind.
Jason Isbell is a great example of a guy who got sober and it improved his songwriting. Are there any musicians that you can cite that helped you with this decision?
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My own experiences helped me with the decision. Much in the same way I got into drinking and drugs, those similar reasons helped me get out of it as well. I never was doing it so I could be funnier at the party; I was drinking before I got to the party so that I could ease my anxiety and calm my fears. I learned after half a lifetime doing that that it actually embellished my fears and anxieties, and I was waking up with tremendous anxiety and fear as a result. One thing that I noticed when I stopped is that I don’t always wake up in a good mood, but far more consistently, I wake up and embrace the day. Living in Nashville and knowing Jason [Isbell] a little bit, I did find that what he was doing was an inspiration, but seeing how my life changed when I did stop was enough for me.
Speaking of Nashville, moving there was another big change in your life. How has living there affected your music?
That decision falls into some unsayable stuff.... I didn't move to Nashville on purpose. I left Portland five years ago and was just traveling with the band and not looking for any sort of domesticated existence. I visited friends in Nashville and fell in love with the place. After moving there is when I got sober, and I was able to buy a house and now have more of a social life than I ever had before. There’s all of these like-minded freaks there that I found — some I knew and some I knew of. It’s like going to summer camp without any of the stuff I didn’t want to do. It’s a really inspiring and beautiful community where people have a sweetness about them that I connect with and that I have within myself. I found that and felt at home — though I’m hardly ever there!
Langhorne Slim and the Law performs at the Bluebird Theater on Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4.