Langhorne Slim’s New Album Is All About That “Ancient Shit”
Langhorne Slim (a.k.a. Sean Scolnick) penned a bit of manifesto to usher in the release of his newest album, Lost at Last Vol. 1. In it, he speaks out against humanity’s loss of wonder — its tendency to self-sooth with technology and drugs.
“The music on this record is an attempt to rebel against that form of living,” he writes. “To reconnect with ourselves and with each other. It ain’t hippie shit in my mind, it’s ancient shit. … In the making of this record, I made a deal with myself to trust my own voice and vision more than I ever have before, and to go willingly wherever it led.”
The result is an utterly gorgeous collection of tracks, from the highly quotable “Life is Confusing” (“Life is confusing and people are insane”) to creepy-cute love ballad “Zombie” (“She had an old suitcase full of skulls/She kissed my lips, my blood ran cold”).
Check out our conversation with Slim below. Lost at Last Vol. 1 comes out Friday, November 10.
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First of all, you wrote a little manifesto, I guess, about the record. Why did you feel compelled, this time around, to add something extra to the music?
I wrote that in a text message to this amazing man who created the artwork. He runs my favorite record store in the world, Mississippi Records, out in Portland, Oregon. He does all the artwork and compiles all of the music. He’s just an amazing dude. At that point, he didn’t really know me personally. I was trying to just give him a sense of where I was coming from, to see if that might help with the visual art.
I don’t love talking about where music comes from, because it’s very difficult. I don’t think that people have the words for it, but we try to come up with them because we want to get our music out there. When you make a record, you’re fortunate enough that people, like you, want to talk to you about it.
I think at that time I was still in the zone of where that music was coming from, and I got it down in sort of a seamless way. It wasn’t contrived, it wasn’t for an article; it was just for this guy I admired, to feel where I was coming from so that he could create visual artwork that matched my soul.
It seems like maybe you’re a bit anti-technology?
I’m not anti-technology, but I’m pro-human and I’m pro-connection. None of this stuff is preaching to other people. This is music I write when I’m alone, pretty much, or get together with my friends and create. It’s my own pain and my own joy and my own insecurities and my own restraints and my own flaws, and all that shit that comes out in any kind of music or art that I make.
For me, it’s not that technology, such as our telephones, aren’t powerful tools, it’s just how we use them. I think, some of the ways that we all are using them, and certainly myself included, are dangerous and take us out of ourselves, and can keep us sort of disconnected, especially in a time where we’re being force-fed that we are so divided.
I think it’s bullshit. I don’t think we’re so divided. The TV and the telephone keeps telling us, ‘Fear, fear, fear, fear. Darkness. Negativity. You’re on this side, I’m on that side.’ That shit is divisive and dangerous, and I’m not buying into it.
What technological advance, or what form of communication, technology-wise, is least effective, do you think? Or the most harmful?
I don’t know. I think that the Internet, social media, all of it, they are tools that can be used for good — it’s just how we use them. So, I think if we’re staring at things constantly that make us potentially feel less of ourselves, then that’s dangerous. If we’re staring at these things all the time instead of getting together and opening real dialogue, and just buying into that we are divided, I think that that’s dangerous.
I think eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart, traveling to see other places — if one is lucky enough to do so — meeting people in an open way, then that is, in my experience, this is just my opinion, that’s good for the heart. That’s good for the soul. That can breed a bit more unity, and I think, in this particular time, it’s something we, again, my personal opinion, desperately need.
So, when was the last time you had an experience like that? Were you connected with something you didn’t expect to connect with?
Well, I’m fortunate through what I do to have that often, because I get to travel and play music. Of course, for me and what I do, there are people that are coming out that are happy to see me and have that experience, because it’s entertainment, right? So, I’m not so naïve enough to think that it’s that simple. I think that there are people and forces that profit from keeping a lot of us in fear, and selling this idea of division, and that’s what I’m concerned about at the moment.
Musically, too, or just societally?
Well, I mean, what goes on in society comes out in one’s art. All of the music on this record isn’t political or topical in that way; it’s just going through my everyday life, that sort of thing. It’s something that I’m feeling, that I’m sensing, that I’m seeing. … I know it sounds hippie, but I think that these ideas are more ancient than hippies are.
This shit isn’t anti-Trump or something. It’s bigger than that. I just think that people got to be, myself included, more punk rock. Getting our hands dirty, finding spaces that are free and that are expressive and that aren’t just us buying a bag of bullshit.
Where do you think that kind of punk rock mentality lies nowadays?
I hope in some of our hearts.
I think it’s always there within certain people, and I think times, like what we’re going through, ignite that flame.
What is your inner critic like — and how do you kind of get a handle on that voice?
Pretty much the whole point of this record, because I made it pretty quickly after the last one that I did with my band, was to deal with that inner critic. To try to quiet it. I mean, I think that that’s a journey most of us are on in our lives, no matter what we do, is to try to quiet that as much as possible. For me, musically, it was just going directions that I hadn’t gone before. Not worrying about what it may or may not do, what came out when people heard it, and to just get back to basics.
You know, you see little kids singing and dancing, and they’re not worried about how they look and how they sound. It’s raw and it’s real. I ain’t a little kid anymore, but I still am a little kid in that way, and I never want to lose that. I never want to become hard or cold or jaded. That’s why I talk about strength and vulnerability and my belief in that. I just wanted to make music that I like, and play it with my friends, all together, live in a room and record it, and that’s pretty much what we did.
So, is it a kind of stream-of-consciousness creation? How did that work for you?
Well, a lot of it’s always been stream-of-consciousness. I think the music starts in sort of a spirit world, where one’s ego isn’t involved. Then, in my experience … And don’t forget, this is just my experience; I’m not speaking for all songwriters or anything. But, it comes from some other place, and then your mind turns on. Sometimes your mind can start to crush the natural flow, I suppose.
I was attempting to just quiet my mind and just to allow the natural flow of whatever it was to come out. For instance, if I was playing a melody and some sort of line came into my mind, and then the inner critic was like, ‘Hmm, I’m not so sure about that.’ I would ask the inner critic politely to shut the fuck up so that I could just get on with it. Then I could decide later whether or not I liked it. Of course, with any writing, you go back and you edit things here or there.
I think, how you put it, stream-of-consciousness, I’m trying to tap more into that, more into… It’s difficult for me to put it into words, because I don’t pretend to know if there are spirits sprinkling musical dust on people’s heads or how this shit works. Whatever it is that just seems to flow through you, where you’re just a vessel for a thing. Therefore, your ego can only hamper… Is that the right word, or is that where you throw your dirty clothes?
It’s a verb, too.
It’s a verb, too? Oh, OK, thank you. It sort of can only hamper that. Yeah, that’s all.
I’m interested in the idea of the music coming from this other place. Do you ever dream songs? Or where do they usually come from?
I do. There was a song on the last record called ‘Changes’ that I woke up with, and I was very glad to wake up with that song. On this record, I can’t think if there were any that came in an actual dream. I do think that melody and often lyrics, for me, do come from kind of a dreamlike state, if you will. Whether it be asleep or awake.
You mentioned in your essay that you didn’t fit in as a kid. Do you remember a specific instance of feeling like, ‘I don’t fit in with all the rest of these kids,’ or, ‘This is not my place’?
I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I mean, I was raised in a small town in Pennsylvania. I went to a public school where athletic ability and fitting the mold of a particular curriculum were the attributes that were considered successful or popular. For me, thank goodness, I discovered music.
I still feel like an alien most of the time, and I think a lot of us do. I don’t think that’s unique. Music has brought me a means of expressing myself, where if I didn’t have it I would have wound up in a whole lot of trouble. It’s brought me a family outside of my own blood family, and a community.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote, like as a kid?
I believe the first song was called ‘Lesbian Friend,’ which I played for my mother. She wasn’t extremely impressed, but it was a true tale.
About a friend of yours?
Yeah, a high school friend of mine. Who I had quite a crush on. Actually, I think I’m lying to you by accident. I think I wrote it before that, and it came true later. Where I had this big crush on a young lady in high school. I think we might have kissed one time, in the woods, and then I found out that she was going out with this girl, and I was really upset. Then the other girl was like, ‘Sean, this ain’t like personal. We like girls.’ It was a tough pill for me to swallow.
So, bringing it back, I’m wondering, is there going to be a volume two of this record?
There will be. It’s all been recorded. I was advised not to make a double record. I thought that the Volume One, Volume Two, that sounded good to me. I think that’s what we’ll do.
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