Langhorne Slim is, for now, comfortable. He’s touring behind The Spirit Moves (released August 7 on Dualtone), his most critically acclaimed and highest-charting album yet. He feels closer to his fans than ever, even more so than he did when they heard the record live for the first time earlier this summer. These folks — be they listeners in the Pacific Northwest, where he spent a few years between Northern California and Portland, or his neighbors in Nashville, where his house is, or the temporary populace of an open field at any of the festivals he played this season across the country — are getting used to the poppier, sprightly sing-along nature of Spirit and Slim’s gritty effervescence, and that’s what’s making this lap on the touring circuit so enjoyable for the twang-chasing rocker.
“The last tour we did was the official record release tour, and it was really exciting, but anticlimactic in some ways,” says Slim — a/k/a Sean Scolnick — calling in just after soundcheck in Boston. “The people that have been following us now know the words and how to shake it to the songs [on The Spirit Moves]. I’m feeling more of the energy and a connection to the audience. I anticipate that it’ll continue, and that’s the greatest part of any of this, for me, the connection with the audience. All the highs and lows and joys and sorrows and frustrations — when you’re in the venue and it’s filled with people who are singing and dancing with you and the band, that’s the one drug I haven’t been able to kick. Thankfully I’ve kicked the other ones at this point. It’s the closest to heaven I’ve found on earth.”
But that’s not why Slim’s at ease on this ascent. It’s been three years since Langhorne Slim and the Law put out their last record, 2012’s The Way We Move, which Rolling Stone dubbed “damn near perfect.” Since then, he’s relocated to Nashville, kicked his vices — namely, booze and drugs — and his stuff resides in a big pink house in Music City when he’s traveling in support of The Spirit Moves (he describes the place as “majestic” and “cosmic”). The Spirit Moves is true to its name, in that it’s a record that thrives in transit. From leadoff track “Airplane” to the sprints detailed on the pensive and soft-spoken closer, “Wolves,” the sentiments of Spirit can’t stand still — much like the man who set them to music.
“I don’t feel settled in any way, but I feel a bit more grounded than I have in the past,” says Slim. “I’ve been traveling with the band for ten or eleven years. The drummer, Malachi, and I have been playing since we started in Brooklyn all those years ago…I guess this is our fifth studio album, and all the while we were touring eight, nine months out of the year. The movement and the travel part have always been a part of my life since I I left Pennsylvania when I was eighteen. It’s the trying to feel more at home with where I am that I’ve been working on. That’s always been tricky for me. I want to travel and play music for the rest of my life, but I want to be working my way towards and not running from, if that makes sense.”
A glimpse at the crowd during “Strangers,” Spirit’s endorphin-spiking single, shows that he’s not alone in preferring to keep things kinetic. It’s impossible to listen through the song in its entirety without bouncing along with it in some capacity, but its catchiness doesn’t distract from Slim’s rambunctious real talk. The first words out of his mouth are “I was born and I’ve been running since,” and the gorgeous video is pieced together from various snippets of Slim and the band making their way from stage to stage, with shots of unfolding highways filling in the gaps.
The propensity to find comfort in the rhythms of turning wheels and passing exits is one that suits both Spirit and the flawless sound Slim and company cultivate. There’s a connection between this movement and the impact his sobriety has had on his music, and it amounts to his strongest output, positively shining with promise. He isn’t running from anything anymore, or from the crutches he turned to in the various greenrooms of his past. He’s running toward a compelling clarity, just as he intended.
“My life changed dramatically after I stepped away from drinking myself crazy,” he says. “Putting that aside was terrifying and weird, but also the brightest light I ever stepped into, because I was in a position to be elevated immediately after making that decision…The people who knew me the best were probably hoping so much that I was going to stop doing what I was doing, because they knew that I could be a better man, that the band could be a better band. I was scared of the same old shit: Could I perform and touch the wildness, you know? Could I get as deep as I was hoping to get as I was when I was drinking and writing? It turns out that as long as you are truly creative and passionate and driven and a little bit insane, none of that shit goes away. Even when the creature tells me that it’s hungry, I tell it to chill the fuck out. ‘Cause I’m not feeding it. That was just a particular suit that I came to every party in. That ain’t my style anymore; I put that suit down, and I put on a different suit. I feel more of my true self. I feel like I have enough of a wild spirit and enough of a certain kind of insanity to keep me going through all of this, and to see how far I can get with it in being myself now.”
Langhorne Slim and the Law play the Music Hall of Williamsburg September 15.