Lots of entertainers have stage names (Lady Gaga, Alice Cooper, The Edge) and cultivate in-the-spotlight characters who are able to go further, bigger, deeper than the potentially shy, potentially stage-frightened, potentially insecure artist behind the audacious name.
But what if, as in the case of folk-rocker/guitar-slinger/hat-wearer/crowd-pleaser Langhorne Slim (born Sean Scolnick in Langhorne, Penn.), the musician behind the stage name is pretty much the same as the larger-than-life persona?
“I guess it's the cooler me or the stronger me, but it's really not a character study,” says Slim. The moniker came about when he moved to New York at age 18 and “wanted to give myself a groovy name.”
“Maybe it gives you a little bit more strength to get on the stage and do wild things,” he adds. “But I feel like I'd be the same entertainer if I was going by my birth name.” Slim says he's never been one for phases — no goth or hair metal skeletons in his closet. And he's always dressed as he does now: part troubadour, part thrift-shop dandy. Though, he admits, “if you went back and heard some tapes of when I first started writing songs, it would sound a bit more inspired by Nirvana and grunge — though my stuff now is still very much inspired by the attitude of Kurt Cobain.”
There is a hard edge to Slim's latest album, The Way We Move, released in June. It has to do with the way the music gallops and bucks: a runaway train, a barroom anthem, an atrial fibrillation in the best sense. The title track is such a fist-pumping, hard-driving explosion that it’s difficult to imagine where Slim and his band, The Law, will go from there. But go they do, and for 14 tracks the relentless strumming, plucking and pummeling, and all of its endorphin rush, serves as a platform for Slim's exquisite bray.
Listen to the howl and guttural wrench of “Fire,” a punchy ode to love's alchemy. Horns bawl, cymbals flare and Slim roars his trademark roar. It's a glorious vocal, raw and tattered but never failing to hit the emotional watermark. “I lose my voice — it's a muscle and I'm not a trained singer,” he says. “I have thought that I should write a nice ballad to sing softly, and then I do write a nice ballad but I can't figure out how to sing it softly. I suppose it's my style to kind of let it rip.”
Slim says that he admires soft, quiet performances and sees the value in relating to an audience both through a punk aesthetic and a gentler, more intimate show. “There's power in both,” he says. “You don't have to scream to connect.”
Then again, the musician is not one to take it easy. Not in vocal style (he's rarely canceled a show due to voice problems) and not in his approach to touring. Last time Slim and the Law were in Asheville (January), it was a tour between tours, or, the “never ending tour” as he calls it. The band spends eight or nine months out of the year on the road.
That constant motion evolved organically, says Slim. And it suits him and his songwriting style. “The ideas are always there and it's just a matter of where you feel soulful and connected, and that's where you can produce the thing. I like to ramble and roam around. I feel more present with myself and my environment when I'm on the move,” he says. However, he and his band have planned a two-night stand at The Grey Eagle next week because, when it comes to hanging around somewhere for a couple of days, Slim counts Asheville as a favorite stop.
Where, as many musicians write out of a sense of place, Slim says his material “comes mainly from my personal emotional state. It depends on what's going on. I need things going on around me in order to feel, and I'm a guy who really needs to feel.”
Even if every song isn't a happy one (and, with Slim's material, they're not), he says, “Not being scared of those feelings is important, even though they're scary as shit.” But where the musician is most fearless is on stage, bellowing, whipping his band into a frenzy and preaching the gospel of hard travel, hard singing and hard loving to a receptive crowd. He says even if every single night is not the greatest night of rock ‘n' roll ever, “that's when the true blast is felt. That's when the magic happens.”
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Langhorne Slim & The Law
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 22 & 23 (Hoots & Hellmouth opens Wednesday, Cheyenne Marie Mize opens Thursday. 9 p.m. nightly. $12 in advance or $15 day of the show. http://www.thegreyeagle.com)