Don't let Langhorne Slim fool you. He's a sham, a phony, a hoax. No modern man could possibly pick an Antietam-era ballad down the neck of a guitar like an Americana minstrel. Or pour his soul through his vocal cords into a ribbon mic, evangelizing like a revival-era preacher in a tent full of sweaty Southern Baptists. You just don't find a traditionalist folk artist like this. Langhorne Slim is a time traveler.
"I picked up the guitar because I knew that I had something that I needed to express and I didn't know what it was," Slim told Boise Weekly.
Born Sean Scolnick, Slim left his small Pennsylvania hometown, Langhorne, on his way to New York, fresh out of high school. Tapping into the artistic culture of the East Village, Slim found a soap box for his oratory.
"There's this thing called Sidewalk Cafe that a lot of great people have come out of," said Slim of New York. "The hope that everybody had was that the guy that ran it, this guy Latch, if he liked you, he would give you your own show."
Humbly Slim recounted his own break.
"So I played my two songs and he was like, 'Well, what do you guys think?' People were nice and they clapped," said Slim. "'Well Langhorne, we'll see ya next Wednesday.' That was a big shot."
But it wasn't just a polite audience. Latch, the crowd and the other musicians he played with noticed something in Slim's style. The famous Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players also took note.
"They saw me play my short set and invited me to go out on tour with them. They took me on my first tour in America, my first tour in Europe," said Slim. "They were amazing supporters of mine and helped me out a tremendous amount."
Slim's style is often labeled alt-country. Whatever that encompasses, it doesn't take into account the uniqueness of his deep-in-the-diaphragm voice, his Bob Dylan-esque guitar work or the rest of his band, The War Eagles (Malachi DeLorenzo, Jeff Ratner and David Moore). Regardless, Slim shrugs off the label. He rejects genre-fication.
"I think genres are typically set up to sell something or establish where to keep a certain band's music in a record shop," said Slim. "I think most people aren't so black and white ... I wanna be able to explore and go where my heart takes me."
From those Sidewalk Cafe days, Slim's career kept growing. He moved up to gigs at Bonnaroo and tours with bands like Cake, The Violent Femmes and The Avett Brothers.
After the independent release of Slim Pickens in 1999 and an album with Charles Butler, Slim released an EP, Electric Love Letter (2004, Narnack Records).
From "Electric Love Letter" on that album, which was used in the movie Waitress: "It's like lightning when she smiles / She tastes just like pumpkin pie / Storm clouds have filled the sky / I've arrived when she smiles."
"When it comes easy, it's like you're channeling somebody. Or somebody just dropped it off in your lap or in your brain. A song comes ... and you haven't had to do any work for it other than sit down," says Slim.
But he acknowledged the rarity of the epiphany. "Sometimes it hits you all at once and feels almost like it's not your song ... More times than not, for me, it's not that easy. It definitely takes some work," said Slim.
Slim and the War Eagles were poised to take a pick step up in 2006: They signed to V2 Records, which lasted "16 seconds." The record label imploded but gifted the unpublished masters back to the band. Slim didn't relent. After a search, he found Kemando records and recorded Be Set Free. Slim was on The Late Show with David Letterman in March 2008 and by October 2009 "Worries," off of his self-titled release, was used in a Travelers Insurance commercial.
"I think bands are expected to do what I would consider weirder shit now than ever before," Slim said. "With tweeting and all that kind of stuff: I don't care what celebrity is drinking a cup of coffee. And to be honest, I don't know that I like that or am totally comfortable with that."
While Slim may not be the "Web 2.0" guy who'll tweet every time he goes to the bathroom, he acknowledges that the Internet is engaging fans in some fascinating new ways.
"It's sort of a bizarre state of things," said the time-traveling Slim. "It's so great for bands that NPR can put up a cool video of us and then you can check that out, or I can put up [a video] sitting on a back porch playing a song. It's sort of interesting, widening that medium and seeing how far you are wanting or willing to take it."
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