The Americana jamboree artist born Sean Scolnick sounds likes he could have grown up down Memphis way given the generous soul slant in his songs. Or he could have hailed from rural Mississippi when you soak in all of the rustic blues references. Appalachia is another possibility, for there are country ruminations galore. Or maybe he once called the streets of New York home because his songs leapfrog from jazz whimsy to punkish thriftiness all while possessing the performance immediacy of a singer in a subway.
So where exactly did the singer they call Langhorne Slim come from? Well, near Philadelphia – the suburbs, to be exact. His home was a town on the Northern outskirts called, you guessed it, Langhorne.
If you thought a lot of Langhorne, Pennsylvania exists within the music of Langhorne Slim, your chances of being correct would be none to, well… slim.
“I’m proud to be from there,” Slim said. “I really am. But I was always an outsider. I didn’t really fit in as I was growing up. I feel like maybe music was born into me because my mother is a great singer and I’ve got some other musicians and artists in my family. But some of the isolation I felt in Langhorne, or perhaps feeling a little disassociated from what was going on around me, might have dictated a need to create or to spend time alone to learn how to play guitar and write songs.
“It wasn’t so much of an explosion of music that was going on in Langhorne. I think it was the lack of it that drew me into what I’m doing now.”
A series of a half-dozen indie albums – the best being 2008’s When the Sun’s Gone Down – spread the word on Slim. So did tours that placed him on the road with The Avett Brothers, Drive-By Truckers and The Old 97s, among others. But it was a mixture of sound (perhaps best described as rustic country-folk with a post-grunge sensibility) and a distinctive means of displaying it in performance (in a sort of punk hootenanny manner) – that earned the ears of steadily mounting fanbase.
“Maybe I’m a born freak,” Slim said. “But I’m mostly a lover of music. I’m a lover of entertaining. I love everything from theatre to music to painting. All of that cuts into my own art, but it’s not really a conscious thing.
“I grew up liking punk rock music, classic rock, soul music. Then I got into bluegrass and blues and Americana. To me, it’s all music – music that hits me in my soul.”
The hows and whys of that music interest him less. Like many newer generation indie artists, Slim sees genres like pop, country and blues almost like tourist destinations. Each is to be enjoyed, inhabited, and, to a degree, appropriated. But ultimately, none of those singular inspirations match the kind of musical intensity that ignites once those sounds are combined.
“When you’re writing music, you’re simply combining everything that touches you. Again, it’s not a conscious thing of ‘I want this to be country’ or ‘I want that to be rock ‘n’ roll.’ You go with the feeling that hits you.”
Still, there have been several prime inspirations. Slim may not have heard them on the streets of Langhorne. But he soaked them up through the airwaves and stereos around him.
“The biggest ones back in the day for me were Nirvana, Otis Redding, Leadbelly and Doc Watson,” he said. “They all came from different times and from different places, but they were all like explosions in my soul.”
Along with the assimilation of influences and a gift for songcraft came a love for the stage. Slim’s recordings, including 2009’s Be Set Free and an as-yet-untitled new album, cut with help from independent fundraising on the internet, may document the first two traits. But the latter, a performance style that sounds like G. Love were he rooted more in bluegrass and Grand Ole Opry-style country than funk and hip-hop, has established Slim as a significant concert draw.
“Playing live is what you live for,” he said. “It’s the moment when you stop thinking and start feeling. That’s what is still so appealing about it. And when it’s going the best it can, you’re not intellectualizing. You’re just going on animal instincts. You’re feeling more than analyzing or overthinking.
“Look, half the time I don’t even remember what happened after a show. I can’t tell you if I did a good job or a bad job. You just do your best to open yourself up and let the music roll out. That gives me great joy. When I’m look out into a crowd and see people singing along and connecting with these songs… well, it’s just an amazing, powerful and beautiful thing.”
Langhorne Slim performs at 9 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. with Holy Ghost Tent Revival and Good Saints opening. Tickets are $15. Call (859) 309-9499.