Langhorne Slim has been gradually clawing his way to the top of the rootsy, boyishly handsome singer-songwriter heap for the past several years. His spirited self-titled 2008 album (recorded with his two-piece touring band The War Eagles) successfully captured the boisterous energy of his concerts, which remain his strongest calling card. Producer Chris Funk of The Decemberists expanded Slim’s straightforward sonic palette on last year’s Be Set Free, adding string parts and horn sections to The War Eagles’ skiffle-like arrangements. But hearing Slim on record still doesn’t have the same power as seeing him in a live setting, where his simple, folky laments are injected with an invigorating dose of rock ’n’ roll fervor. In advance of his show tomorrow, Feb. 10, at the Hi-Dive, The A.V. Club talked with Slim about his rigorous tour schedule—which keeps him on the road eight months out of the year—his approach to songwriting, and why he doesn’t like Elvis Costello.
The A.V. Club: You are on the road most of the year. Is that by necessity or design?
Langhorne Slim: It’s something I really love, but we got that way by accident. I didn’t realize not every band did that. Before I had a record deal, I was living in New York and playing anywhere I could, from somebody’s house to an open mic to coffeeshops. As the years went on we became touring machines. Then I realized later that not every band does that. But it’s really helped get our names out there. You’ve got to get in front of the people.
AVC: Do you ever get weary of the road?
LS: I’d be lying if I said there was no weariness, because there is. But it’s sort of a cyclical thing on the road, where you can be very tired one day and sick of being in the band, and then you have a great show and you feel completely revitalized. There are people that quit bands because they can’t take the road. But we don’t have kids or anything like that, so it’s easier to be on the road, I guess. But, personally, I love it. I get a little tired sometimes, but it’s good work if you can get it.
AVC: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song right now”?
LS: I really admire songwriters or any kind of writer, painter or artist that says, “I’m going to get up at 8 o’clock in the morning and spend this time to this time creating.” I do that sometimes, but the songs I like the best come as gifts from somewhere. It’s almost like you didn’t do anything, like you can’t take credit for it because you sat down and the melody and words came out.
AVC: There’s an inspirational element to songs like “Diamonds And Gold” and “Worries.” Are you consciously reaching out to an audience in your mind when you’re writing, or are you talking to yourself?
LS: To myself, but I also keep in mind wanting to connect with whoever the audience is. Some people don’t like my songs because they think they’re too simple or easy or not that thought-out. I feel like the way I write is pretty simple, in some ways, because I’m trying to connect. I want a lot of people to hear it, and be moved in some way.
AVC: What artists do you find uplifting?
LS: There’s countless. Like Otis Redding, the first time I heard him sing I was blown away. I guess I’m attracted to people who are singing about love or life, and they have a particular passion that I can connect with. There are people I can tell are amazing—like Elvis Costello, for instance—but I can’t connect for some reason. It doesn’t really make sense why you connect with someone or you don’t.
AVC: You’re most often classified as a folk singer. Do you feel like you’re part of a folk tradition?
LS: No. I want to be just a musician and songwriter, and hopefully known as a very good one. I love a lot of music that’s considered folk music, but I also love a lot of music that’s considered punk or considered rap. I don’t mind being called a folk singer. But it seems a bit limiting. I want to be able to write whatever kind of song I want.
AVC: Is it stifling to be put in the slot because you’re a white guy with a guitar?
LS: It’s less and less. As you get your music out there, people kind of figure it out on your own. Categories for music are kind of bullshit. It’s like where you put a CD in a record store. It’s good for that. I think maybe when I was first putting out records, I took myself way too seriously. But it doesn’t really bother me.
AVC: A lot of times adopting a stage name also means taking on a new persona. Was that the case for you when you became Langhorne Slim?
LS: I think so. It happened when I graduated from school and moved to New York. My aspiration was to become a well-known entertainer. When I adopted that name, I adopted it fully. I introduced myself as Langhorne. It gave me, in my mind, the ability to be crazy or say whatever I wanted. I don’t think about it ever, so I’m just guessing in the hope of answering the question right.