A lot of things can prompt a creative breakthrough. For Langhorne Slim, it came by way of a friend’s suggestion that he write a tune a day. Perhaps under normal circumstances, he would’ve reveled in the challenge. But over the last 18 months, life had been far from normal for the Nashville-based folk misfit, who was just emerging from the dark, debilitating tunnel of clinical anxiety and prescription-drug abuse. Frayed and vulnerable, he could barely pick up a guitar.
“I quit drinking and drugs on my own about seven years ago, and I never sought out any help in that department,” says Slim, who was born Sean Scolnick in Philadelphia suburb Langhorne, Pa.—hence his stage name. “I guess I was just being stubborn. But when this thing came to a head, I realized I couldn’t figure it out on my own. I was trying to get off of this shit, and I felt like my brain was breaking. It was like a perpetual panic attack. Finally, I sought some help, and I’m so grateful I did.”
Fresh out of rehab and sampling recovery amid a freak February tornado in East Nashville and a budding COVID-19 pandemic, Slim had nothing to lose. So he went to work. At some point between March and May, the floodgates opened, and out came “Colors” and the 20 additional tracks that make up Strawberry Mansion, due out January 29 on Dualtone Records.
“The songs came, and they came fast,” says Slim. “I just tried to ride the wave. I was writing because it felt good.”
Recorded with the help of Paul DeFigilia (Avett Brothers) and Mat Davidson (Twain), Slim’s first LP in four years is named after the ragged-but-colorful Philadelphia neighborhood where his grandfathers grew up, though any thematic association with an inner-city mythos is more casual than conceptual. “Colors” is among several songs that fly by in less than two minutes apiece, their relative simplicity offset by a hard-won emotional honesty.
“It was one of the last songs I wrote that made it on the record, just me, Mat on piano and Paul on bass, cut live,” says Slim of “Colors,” before elaborating a bit on its inspiration. “I see more around me when I’m sober than in the tunnel vision of when I’m using. Things get brighter and more colorful in a visual and a spiritual way.”
Since the pandemic hit, Slim has spent some time bouncing back and forth between Nashville and the Philly area to see his mother and grandmother, gaining the sort of perspective that contributes to Strawberry Mansion’s overall vibe—one of looking back to move forward.
“I’m trying to appreciate this time I have at home and be more at ease with the stillness, which is something I’ve always struggled with,” says Slim. “There’s a part of it that’s scary and a part of it that I embrace. Hopefully, more songs will come. We shall see.”