MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Langhorne Slim is a singer and songwriter, though for more than a year, he could barely write.
LANGHORNE SLIM: I think I wrote maybe a song and a half, but nothing that I would play for anybody.
KELLY: Slim had quit drinking years before but found himself with a new addiction - prescription pills.
LANGHORNE SLIM: I had been numbing myself to the source - to the source of my own creativity, really to the source of love, you know, for myself, for my friends, my family, for music, for all of the things that I cherish.
KELLY: So he got help, went to rehab. When he got out, it seemed like the world was falling apart around him. First, a deadly tornado hit his neighborhood in Nashville, then the pandemic. But to his own surprise, being forced into isolation was just what he needed.
LANGHORNE SLIM: Something really incredible happened when there's so much noise and chaos outside - and to start to feel like I was taking a deep breath again, to start to recognize myself, to start to smile again. I had, like, lost my ability to smile, my God.
KELLY: Once smiling came back, he started writing songs again - loads of them, including the 22 songs you will find on his new album, "Strawberry Mansion."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO RIGHT WAY")
LANGHORNE SLIM: (Singing) Couldn't sleep at all last night. Waited for the sun to rise, waited for the birds to sing, wondered what they would bring.
I've never written so many songs in such a little amount of time in my life. They just started to come, and they didn't stop. And I had no expectation that they were going to become a record. I was just - they were just songs that were keeping me company.
KELLY: Well, I want to ask about some of the songs that speak to that. The song on this album "Morning Prayer"...
(SOUNDBITE OF LANGHORNE SLIM SONG, "MORNING PRAYER")
KELLY: It's about you trying to pray for the first time ever. Was that one of the coping mechanisms you were trying to use?
LANGHORNE SLIM: Yeah. I was attempting to try and discover a more sort of ritualistic conscious contact. And a dear friend of mine had sent me a prayer that he reads every morning. It's beautiful. And I started to wake up and read this thing, but I couldn't really - the words weren't jumping off the page into my heart. And so putting that into a song - yeah, it definitely helps. Music has definitely been my - the closest to religion that I have ever experienced.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORNING PRAYER")
LANGHORNE SLIM: (Singing) For my friends who suffer, for my mother, father and brother, for a world down on its knees, I pray for thee.
KELLY: There's another song on the album that is very raw. Well, I'd love for you to tell us what it's about. It's called "Panic Attack." And I read it as you wrestling with the dark moment that had come before.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PANIC ATTACK")
LANGHORNE SLIM: (Singing) I called a health care professional - want to speak to someone confidentially. Don't know just how I'm feeling, but I'm feeling feelings exponentially. A calm voice started asking questions. I said, ma'am, I was hoping for advice. I'm feeling lots of feelings. Not a single one of them feels nice.
"Panic Attack" is a song about a man who is experiencing a panic attack, written by a man who was experiencing said panic attack. When I got back to Nashville, I started seeing a therapist for the first time and talking to her about anxiety that sort of manifests into physical freak-outs. And she made a suggestion, which I resented at the time, which was, why don't you try to play music when you are experiencing this? And that sounded like a terrible idea to me.
LANGHORNE SLIM: Because in those moments, it's difficult for me to even move. It's an awful feeling. And the guitar doesn't appear like my friend from across the room in those times. It's sort of - you know, sort of giving me, like, the stink eye or something.
KELLY: Yeah, I can see that.
LANGHORNE SLIM: So yeah, it was, like, a month or two into the quarantine, and I was having a pretty brutal day. And I remembered what she said and picked up the guitar. And that song is just exactly what was going on.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PANIC ATTACK")
LANGHORNE SLIM: (Singing) She spoke, and I tried to listen - said, son, there may be no cure, but I swear that life's worth living. It's the only thing worth living for.
So putting that into a real upbeat tune somehow felt good.
KELLY: Is it stressful? Is it hard to perform or listen to the song now, now that you're, you know, doing better?
LANGHORNE SLIM: No.
KELLY: No. It doesn't take you back to the, like, really difficult moments.
LANGHORNE SLIM: No, it's a really good question. And I think it's similar to the songs that one writes, you know, in the depths of heartbreak. When it's really honest, it feels good to perform. It feels good to sing. It doesn't make me feel like somebody's breaking up with me in that moment or that I'm going to, you know, launch back into a panic attack. It's - these things become friends. They kind of look out for you.
KELLY: I wanted to ask about the name of the album, "Strawberry Mansion," which is a neighborhood in Philadelphia - right? - where your family's from.
LANGHORNE SLIM: Yeah, where my grandpop Sid and my grandfather Jack grew up. And I think of them as, like, Jewish Buddhas of Philadelphia. They were remarkable men. They were tough guys but super sweet. And they loved the daylights out of my brother and I. And they would just tell us these great stories - friends of theirs named Curly and Whistle. And I always loved those stories, and they stuck with me. And my grandfathers are no longer here in a physical plane, but they're - I carry them with me all the time. And there's a little instrumental on the record called "Strawberry Mansion." And I was sitting on my couch playing that. And maybe they were on the couch with me and they said, call this one "Strawberry Mansion." I don't know. But it just - it seemed crystal clear. So I'm glad I followed that lead.
(SOUNDBITE OF LANGHORNE SLIM'S "STRAWBERRY MANSION")
KELLY: You know, I mean, this album is, like any album, I suppose, so personal to you and, even for you, specific to a certain moment in your life. Is there a bigger message here that you're hoping listeners might get as we're all trying to find our own ways through our lives and the pandemic and all the rest of it?
LANGHORNE SLIM: It's the message for me. And if anybody connects to it, that would be great. There is endless noise in this world. I think there's endless trickery in this world and divisiveness. And I am, for myself, not trying to preach to nobody. I'm just trying to pull my own head out of my butt as much as possible and not buy a ticket for every flaming hamster wheel that is offered. And for me, it was really finding a little bit of quiet in the noise and a little bit more peace in the chaos. And I think that helped to break something open within me for songs to flow through.
(SOUNDBITE OF LANGHORNE SLIM SONG, "DREAMS")
KELLY: Well, Langhorne Slim, this has been a pleasure. Thank you for your honesty. I'm so glad you're healthy and you're doing great. And you've produced a wonderful album during the pandemic.
LANGHORNE SLIM: Thank you, guys. All the best.
KELLY: That is Langhorne Slim. His new album is called "Strawberry Mansion."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMS")
LANGHORNE SLIM: (Singing) There's more to this madness than smiles and sadness. There's more to the dance than who you can take. Music is playing. Bodies are swaying.
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