Langhorne Slim & The Law

Langhorne Slim & The Law

River Whyless

Thu. March 31, 2016

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Saturn

$15.00

This event is 18 and over

Langhorne Slim & The Law
Langhorne Slim & The Law
Sometimes, truth can't be explained. But it can be felt, running wild through a song. "I don't want to tame myself. I want to be wild," says Langhorne Slim. "If I can continue to refine the wildness but never suffocate or tame it, then I'm on the right path. Because it is a path. I feel it."

'The Spirit Moves' is Langhorne's newest artistic attempt to refine the wildness. The result is an effervescent collection of his now-signature, cinematic, joyful noise, rooted in folk, soul, and blues. Out on Dualtone Records on August 7th, 2015, the album marks his second with rock-solid band The Law, and the highly anticipated follow-up to 2012's critically acclaimed 'The Way We Move.'

'The Spirit Moves' is a stunning portrait of Langhorne's life in transition: the "born to be in motion and follow the sun" rambler found a home in Nashville, Tennessee. While he's put down roots in a place, he's unattached to a person, single for the first time in recent memory. 'The Spirit Moves' is also the first album of his career written and recorded entirely sober. Together, the record's beautiful glimpses of bold beginnings and risks taken create an ode not only to a better life, but to the vulnerability needed to live it.

"I'm a strong believer that sensitivity and vulnerability are not weaknesses. They're some of the greatest strengths of man and woman kind," Langhorne says. "And that's what a lot of the record is about."

Langhorne and The Law sought out engineer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) and recorded 'The Spirit Moves' at Tokic's studio, the Bomb Shelter, in East Nashville. Producing duties were shouldered by Langhorne, the band, and trusted cohort Kenny Siegal, reuniting the family behind 'The Way We Move.'

"I went to battle with my demons, and I'm still doing it," Langhorne says. "My brothers stood beside me and kicked ass on the record." Three of his brothers are The Law: drummer Malachi DeLorenzo, bassist Jeff Ratner, and keys and banjo player David Moore. "My band is not a hired gun group of guys," Langhorne says. "They are my band and they are uniquely spectacular."

And then, there's brother Kenny Siegal. "In Kenny, I've found a musical brother," he says. "We drive each other crazy, but the man understands me somehow in an energetic, spiritual sense, more than most anyone I've ever met."

Langhorne wasn't looking for a co-writer, but that's exactly what Siegal became for eight of the record's songs, making 'The Spirit Moves' the first time Langhorne has ever written with someone else for an album. For Langhorne, writing is often an arduous process. "I rarely write a complete song immediately," he explains. "Every once in a while, one hits, but songs mostly come in pieces. Those pieces build up and start to taunt me as they swirl around in my head. Eventually, they make me feel like I'm going totally crazy. It's like they're gonna devour me -- eat me alive."

He pushed through alone to pen some of the tracks, chasing each song's individual truth. In creating others, Siegal helped him put the pieces together.

What emerged is a record that delights in contradiction: freewheeling but purposeful; celebratory but confessional; looking to light even when it's dark. Langhorne's voice -- an arresting howl sublimely at home in a Mississippi roadhouse or on a Newport stage -- has never sounded better.

He wrote the title track just weeks before entering the studio, "terrified that I didn't have enough and what I had wasn't good enough." The song is no mere reflection, but a manifestation of unbridled joy, and a celebration of opening up oneself to the supernatural that surrounds us.

"Changes" is an intimate look at a soul being reborn, but Langhorne hopes each listener can hear something of their own in it. "When I'm writing, it's coming from a heart or soul kind of place, not the mental zone of 'Well, I moved to Nashville and I got sober and I'm single and I'm going through changes, so let's write a song about it,'" he says. He calls infectious garage-pop growler "Put it Together" "the most painful song I've ever written," not because of the subject matter, but because of the process. He found the opening lines and crunchy chords while seeking relief after his beloved 1977 Mercury Comet was stolen. But then, the song took months to complete. "I've never worked that hard to get a song," he says.

The refusal to let a heart harden helped bring about "Life's a Bell," a dreamy call-to-action that nods to 50s rock-and-roll and Sly and the Family Stone. "A lot of my music is celebration of light," he says. "It's a horrible thing to shield our hearts and not be vulnerable."

"Wolves," based on a James Kavanaugh poem, tackles similar subject matter, and Langhorne feels it's the "truest expression of myself that I've put into a song." "I'm tough enough to run with the bulls, and I'm too gentle to live amongst wolves," he sings, his soul-shouting subdued to a hush that's just as powerful.

The rollicking "Southern Bells" pulses with the optimism of a new day, while "Strongman" and its piano pay tribute to perseverance and seizing the moment. "Whisperin'" captures another kind of breakthrough, relatable and intense, while "Strangers" is classic Langhorne Slim, and begs to be danced to, uninhibited and free.

"Airplane" is a poignant example of his ability to capture the redemptive hope in desperation. Part meditation, part urging of an unnamed co-conspirator, the song puts his defiantly tender vocals front and center, hugged by a rotating cast of instruments that kicks off with stark guitar and piano, swells into lush strings and percussion, then ebbs back into its stripped-down beginning -- like the waves of confidence and doubt that make up faith itself.

The song is undoubtedly a career standout for Langhorne, and creating it was a long road. Three key "muses" -- his Grandma Ruth, dear friend Joel Sadler, and another confidant -- gave him encouragement along the way. "I kept going for 'Airplane' because it made sense to me and there were people around me who were moved very deeply by it," he says. "It's one of my favorite songs I've ever written."

With a new home and a clear head, Langhorne is exhilarated thanks to the realization of what he knew was possible. "I had a problem with drugs and alcohol from the time I was 15 until I quit last year on my 33rd birthday," Langhorne says. "I was hitting my head against the ceiling. I knew all I had to do was quit, and my head would burst through that ceiling. I didn't really know what would be there, but I knew it'd be something greater."

For Langhorne, something greater includes making the best music of his life.

"By opening myself, I'm vulnerable and I'm fearful, but I start to get real. And in that realness, there is immense strength that I wish for everybody," Langhorne says. "Maybe everybody's scared to be a freak. But when you live as a freak -- " he laughs -- "it's so much more fulfilling."

- Elisabeth Dawson, 2015
River Whyless
River Whyless
For many bands, and especially those who’ve been together for several years, recognizing
maturation, progress or palpable evolution is a daunting task. Is it continued creative
accomplishment that signals progression? Or perhaps it’s profitable commercial endeavors? The
answer is often quite unclear. Six years, two albums and countless gigs after first forming as a
band, River Whyless, the North Carolina-bred folk-rock outfit has discovered their evolution is a
subtler albeit monumentally important one. Deep in the throes of writing and recording their bold
new album, Kindness, A Rebel , the four musicians reached a necessary and collective
understanding. Namely: this band is their lifeblood, their family and their love. To that end, with
unspoken acceptance, the members of River Whyless, each songwriters in their own right,
collectively put aside their respective egos, coalesced around each other’s creative vision, and
fully embraced the beauty of their enduring partnership.
“It was a feeling of openness and hope and acceptance,” says singer-violinist Halli Anderson of
the multi-week sessions with producer Paul Butler (Devendra Banhart, Michael Kiwanuka) that
resulted in some of River Whyless’ most dynamic, genre-bending and heartfelt material yet.
Creatives regularly waver between honoring their own creation and rallying around larger ideas
for the benefit of the group. But with every member of River Whyless now charting a life outside
the band, and also writing on their own, when coming together to record Kindness it was never
more crucial they be open and honest with each other.
To that end, singer-guitarist Ryan O’Keefe remembers an early brainstorm session that saw all
four musicians seated in his living room, each passing around their phones to hear rough sketches
of songs the others had written. And while each member acknowledges one of their self-penned
songs may not have ended up on the album, working together as a group to land on the best River
Whyless songs -- the ones that speak to hope and betrayal, maturation and stalled momentum, the
kinds of weighty topics their younger selves could never have taken stock of -- was essential to
both create a killer album and, more importantly, move forward as a united band.
“We’ve reached a point where we just understand that the songs are more important than the
egos,” says drummer Alex McWalters. Adds O’Keefe bluntly: “This album gets to a deeper area
than any of our others before it.”
Working with a dynamic producer like Butler had already pushed River Whyless out of their
comfort zone. “He pulled out elements of our writing that maybe we were timid about doing,”
O’Keefe offers. But it was the experience of working on one specific track, in particular – the
opening “All of My Friends” – that best exhibited how much the band had grown. Having
scrapped the electro-driven song when Butler took an initial disliking to it, Anderson “had to do
what I call my walk of abandonment,” she recalls. “I tried to accept the fact that this song wasn’t
going to make the record. So I let go of the song.” But a few days later, upon discovering a small
burbling tone on a synthesizer, their passion for the song was reignited. Says O’Keefe, “It was the
first time I felt like we captured a song in the moment of creation. Lyrics were changing in the
moment. Melodies were changing in the moment. Singers were changing. It was really difficult
and emotionally intense but so gratifying when we were done.” Adds Anderson: “The spirit was
revived and the song was reborn in the studio. We were all letting it be.”
Most importantly, the illuminating experience proved to River Whyless that even after many
years together they were still making new creative discoveries. Getting to that point, however,
was hardly easy. Following 2016’s We All The Light, each member had taken on additional
responsibilities in their personal lives: O’Keefe, recently married, and bassist Dan Shearin,
engaged, were busy building their first homes; Anderson relocated to Oregon; and McWalters
enrolled in grad school to study creative writing.
And, of even greater consequence, after years of pounding the pavement, the band began to
wonder if this dream they called River Whyless was strong enough to keep pushing forward. As
each band members’ life evolved, however, it was River Whyless, they realized, that served as
their anchor and kept them whole. O’Keefe says his awakening on this front arrived
spontaneously one night in Santa Fe, NM. Following a tough support-gig tour and just before
Anderson was set to move to Oregon, he dropped her off at a motel. “And as we pulled away it
felt like an ending,” he admits looking back. Watching her through the window, as the car drove
away, “it was as if I removed a pair of tunnel-vision goggles and could see the world and my life
for the first time since we started this band. I felt incredibly small, fragile, irresponsible, foolish,
at a loss for what to do next and very alone. The reality of what we had been trying to do for a
decade came crashing down in an almost laughable way. We didn't talk about it and I don't know
if anyone felt the same way but, at that moment, I changed.”
Shuttling between Oregon and North Carolina in recent years, Anderson admits she too found
herself struggling with her “core identity” at the time. It was not until she got in the same room
with her bandmates last year to write Kindness, A Rebel that she, for the first time in ages, felt
completely whole again. “It's strange to say but the only place that I felt completely me was in the
making of Kindness, A Rebel ,” she says. “There's something about creating music in the studio
that allows one to forget the pomp and circumstance and be more present, more instinctual.”
Music, and her band, she realized, “remind me of where I belong.”
A year of change was a sentiment Shearin also shared: in the run-up to recording Kindness, A
Rebel , he’d seen his life shifting drastically with a host of significant milestones, and perhaps
most significantly, the sudden passing of his father. “This rocked me incredibly hard and shaped
and colored the rest of the year,” he says, noting that his bandmates and manager "were
monumental in helping me through this experience." During this time, Shearin found “a profound
peace and beauty in loss -- recognizing the growth that can rise in the place of what is gone.”
Later, this was echoed as they wrote the album, as t he immediacy of the process forced each
member to surrender his/her own vision and trust one another with the bigger picture. As
McWalters notes, everybody relied on the collective group to wade through their respective
challenges. Trusting each other's creative instinct in the process was a necessary act of “letting
go, an embrace of our weaknesses and a celebration of our strengths." He adds that "it was
something of a revelation to me to realize that our weakness can be interesting, that imperfection
is as compelling as the talent that surrounds it.”
Simply getting in the same physical space with one another to write new material proved
challenging. To combat this, last fall all four members retreated to a secluded cabin outside
Boone, North Carolina for several days and began brainstorming ideas for their new LP. “It
allows you to live and breathe the music… even if just for a little bit,” Shearin offers of this
forthright method of creative incubation. It was in that cabin the early seeds of what became
Kindness began to take shape. The band bounced ideas off each other, followed inspiration where
it might lead. They were so focused in fact that all the musicians were loathe to return to their
everyday lives. “We dragged our feet to get there and then we dragged our feet to leave,” says
Anderson, who calls the album “a giant massage for my soul.”
What also became apparent during this getaway was that River Whyless was eager to stretch the
boundaries of what constituted their sound. Whereas earlier albums centered on a largely beatific
brand of heartfelt folk music – seen most prominently on their 2012 debut album, A Stone, A Leaf,
An Unfound Door – with encouragement from Butler, the band began to experiment with a more
aggressive and innovative sonic palate. “This time it was more like, let’s just see what happens
and go with it,” says McWalters, who notes he wanted to embrace “a more straightforward
driving feel” to the album’s highly rhythmic percussion. To that end, the band balances its more
traditional harmony-anchored leanings as seen on “Van Dyke Brown” and the genteel acoustic
lament of “War is Kind,” with more overtly rock leanings like the Middle Eastern-tinged
psychedelic scrum of “Falling Farm” and the guitar-and-piano jangle of “New Beliefs.”
This musical diversity is a direct reflection of each band member bringing his or her distinct
flavor to the fold. Though, as Anderson admits, the band has never been more cohesive in its
creative vision.
“It’s always difficult to have differing opinions on songs and try to find a compromise,” she
admits, but “that’s the fun thing about collaboration,” O’Keefe notes. “It becomes something
beyond your own self. “And honestly,” Shearin adds, “ if not everybody is onboard to give it their
all and get behind an idea then it can end up feeling empty in a way.” Simply put: where River
Whyless has previously been distinct songwriters operating under a single banner, they were
ready to now explore what it mean to be a true collective.
Not that it required much heavy lifting. “Because we spend so much time together and we live
and love one another, even when we don’t think about each other when we’re writing we tend to
write about similar sentiments,” Anderson says. “The same types of things are often affecting all
four of us.” Concurring, McWalters says when River Whyless plays music “we can almost
predict what’s going to happen next and can read each other’s mind.”
“It’s so important to always keep an open mind” when writing, Shearin notes, if largely to leave
the door open for the band to veer down unexpected and exciting new avenues.
Despite having never felt more unified in their vision for the future, much as they’ve navigated
their freewheeling career to date, River Whyless is choosing to not predict what lies ahead.
Allowing their creative union to continue guiding them, they insist, remains their only constant.
“It feels like you’re on a journey with your family,” McWalters says of the satisfaction of being
in a band like River Whyless. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Venue Information:
Saturn
200 41st Street S
Birmingham, AL, 35222
http://www.saturnbirmingham.com/