Langhorne Slim’s Strawberry Mansion was written in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when the majority of Americans were still in shock. For Slim, aka Sean Scolnick, that lockdown period was a blessing in disguise that allowed him to sift through a creative desert to divine songs that capture the anxiety that ubiquitously gripped the country then and continues to inform our everyday lives now. Strawberry Mansion is a personal inventory of hope that beats back notions of fear with love and revelation. The 18-song set is Langhorne Slim at his most vulnerable– but all the mightier for it.
AI- I don’t mind telling you that March, April, May, those three months were probably some of the scariest and most uncertain times in my life. I’ve had an opportunity to hear the first side of Strawberry Mansion and in those songs– like “No Right Way”, “Alright to Hide”, “Panic Attack”– I hear some of that same mania I felt and still feel.
LS- Yeah, well, all those songs were written just in those couple of months. For me, it was a pretty clear reflection of a feeling I would imagine a lot of us were feeling– good, bad, and in between!
You had just come off the heels of the tornadoes as well. Was that something that was still ringin’ your bell?
Yeah, in Nashville, we had the tornado, which decimated part of the town, hit very close. One street over from where I live was hit pretty badly. Thank goodness my street, it was just debris and stuff. But it was a strange dichotomy of things, man. There was the beauty of the aftermath of a tragedy in the tornado with the town and the community comin’ together and everybody gettin’ outside and helpin’ the neighbors. And then a week, week and a half later, we’re in a quarantine pandemic mode where you’re kinda not allowed outside. So there’s a lot of energy swirling with all of those things– and certainly continues to be. Not to mention, the political state of things and so on and so forth. For everybody, in a lot of ways, it’s been one of the most remarkable times of our lives. That’s probably safe to say.
At the time you started puttin’ these songs together, if I’ve got it right, you were experiencing a bit of a creative slump. What reignited the fire?
For about a year or more, I’d been trying to complete a record. Not this record, a different one. I’d gone out to California to try and finish it and hit some personal low points. It’s difficult to say with any certainty, brother. I think coming back to Nashville, coming back home, and through all of the difficulties that a lot of these situations that we’re livin’ through have created for everybody, there was a forced… I guess you could call it a simplification and a slowing down that I personally needed. It’s something I probably needed for a long time but might not have taken the steps to do so when tours continued to come and feeling like I had to do this and that. There was something about just slowin’ my ass down literally and figuratively. I think it was time for me to do a little introspection and start to grow in ways that perhaps I’ve been putting off for a long time.
Just that slowing down and being back home, songs started to come at a fairly rapid pace, and I put the other record on hold. Also with these songs, I wasn’t trying to write a record. I had no intention for these songs to be a record. I didn’t know so many of them were gonna come out. I was just home and enjoying this creative wave that came along and let me ride it, which turned into eventually about 30 songs in a few months. And I had the good fortune of bringin’ a couple of my dear friends into a little studio and we made this record. So it was a huge gift for me personally, in this time, to have this happen.
You say that there wasn’t a plan to do a whole album at that point. You’ve got 18 songs comin’ on Strawberry Mansion. That’s two records, brother!
And there are more songs too! All I mean by that is that I wasn’t deliberately writing for any particular purpose other than writing, which is probably the way one should always do it, or maybe I should always do it. There wasn’t any kind of outside pressure for anything, or even inside within myself. A song would come, I would finish it. I would take it to my friends who would make these little videos, I would post a video. It was sort of a cathartic experience. On the way home, I would start hearin’ another melody for a new song, and so it was really almost like an exercise of not takin’ myself too seriously if you will. One thing led into another and in the end, there was plenty of music for a record.
Was that a comforting thing? That you were able to be so creative and in such a small space in time [songs] were coming… I don’t want to use the word easily, but that they were flowing? Did you feel comforted by that?
Oh hell yes! Yeah, particularly because I’m no different than anybody else that does this. I think that a lot of us have a fear when you haven’t been able to finish a project or when you haven’t finished a song in a while that maybe that will dry up– even though intellectually, I don’t believe that the well does dry up. I think it just needs to be fed and then songs come. But yeah, beyond comforting. It was a saving grace.
Tell me about the personnel on the record. It’s just you and a couple other fellas, right? Tell me who you got to come visit and play the songs with you.
There’s Paul Defiglia who plays bass and some keys and some other things. When my band started however many years ago, we were called The War Eagles, started in Brooklyn, New York. It was me, Paul Defiglia, Malachi DeLorenzo on the drums… Paul played with me for a long time, then he joined the Avett Brothers and played keys with them for a long time, and does a bunch of other stuff as well as his own music. He just lives down the street in Nashville and has a groovy little studio that he built in his backyard. In the last two albums prior to this, we’ve rejoined forces and he’s played bass on those records. He was the first call I think I made to see if he was available and was interested in doing it.
And then Mat Davidson, who goes by Twain for his stuff– which is just incredible, I think one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard– he came up from Austin, Texas, and it was just the three of us. Keepin’ it simple was sort of the motto for this whole process, just let it flow in the same sort of energy, I guess, as the songs came. Not to overthink anything and just teach those guys the song in the studio and play it a couple times, hit record, and move on.
Tell me about the title, Strawberry Mansion, and your connection to that area in Philadelphia. You had family that ran around there, right?
That’s right, man. Yeah. That’s where both my grandfathers, Sid and Jack, were born and raised. I just heard stories of this place ever since I was a baby. I think of them as like urban Huck Finn characters when they were kids. And then all the stories of them getting in trouble and runnin’ around with their crew of friends, I think I probably created some sort of mythology out of that place and out of those stories. It’s hard for me to say why this record should be called Strawberry Mansion. I think I felt the spirits of my grandfathers, and there’s just something about it that transported me into the paintings in my mind of that place that I heard all these stories about.
When did those stories begin to creep into your music? Or have they always sort of peppered the narrative?
Man, I was so close with my grandfathers and my grandmothers, I think they’ve always been there. I think even in my personal style of clothing, I’m inspired by the way my grandfathers used to do it. So I think they’ve always just been big, big figures… I know for a fact they’ve always been big figures in my life and those stories have just been a part of my life. So maybe it’s difficult when you’re writing a song or painting a picture or something like that for at least some of that feeling, not always necessarily a literal theme that is tied in, but a flavor of it, if that makes sense, [to creep in].
As I said, I was able to hear that the a-side, and you’ve got a lot of vulnerability available on the songs. Langhorne Slim as a persona– is Strawberry Mansion more of a Sean Scolnick record as opposed to Langhorne Slim? Or did you leave the distinction behind some time ago?
You know, for better or worse, I’m not sure I know the difference! I’ve been goin’ by Langhorne Slim for my music since I first started puttin’ it out in my late teens, early twenties. They all feel personal. In my own way, I’ve never tried to hide away from what I suppose can be called the vulnerable touch. This [album] in particular, with everything that was going on in the outside world, everything that was going on from within, and that the songs came so fast and that we did it so simply and stripped down, I think maybe more than some of the other records that it’s more of a singular voice. Maybe I’m growin’ more into Sean? I don’t know. We’ll see!
You still have this other project on the back burner, right? The one that you were working on in California? Is that something that you’re going to return to?
It is, man, but the focus is on this one now. And I think where I was just beating my head against the wall with that and forcing some from other people that I play music with to beat their heads against the wall, takin’ a little space from it, lettin’ it breathe, this project gave me the opportunity to do that. So yeah, that record, I have every reason to believe will be finished and come out at some point. It’s nearly done. It just needed to… Sometimes shit’s gotta wait! Sometimes you gotta be patient. I’m not good at being patient, but I’m tryin’ to learn!