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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Langhorne Slim Finds Where He Belongs

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Singer-songwriter Langhorne Slim found time during a month off from his relentless touring schedule to finally throw down some roots, moving into a home in Portland, Ore., where he and his girlfriend will enjoy time away from his life on the road.

For Slim, aka Sean Scolnick, who turns 30 next month, finding a permanent place to live is a career milestone, a welcome sign of achievement for a troubadour who has literally built a career from the ground up since leaving the small-town Pennsylvania home from which he adopted his stage name a dozen years ago.

“I hate to be one of those typical musicians, but I guess I am in a way,” Scolnick says. “I’ve lived on couches and have been fortunate enough to have kind-enough girlfriends that would let me—it wasn’t very many girlfriends, very few, in fact—but when I had no money I had a place to stay.”

His new Portland home is some 2,500 miles away from New York City, where he made a name for himself playing cafes, comedy clubs and whatever gigs he could find between tours with the quirky vaudevillian outfit the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow, on his way to getting signed (then dropped) by V2 Records (White Stripes, Moby) and signed again to Kemado Records in Brooklyn. He released a self-titled LP in 2008 that put him on the national radar, followed by two tours of Europe. A day before embarking on a monthlong North American tour, Scolnick beams about his new locale.

“It seems a bit corny and it probably is when you say it out loud, but [Portland] seems to be a real community of artists and musicians and all kinds of people,” he says. “So for me, it’s the closest thing that I found to where I want to be. That could change in three days too, but for now I’m sticking to that story.”

And that’s huge for a songwriter who pens lyrics like “I’m not yet dead but I don’t know where I belong” on his latest record. He says lyrics like that don’t necessarily relate to physical location so much as his mind-set at any given point in time, but in light of Scolnick’s blossoming career, it’s a telling juxtaposition.

“I think Beck said one time, ‘I feel good in my pants tonight,’” Scolnick says. “I can really relate to that. I feel good in my pants right now.”

That sort of relief doesn’t come cheap for a career musician. Scolnick comes from a musical family that for whatever reason—he muses about ideas on small-town trappings and pressures of finding a stable line of work—never pursued music beyond a form of recreation. Naturally, when Scolnick chose to attend the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College in New York, his family was supportive though a little edgy about his career choice.

“I freaked my family out a little bit,” he says. “I tried to assure them that it would be all right. So far so good, I think.”

That’s an understatement. Alongside the everyday grind of touring and recording, the songwriter got his first taste of making some real money in the music business when Travelers Insurance picked up one of his songs and used it in a commercial.

“When I was 17 and listening to Minor Threat, no, I didn’t think I was going to sell songs to commercials,” he says. “I was a little cynical about it, but then I saw it, and I saw some of the people that they had been working with … I was right that it seems to have been a much bigger help than a hindrance.”

Balancing art and commerce is a reality of any successful career musician, a necessary evil. But the life of a rising touring act has a way of muting the business end of the profession by supplying plenty of awe-inspiring moments. For Scolnick, the most recent came at the end of his last tour, at a show in Asbury Park, N.J., the closest he would come to his hometown. His mother had come out from Pennsylvania to watch the show, and in walks Bruce Springsteen.

“To have Springsteen in the crowd buying my mom drinks was just crazy,” Scolnick says. “It turned into some sort of magical experience.”

Langhorne Slim plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, July 24, with Ha Ha Tonka at 8 p.m.

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