If the World Wide Web is to be trusted, Langhorne Slim’s seventh full-length studio album, Strawberry Mansion, resulted from a friend’s song-a-day writing challenge. The online mythology surrounding the record’s origin story goes something like this: a recently sober Slim (born Sean Scolnick) hadn’t written a tune in a year. In the grips of debilitating anxiety and panic, he witnessed a tornado almost obliterate his East Nashville home. A few days later, the world shut down to contend with the Covid-19 pandemic. Sulking about his house — coincidentally painted pink — and wondering if he had forever lost his ability to commune with the muse, Slim’s pal told him to put pen to paper every day. One tune quickly became thirty. Within weeks, Slim conceived, arranged and released Strawberry Mansion, his most powerful and hopeful album yet.
Except, as Slim explained to me, that creation tale isn’t accurate, but rather “a bastard version of the truth.” While the above presents an inspiring narrative about an artist triumphing over struggles with mental health, substance abuse and writer’s block, Strawberry Mansion’s inception isn’t so tidy.
Slim had been in California working on songs for a project that he eventually shelved due to Strawberry Mansion. “I was getting some good work done, but also banging my head against the wall while continuing to overdub and change things, and my emotional/spiritual/mental state was blocked up,” he explains. Prescription medications for anxiety and depression had replaced his dependence on alcohol and other drugs. He returned to Nashville “feeling deeply broken” but managed to reach out to his “fellow spiritual warriors, people who are living day-to-day with a kind of deal to remain sober, and to love the life that we get to live.” With the help of this community, and in particular his close friend Mike, Slim was able to quit the meds.
However, he found himself facing a familiar fear — “Will I be able to be creative without these things in my life?” Mike, who happens to be a “beautiful photographer and videographer” and also a guy from Jersey who “loves to break balls,” bluntly told him, “‘Just write a fucking song every day. It can't be that hard to be a songwriter. Just play a few chords and say a few things. Then, come over here and we'll film it.’” Slim said that that Mike’s directive was not intended to be a homework assignment, or something he would “struggle mightily at attempting,” but was instead “a loving kick in the ass from a friend.” In other words, he didn’t actually compose a ditty a day, but Mike’s message to silence the inner critic and create for the sake of creating enabled Slim to discover inspiration that had been there all along.
Soon, according to Slim, “songs just started to fly through the house.” Because of the pandemic, the songwriter found himself with ample downtime. He also had plenty on his mind, from external tremors like the nation’s growing social unrest in Trump’s America to personal disasters like seeing the street next to his demolished by a natural disaster. He was also trying to manage panic and anxiety without substances. In the quietude of his home, surrounded by a new cat and a friend who was stuck inside with him, he managed to find “some stillness and a little more calm” within himself. Though Slim had no intention of making a record, he found himself with 25 songs written in just a few months.
Slim describes that during this time he was able to attain a childlike state: “It's sing when you feel like singing, write when you feel like writing.” He continues, “I was also able to keep things simple and get out of my own way, and when the voice in my head would say, ‘This is no good. Is this even good enough?’ I could then respond by saying, ‘Well, good enough for what?’ It's good enough for me to sit on my couch and play it for my cat, and it feels good, and if the song continued to feel good, then it was.”
Initially, there was no end game other than playing the songs for Mike, who would film them for later posting on social media. Before long, Slim’s manager and record label, Dualtone, took notice. They encouraged him to make an album and threw their support behind it. Slim invited his friend from down the street, Paul DeFiglia, and another friend, Austin-based Mat “Twain” Davidson, to provide instrumentation. Because of the abundance of songs he had written in such a compressed time period, Slim asked Paul and Mat if there were any songs that they shouldn’t record — any that the guys might “think are shitty.” As with any record, there were some that didn’t make the cut. However, the number that did surprised Slim and his bandmates.
Langhorne Slim characterizes Strawberry Mansion as being a musical journal, something that I noted on tracks like “No Right Way,” which opens with this reflection: “I couldn’t sleep at all last night / Waited for the sun to rise.” While many themes emerge as one listens from start to finish, the overarching structure is like a daybook, what Slim calls “a true snapshot of what was happening at the time for me.” Attempting to encompass the myriad events and emotions of March, April and May 2020 necessitated a longer record, “one deep breath and exhale,” according to Slim.
Although its running time is a modest 44:10, Strawberry Mansion’s total length is spread across 19 tracks (including the demo “For the Children”). Listeners are invited to witness and experience Slim’s ruminations on the uncertainty and anxiety gripping the world, as well as his hopefulness that, if we all do our spiritual work, our mighty souls might bring brighter days.
- Jerrod Bohn
Bandbox is thrilled to offer Strawberry Mansion on exclusive “strawberries & cream” colored vinyl! Limited to 500 copies and shipping in October, it arrives along with a 16-page Langhorne Slim zine, featuring an interview with Langhorne Slim, rare photos and more.