This is the first in an occasional series called “One Song.” In “One Song” I’ll ask a songwriter to talk about just one song—the songwriting process, the background, the challenges—pretty much anything about that one song. The songwriters may or may not be ones who have participated in our house shows here, but they’ll be ones whose music is in line with what we’re presenting, which is high-quality original acoustic music.
The first artist in the series is Langhorne Slim. Langhorne was in Charlotte on June 8th to perform at The Fillmore Charlotte. I talked to him about two songs, so there will be two “One Song” posts. This first post is about the song “The Way We Move,” the title track from his 2012 album with Ramseur Records. Read Part Two here.
Mainstream audiences have embraced this album, and especially this song, more so than any of his previous work. This song has been featured in a commercial and in films.
I asked Langhorne what he thought made this album and song different from his previous releases and he surprised me with the answer. We tend to think that appealing to a larger audience means playing it safe, but he said that he wrote the songs in a way that enabled him to take risks.
LS: A lot of times I’ll write the melody on guitar. For this particular song I wrote the melody on piano. I’m not a good piano player, but on this record I tried to write more on piano because I don’t know what I’m doing. On guitar, not that I’m a great guitar player, but I know my moves. I know where I’m going. On piano it was so new to me that I was taking a lot more chances. In not knowing what I was doing I was taking a lot more chances. The only “right” to me was what sounded cool.
(The melody) kept going through my head and I had no words for it yet and then one day some of the words started to come together and it felt like it would be maybe a little more accessible to more people. It stuck in my head. I couldn’t get it out of my own head. I guess if it sticks in my crazy head it’ll stick in some other crazy people’s heads. I was gonna say I don’t set out to do it like that but I do set out to do it like that. I want the melodies I write and the words I write to connect with a lot of people so, yeah, I’m proud of that song that it’s been doing that.
We talked about the new listeners who have discovered Langhorne through “The Way We Move.” It’s probably inevitable that some new listeners think that Langhorne is new to the music scene and are unaware of his body of work, which includes three earlier CDs and two EPs.
LS: We’ve been around for about ten years doing it, so I met some people earlier, and they said, “Will we be hearing any other music from you?” Yeah, there’s already a lot of other music and there’ll be a lot more to come. So I hope that anyone who listened to that particular song would also listen to the other tunes.
The album The Way We Move has been described by some critics as a break-up album. I asked Langhorne how he saw the title track in relation to that theme.
LS: I wrote the songs for the record over a fairly long period of time. About two years or maybe even more. Some people think the album is a breakup album. It really isn’t. Some of the songs are break-up-y songs. Some of those break-up-y songs I was writing as I was in a relationship so I don’t know what that’s all about. But I think even my sad boo-hoo love songs aren’t like let’s go jump off of a bridge. They’re kind of…I like to think there’s strength even in the sadness. I don’t know that there’s joy in pain but they’re very close together. You can be very joyful one second and be in a lot of pain the next and vice versa. So I realize that going through life, I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of joy in my life and I have been through my own pain. I’d like to think that there’s strength in it, there’s an underlying strength in the sad stuff in my songs and hopefully in the happy stuff too.
This song is rich with imagery. The belly of the whale, shooting stars, friends with crooked tails, the last supper… I asked about some of the imagery.
LS: My ex-girlfriend and I had these two cats, Edie and Lilly. As kittens, when we got them, Lilly had a crooked tail. Not that I loved one of the cats more but there’s something about…the word “imperfection” is a very imperfect word. There was something about it that I loved even more because it was unique and kind of badass. And I thought about myself and my friends as freaks, but beautiful freaks. And to embrace your inner beautiful freak, your inner crooked tail. And to be proud of that. Not to try to like what you think everyone likes and not trying to dress like everyone dresses. Not trying to fit in, but trying to find your own way. That, in my mind, is the way you really find your real friends, your real music, your real art, your real inner passions. So this little cat, when I looked at it, I’d think, “that is such a cool little freak of a cat.” So that’s why I wrote “All my friend got crooked tails, that’s the way I like it, that’s what I need.” Because I feel like that is what I need.
I asked about the line “At the last supper, make sure you get something to eat.”
LS: I think when I came up with that I just thought it sounded kind of cool. But at whatever our own last supper might be, yeah. Make sure you get something to eat. It doesn’t have to be literally a Jesus reference or a food reference. I know a lot of songwriters say this and it can get frustrating or annoying, but it is kind of nice for it to be up to the listener to come up with their own meaning. And sometimes, to be very honest with you, I have no idea what I mean. There are songs that I wrote when I was fifteen that I listen to now and now I know what I meant. But I don’t know what the heck I was talking about then.
So I told Langhorne my interpretation of the “last supper” line: Even if this is the last thing you do you should be getting enjoyment from it.
LS: Yeah. Or when your back is up against the wall don’t fall down. Go for it. Go for what you need to go for.