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Langhorne Slim's sobering strength

Folk-rocker enjoys his substance-free creative resurgence

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The first time Sean Scolnick got drunk, he was just a high school teenager. He sat in a Philadelphia-area basement with his sweetheart, knocking back a few Yuenglings. Scolnick had already smoked some pot and tried other drugs in his young life, but as he tipped back another beer, he looked at his girlfriend and said, "At some point, I'm going to have to quit this. This is going to be a problem."

Sure, enough, roughly 15 years later, Scolnick — the musician better known as Langhorne Slim — had had enough. He was drinking "a lot" and feeling the physical ramifications of it. He knocked back brews out of habit, yet constantly wondered why he was doing it so often. Finally, on his 33rd birthday — Aug. 20, 2013 — he decided enough was enough. He quit cold turkey.

"For me, I spent essentially from age 15 to 33 intoxicated in some way," Slim says from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. "I gave my time to that. Somehow I lived through it and am very grateful that I did, and I don't know if I'll drink again or not, but I now owe myself and the people around me a little bit more time living life this way."

Slim took a lot of time off last year to write a new album — the first he's recorded while sober — so he's more than ready to return to the road. His upcoming tour will land him in Charlotte on April 11 at the Moo and Brew Festival at the N.C. Music Factory. No worries though — Slim is comfortable being around alcohol at shows without fear of backpedaling.

Besides, he practically grew up in his father's bar in New Jersey, close to where he spent his childhood in Pennsylvania. He still remembers going there after school or on weekends and being handed a roll of quarters before the place opened so he and his brother could play video games. "We'd smell that shitty yet beautiful stench of an old-man dive bar that I still love to this day," Slim says. "That's been with me since I was essentially a baby."

All those years behind a bottle are best left behind, he says. He's sure his newfound sobriety has come through a bit in the music and lyrics, but he also thinks his current home of Nashville has spurred new directions as well. Slim says his music has always fused elements of pop, punk and folk, but more soul bleeds through on this seventh album ­— the second as Langhorne Slim and the Law.

That soul sound shouldn't be a surprise coming from someone who calls himself Langhorne Slim.

When he was young, Slim was intrigued by blues and hip-hop artists who had cool names like Muddy Waters, Biggie Smalls, Howlin' Wolf. Langhorne is the small town where he grew up, so he figured Langhorne Slim fit for a solo performer. Over the years, as he established a band, it made sense to add "and the War Eagles" at one time or "and the Law" to his current project.

He still plays occasional solo gigs, but usually tours with his band. For the album, living in Nashville has put him in close proximity to countless talented musicians who were able to lend their abilities as horn players and background singers for the recordings.

Don't be surprised if some of the new songs make their way into the show on the upcoming tour. Slim says he's never been one to hold back.

He's also not one to rehearse. Because he and his band members don't live in the same town, practice doesn't take place until they're on the road. That's no problem for seasoned veterans. Malachi DeLorenzo, the drummer for Langhorne Slim and the Law, has been with him for about 10 years, bassist Jeff Ratner joined the group about seven years and banjo/keyboardist David Moore came on board not long after that.

It was two summers ago that Slim thought he'd try out the sober idea by not drinking before any shows. His bandmates saw an immediate difference in his energy level and the music itself.

"At the time, I was interested in a lady and, I'll never forget, we were hanging out and she mentioned how strong and sexy she thought a dude such as myself being sober was," Slim says. "So, the shows were great, a beautiful lady thought it was hot — everything around me being sober was great. Until those shows, I had never played sober before."

Slim says alcohol helped smooth over any anxiety and fears, though he couldn't help feeling like he was hitting his head on the ceiling of life — creatively, romantically, professionally. He knew that if he could break through, there would be a bright light on his life.

"It was very difficult and continues to be at times, but it was something done out of necessity that my soul is better for," Slim says. "For me, [alcohol] was more of a lampshade ... it dulled the light instead of bringing it out."

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