Royston Langdon Talks New Musical Endeavor LEEDS, Spacehog’s Past & Tasteful Musical Insight (INTERVIEW)

It starts with a few thumps, like a heart awakening to a new day. With a few strums of an acoustic guitar, life slowly kicks in and you begin again. It’s how Royston Langdon has chosen to take his first breath of a new album, with a tranquil, reflection pool number called “You Can’t Go Home Again.” It’s who Royston Langdon is today; it’s who Royston Langdon used to be – if you stripped away the glam-inspired rocker who caused crazy commotions onstage with Spacehog, the song “Ship Wrecked” from their first album, 1995’s Resident Alien, hinting at what young Langdon would grow into afterlife, love and fatherhood made imprints on his being.

Everything’s Dandy, Langdon’s solo album to be released on May 4th under the moniker LEEDS, reveals the man beneath the mask of a once-upon-a-time rock star. He has inhaled his fragility, his strength, his ability to reminisce without falling down a rabbit hole of dark sarcasm and painted a portrait of a man who is simply a man, the glitter swept away a long time ago but the sparkle still somewhere in the eyes behind the dark shades. And the songs he has composed can very well be you or me, getting older, becoming more attuned to the surroundings that have been here for years, appreciation now a chemical as welcome as oxygen. Not geriatric in any sense of the word but soothing; songs you can listen to in the rain or the warmth of early morning sunshine. They glow.

Langdon, who came to America from England and fell in with the kinetic energy of the music scene happening in New York City, shot to fame alongside his brother Antony in Spacehog when “In The Meantime” rocketed to #1 in the US in the spring of 1996. Two more albums followed before the band ceased and the Langdon brothers formed Arckid. And then Royston quietly blended into the other side of the music business (with a slight resurfacing to produce one more Spacehog album) … until now. But it doesn’t come without pangs, as he told me during our interview for Glide a few weeks ago, or without a sense of humor, which he has, maybe more than you’d realize. A private person, Langdon opened up just enough to give us some insight into his music and his life as just simply Royston.

Everything’s Dandy comes out next month. You must be very excited about that.

I’m incredibly excited about it. You know, it’s been a long, long road to get to here and I couldn’t be more thrilled, to be honest, that I get to put some of my work out into the universe again. It’s great.

I like how you kept it more musically minimal, keeping the focus on what you had to say. Was that intended from the beginning or did the songs end up dictating it that way?

I think that’s a really incredible observation, Leslie. I think there was a conscious effort on my part, you know, to keep the economy in the art and let the song be the vehicle for the communication of the idea. Working on my own, so to speak, and having perhaps more of the continuation of a focal thought when it comes to a musical idea. It’s more possible with it just being me and so I wanted that, I wanted the idea to be the thing that makes it across and not so much the kind of smoke in the mirrors behind the idea. And just what I like at the moment. It’s very much kind of a homespun thing and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on that. It was very much like, I wanted to work more on the idea than I did on the building of the thing around it. That’s what I did. I put more time into writing the songs, I think, and kind of going into the different kind of places that I went with those ideas.

I’m glad you picked up on that because it’s strangely not easy to do in a weird way. It’s a bit like, and I’m not necessarily comparing myself to a great artist, painter or a great master, but for instance David Hockney, who comes from where I was born in England, he’s one of my favorites and you look at his paintings and it’s just like beautiful economy in the brushwork and yet there’s like an overall vision that is very powerful and very distinctive. So I felt like with my voice and my talents I suppose, what they are, whatever they are, I didn’t want to get in the way of that and I want to just hopefully let it speak for itself, let the ideas kind of reach, hopefully, the hearts and minds of people.

Doing it by yourself, was there a greater chance to overthink?

No, not really, because this was very much a conscious thought that I’m not going to spend a lot of time putting this down. It’s going to be very much like, once I’ve got the idea and I know what that is, and some of these ideas were very well formed prior to actually going in the studio, and when one is making a record oneself, every hour is more money. It costs a lot to do it right in the way that I record so that economy created an economy in the art too. But I like that in this instance because I get very bored actually if I’m in the studio and kind of messing about in there with all the knobs and stuff. I think in the last ten years technology, with computers particularly, has brought about the ability for people to really kind of go up your own ass with all these gadgets. You know, I didn’t want to do that. I recorded the songs live and then I stripped them away and brought it back down to the absolute essentials, which I then played a lot of this stuff back on top of the drums, which we cut collectively. And that’s how it was done.

Which song would you say changed the most from its original composition?

I don’t know because once I have the idea for something, I’m in the pursuit of that and creating some kind of an analog experience of that idea. It’s a bit like, you see something of beauty and you find that compelling in some way and that’s very much the same way with me of writing a song. I have that compulsion and that’s what I search for. This process, making these songs, it’s going to be what it’s going to be when it comes. I have a completely blank canvas. I actually wanted to be a painter originally and I wasn’t very good but it’s using that canvas to kind of just go and it’s going to be what it’s going to be. So there are other songs, for instance, I’d say that didn’t make it to the record probably because they strayed too far, in a weird way, from that compulsion and the ones that made it there, I think in this instance, in this form, are more in line with what that was, what I was looking for. But one never really knows what you’re going to end up with but that’s the beauty of it, that’s what I love. I love that discovery in motion and it’s thrilling. Sometimes it works better than others, you know, but it’s all fun.

Were the songs mostly composed on guitar or piano?

It depends on the song, really, I think. I do both but I don’t really think about it too much. I would say I don’t compose it on either. I just composed it in my mind and I’ll fill in the gaps; like I have these ideas and I’ll fill in the gaps with whatever is available to me. If I had a trombone, I would make that work, you know. But for a song like “Someone,” that definitely came out of the piano and it was just where I found myself at that day. The notes kind of came out of that. A song like “You Can’t Go Home Again” is, obviously, on the guitar and I’m only playing guitar and it’s an open-tuned guitar in the key of G. So that kind of dictates where it’s going to go, in a weird way. It’s a bit like, and using the analogy again, it’s a bit like painting all red on a canvas first, you know, and that’s going to take you down a certain path. So both, really. That’d be the short answer (laughs).

The track “Innocence” reminds me of what the atmosphere of old New York City might have been like with the old cars and the Jazz.

That’s awesome and that’s interesting that you say that because on that track, we’d done another version before and we put a microphone out on the street out from the studio and it was beautiful because it sounded like the sea, with cars going by it sounded like the sea. And we actually did it again for this version. So you are actually hearing, especially at the beginning, the sound of New York … actually Brooklyn in this case (laughs) But that’s brilliant, I like that. I think that swinging Jazz kind of thing was a great time for New York, before the Depression at least, I suppose. And in some ways, the Nouveau kind of look of art and Jazz, it just must have been mind-blowing at the time, and I think there is still a part of me that feels that Jazz is a concept; creatively it’s brilliant, not just the music but for using Jazz as a kind of format for medicine or architecture, for other forms of making things. It’s obviously very free-thought and those records are just stuff that came out in New York and I still listen to those records and they’re still some of my favorite records today.

When you moved to New York from England, how did being so close to American rock & roll and the music happening in New York at the time, alter or influence what you were wanting to create?

Oh God yeah, of course it did! Funny enough, I was in a café this morning with my son and there were some kids, well, I think of them as younger cause I’m old now (laughs) but they were in like their mid-twenties, and there was a song by the Breeders on and it took me back. But they were talking about it like, “Oh man, is this classic rock? It sounds like classic rock.” (laughs) Then the other kid was like, “No, no, is the Pretenders classic rock?” And then they were going further back. So for me coming to New York, I had got off the plane and was immersed in, literally, it was like all those people, like the Breeders and the Pixies and Pavement and bands like this that were coming out in New York. I was with them. I was working in a recording studio and a lot of those guys were coming through there. So obviously I couldn’t help being completely emerged in it. And not only that, part of the reason why I’d come to New York was because of my intrigue with that music in the first place, music that came out of the Bowery and prior to that the kind of Warhol Factory and the Velvet Underground. Punk, I suppose; the Ramones and the whole lineage of it. I was very, very fortunate that I wound up at this studio called Baby Monster Studios and the Ramones came through, all those people came through, and it was just invaluable to me to have actually witnessed it happening and going down onto tape and some of those recordings coming to life, you know. And I’m watching as they’re being written. Like with the Pavement record, I was there. I wasn’t doing much. I was just making the coffee really but it was a great time and I’m very grateful for that. It was just such a gift.

But that was such charged music where what you did with Spacehog was more Bowie-ish, more mind-expansion than the total rawness of bands such the Ramones.

I think my writing style influences probably had been formulated, to some extent, prior to coming to New York, you know. I was listening to a lot of Bowie and I suppose the seventies and eighties musicians of that time were much more part of my palette as a songwriter. I mean, I was writing songs when I was twelve so that’s like 1984 and a lot of that stuff would have been coming from those places as opposed to like, I didn’t really become aware of, I mean, I was aware of the Talking Heads and stuff like that and the Smiths, but I think the stylistic elements of the Ramones didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time cause I didn’t grow up in that environment, it didn’t come across my path. I had this friend Paul who had a very kind of educated record collection and it was a lot more like Eno and Roxy Music and Bowie, not a lot of Bowie actually, but Talking Heads, the Smiths, that kind of stuff. So I think some of my writing style came from that, certainly a lot from Bowie. And actually Queen. Queen was the first band I actually saw, at twelve. They blew my mind, literally. It was a sea change for me (laughs). I went in one way and came out another.

For you, what is the hardest emotion to write about?

Bloody hell, it’s a good question. I could immediately sound really pretentious here so I need to be very careful (laughs). But you know, it’s like me describing how chocolate tastes to me. What does it taste like to you? I don’t know. So I could say a number of emotions and they might be different feelings for someone else. I think the reason why I wanted to write songs is because I began to feel isolation and abandoned and I think loneliness is probably the most common emotion for me.

I hope you don’t feel that way now

(laughs) Why? It’s not bad. I think I’ve been very fortunate in that I have been able to find a vehicle to share my experiences and in times bring about a quelling of those feelings of apartness; however, if you get into it, and I’m not going to say who it is cause it will sound really pretentious if I say who it is, but another artist, a musician that I spoke to once, said, “Look, if we didn’t have that thing, that kind of loneliness and the hole and the emptiness within us, we wouldn’t do it, we wouldn’t want to do it.” So it’s a really odd paradox in the sense that the thing that makes us want to reach out is the thing that also makes us want to isolate. And I’m a very tender, sensitive, vulnerable person at heart.

When Spacehog ended and you became just Royston

I was still just Royston (laughs). I was always just Royston. When Spacehog ended it was an adjustment. I don’t feel it so much, to be honest, except when maybe I go and play a show or something like that. There’s a kind of armor that comes with a rock band, being in a rock band, and that identity of a thing that I purposely shed so, yeah, there’s an additional vulnerability there. But strangely, I quite like it, because to me it feels more honest in a weird way. Being in a band is, look, I’m a middle-aged guy at this point, it just doesn’t line up for me anymore. Milo, my son, he said something about, “When did you start wearing glasses?” (laughs). It was probably in 2001. I didn’t know I had to wear them. I went for an eye test for a driving license and the optometrist said, “You need glasses.” And it was about the time Spacehog really stopped, which was probably about 2001. It limped around here and there but it really stopped around 9/11, really. And Milo said, “You didn’t used to wear your glasses on the stage.” And I said no but nowadays I do. I’m not trying to be anything other than I am and I certainly don’t feel like I’m a sex symbol or anything like that (laughs). So I don’t really care at this point. I think it’s one of the blessings of getting old. You don’t really care so much anymore, which is amazing (laughs). We’re pretty much all the same, when it comes down to it. Nobody really cares what you do and what anybody else thinks about us is none of our business (laughs).

You wrote the new song “Your Day Will Come” with Rich Robinson for this record. How did that come about?

Rich and I became friendly back ages ago when we went on tour, Spacehog went on tour with the Black Crowes and Oasis. We went on this thing called the Brotherly Love Tour, which was enormous and fun because there were some great characters there. But Rich and I, we shared a kind of common, I don’t know, foible trait or whatever and we kind of found each other in that. Very sweetly Rich kind of reached out to me personally and we kind of formed a bit of a bond. And we kept that up. Initially, he was living out in Connecticut, in Greenwich, and I would go up to his house. You know, he’s very sweet, very generous and he showed me a lot about how to, and actually just by doing it, he showed me a lot about southern American rock music, which I always loved but it’s very difficult to understand unless somebody shows you. And he’s such a master of that on the guitar. It’s just great to be around that music in that way, right.

So he definitely presented me, I suppose, with new ways of looking at the same thing and I found it exciting. So initially there was this idea that maybe we’ll do a band together. I think the Crowes were struggling at the time and Spacehog was struggling and, I don’t know, it just never happened. But we’ve done various songs together over the years and that was one that I felt made sense with what the kind of bigger picture is for me at this moment in time. And also, it’s an open-tuning so you can just put it in that tune and it’s really easy to play on the guitar (laughs).

That sounds lazy

(laughs) I know! It is lazy but it’s also, you know, it just sounds good so who cares. It’s cool, I love it.

For you, what was your first big I can’t believe I’m here moment?

I think one of the more memorable ones was being in the back of the taxi in New York years ago and hearing one of my songs come on and being in a random taxi alone and being like, Oh my God, I wrote that. And then not being able to really tell anyone except the New York taxi driver who was like, “I don’t give a fuck,” you know (laughs). That was one of them. A lot of it’s more personal things, to be honest, like to do with my son and the amazing experiences of being a father to him and that stuff is like, I can’t believe it, you know. It’s crazy, it’s great.

So what are your plans for this year?

Right now, I’m going to release a video. Actually, my brother Antony from Spacehog shot it and we put our parents in it and it’s kind of about them and it’s for the song, “What Became Of The People.” So I’m finishing up that right now. It’s got a rough edit but it’s not quite right so I’m working on that. I’m working towards playing some shows. To be honest with you, the thing is, I’ve had some, shall we say, perhaps shady characters around my career at times in the past and I didn’t want to even consider like talking about what I was doing around this record until I’d done it because the idea of getting into the business of the music business was not something I was into. I was more into, at the time, helping other artists, to be honest, than working on that side of it myself. You know, I don’t have a manager, really, I don’t have an agent, I don’t have all these things that kind of provide an agenda for an artist, just getting on tour and all that.

I do have a couple of shows I’m going to do. I’m going to continue to see where people that have heard the record and like it want us to play it and go there. I’m certainly open to touring. I’d love to get on the road, even if it’s on my own to start with, if that’s how it goes. I actually did that before with Todd Rundgren years ago. When Spacehog broke up, I did a tour, just he and I, and I loved it. It was fantastic.

He seems like a kindred spirit for you

He is and I love that guy. He, obviously, kind of raised my ex-wife and was kind of a step-dad and became very much a part of my life. You know, Liv (Tyler) and I are still very close but I kind of lost contact with Todd. But I love Todd and I love his work, I love him as a human being, he’s a great human. And I identify a lot with him as, you know, he’s never quite managed to capitalize on his own successes, his own talents; partially because he is such a sweet guy. Anyway, I would do that again in a heartbeat. I loved the thrill of getting up on the stage and just playing a show. I’m going to do that here in New York at the beginning of next month. I’ll get to LA and England and doing the same thing there too.

Think about playing down here in New Orleans

I would love to. I would love to be there but the thing is, you know, I don’t really have a lot of people banging down my doors right now (laughs). And I say it’s partly because I have deep reluctance. I’m very kind of like, almost like PTSD from my own experiences of being in a rock band and some of that is bullshit and some of it’s just anxiety and the anxiety is about the business, I suppose, and I don’t really want to go through similar things that have kept me away from my own art. It’s like people that have taken advantage of your naivety and that stuff and when it affects one desire to write music or do one’s work, it’s a heartbreak, you know, and I’ve been through a lot of heartbreak and I have to be really sure there’s an audience there and I just don’t know that there is right now. That’s the truth.

It’ll come and you’ll be happy as a hog

(laughs) As a Spacehog

Oh no, you did not just do that

(laughs) I did! I did it! (laughs)

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