Royston Langdon‘s new project, Leeds, finds the English-born singer in a reflective mood. The material on the LP Everything’s Dandy opens a window to a man thinking about his family, his life in his adopted hometown, and a world in which emotions have become amplified and, at times, distorted. There’s more there, too, a whole lot more, so long as the listener is willing to take it all in and absorb the emotions at hand. And, yes, the futuristic pop Langdon’s long been known for is present.
There is something undeniably English afoot in these grooves. Elements of “What Became of the People” recall John Lennon’s early solo work: Spare rhythms, simple piano, and guitar figures that allow the song’s emotional truths to come to the fore. In other moments, one senses drops of Bowie, especially on his fine, overlooked 1999 effort Hours, lurking in the DNA.
“What Became of the People”, like so much of the record, touches on a past that will not/cannot return, a self that has long gone though shards of both remain deeply embedded in our emotions, our lives. The accompanying video was directed by Langdon‘s brother, Anthony, who had a hand in the piece’s composition.
“Anthony and I came up with that track for early Arckid, which came after Spacehog. The song itself was inspired by the theme for the British TV show The Likely Lads,” the singer notes. “People are going to take what they want from it but it’s really quite literal. What became of the people? We all have come past self that we’re continuously trying to run back to, only we haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.”
The record’s opening “You Can’t Go Home Again” burns with rare emotional intensity, the feelings not bubbling beneath the surface but instead coming directly to the light, delivering a blow that one feels long after the final notes have disappeared. Later, “We Are Not Alone” becomes a moment of something like emotional triumph, a celebratory prayer of sorts with all manner of spacey trappings and arguably one of Langdon’s finest vocal performances here. The closing “Leave the Dishes” walks a fine line between the essential and the ephemeral and endears us even more to Langdon, a writer willing to step over the line and travel deep, deep into the strange. Some of the emotions expressed on Everything’s Dandy can make for difficult listening. But great art is, isn’t it, about that juxtaposition of having to look on while wanting to look away.
Where did all this contemplation and outpouring of emotions start? A few Christmases ago, Langdon found himself alone in New York City. His ex-wife had his son at her home in England for the season. It was a new experience for Langdon, one that could have easily brought out certain anxieties and feelings of dread. “Rather than dive into my own isolation, I thought I’d bring these thoughts into one place and make a solo record,” he recalls. Not all the songs were from that season. Some arrived before, some after.
Throughout, there is a sense of a past that is disappearing, a future emerging, but there is no clinging to something that cannot be.
“Yesterday I was struggling for presence and whenever I’m doing that I’m suffering to some extent,” Langdon says. “Whenever I just let go and just am, I feel a lot more at peace. I’m not trying to be nostalgic on the record; it’s more of having a feeling and sitting with a feeling. I’ve found that when you push your emotions away, try to hide them, they don’t go anywhere, you just put the pain or whatever off for a bit. What I wanted I wanted to do was shine a light on the suffering because by doing that, paradoxically, it becomes something else. It’s not misery; it’s old joy.”
There is further contemplation of the emotional, spiritual and physical self. Langdon had long ago adopted New York City as his home. He speaks of it as a place emblematic of globalization, a place that sometimes ignores its uglier, darker sides in favor of showing the shiny surface, the place where dreams, at least at once were able to, come true. Now, dreams carry with them a stranger, sometimes more complicated quality.
“If you look good, you must be good,” he says. “We’re kind of in this positioning where we’re all holding that thing up. Myself included. And the reason is that we can’t come up with an alternative, what comes after that. I wanted to use New York City as this place that reflected my own indifference to myself.”
There is another tie to home, that Langdon has chosen to name the project after his English hometown, a nod to another center, a point of origin. For some there is a sense that our place of birth, our formative center becomes an umbilical cord from which we are never free. The man from Calcutta is forever tied there, by a past that is not only his own but that of his ancestors, the genetic and the geographic inexorably linked.
“When I came to New York I was very young, very green,” offers Langdon. “I was able to reinvent myself. Or so I thought. What happens is that you bring yourself with you. Over time, the things you thought you were leaving behind start to resurface.”
The New York that he found himself in then was one of transition: There was debris of the city’s Warholian past, a place once riddled with deep crime was slowly becoming cleaner, safer, and, alternately, perhaps losing some of its dangerous allure. “Clinton was coming in and there was this sense that there could be change,” the singer recalls. “Whether that was true or not, I don’t know. The music had undergone this sea change and Spacehog jumped on the back end of that. It all seemed exciting, like a movie. I’m from the north of England, I’d never even seen a shadow over there!”
He speaks also of the American sensibility of optimism and ambition, contrasting it with the more sedentary sensibilities of his homeland. “Perhaps it’s a bit less so now as the whole world’s become more homogenized,” he muses. “Today, you couldn’t do what we did in New York back then. There was a whole community, particularly in the East Village, that was of a similar mind. I was broke but I had compassion and a compulsion toward making music, being an artist.”
There are points of creativity within the city but, he adds, they are more isolated. “In a way,” Langdon notes, “New York died a kind of creative death. People now come to see where that creativity existed.”
Talk turns to the extremities of the global political climate, Wall Street’s influence on the political, a growing sense of isolation, a culture of social media likes. “We have to talk about this,” he says. “This is the role of the artist and why we revere the artist, at least historically. But I think we’ve gotten confused. It used to be that the artist reflected the spiritual but now the technological has stranded us from our morals.”
So what, then, keeps him anchored in this city that has undergone such upheaval and transformation? “It’s always been a pivotal place,” he notes. “And just because New York has become a more difficult place for the artist because of the community and the global change in finance and how that’s impacted just being, it’s important to me not to abandon that. What I want to do is open that up. To look at it. The voice of the artist and the people that voice represents always finds a way.”
Everything’s Dandy may be ordered here.