"In The Meantime" is one of those instantly recognizable '90s hits that has stuck around. Musically, it was built on a sample by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra - not something most DJs had in their crates. Lyrically, it's deep, exploring themes of self-realization and acceptance that its writer, Spacehog frontman Royston Langdon, reluctantly explains here.
Langdon came to America from England in 1994 at age 21 and joined Spacehog, which his brother Antony started. "In The Meantime" was the big hit from their debut album, Resident Alien, released in 1995. They released two more albums before calling it quits in 2002, but regrouped a few years later and issued one more album in 2013.
A lot has happened to Langdon since he ventured across the pond. In 2003, he married Liv Tyler (Steven's daughter) in a union that didn't last but produced a son named Milo. He's been behind the scenes doing studio work, but has his first solo album coming out on May 4 under the appellation LEEDS, the name of his hometown. Titled Everything's Dandy, it's a very modern and considered piece of work containing lots of his soul, some of which he bares here along with stories about losing a bet to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and hanging out with Liv's stepfather, Todd Rundgren.
Royston Langdon: I'm a very sensitive person, and a very vulnerable person. To survive, we build up those walls and facades to protect ourselves from the seasons of life. I had gotten to a point in my life where I was tired... I am tired right now. I'm tired of trying to hold something up that I don't understand or identify with. And when I say "it," I mean my ego with the outside world. In that sense I've had this realization that my own ego is not my own ego as it were. I took a look at that, and it was quite painful. To go through any process like that is painstaking.
And of course one has to identify and shine some light on all the things that are the various cushions that we use to insulate ourselves from life. And that's a really great thing to do. I highly recommend it. However, it can sort out the men from the boys.
Becoming a father, having this relationship that means the world to me with my son, I just want to have an honest relationship with all the people in my life as best as I can. I'm not where I want to be right now, but the record is really about improvement and moving towards that. I've looked to others to right my wrongs in a way or pointed the finger because it's easier to do that than to look at one's self.
Songfacts: Is that something you really have to do as a solo artist as opposed to being in a band?
Langdon: Yeah, it definitely is easier to do that on one's own than in a band, because part of being in a band is this kind of push and pull. It's a battling of egos to some extent. Going in, I'm only battling my own, which is already tough as it is. I wouldn't say I'm battling it, I'm kind of just surrendering to it. So, it's a lot more manageable.
And I think that's the difference between a 45-year-old man - me - and a 22-year-old kid in a rock band in the East Village in New York. Part of the art of being in a band is compromise, and a kind of socialist process of creation. That's great and cool, I just didn't want to do that.
Songfacts: On the song "Someone," you sing about how you're tired of being someone you never knew. I'm trying to get a sense for if you became a different person.
Songfacts: When you were achieving your success with Spacehog and you suddenly found yourself thrust into the limelight.
Langdon: Yeah, of course. To this day my adjustments or maladjustments to survival started a lot earlier than Spacehog - it goes way back for me. Growing up in the north of England, in a kind of early industrial town, being a somewhat different kid and looking for something different, I wasn't like a lot of the other little kids. Sometimes it's very hard to be fearless when you're an adolescent and you don't want to get beaten up, either figuratively or literally or both. And some of my youth was that - literally both.
So, you learn to camouflage and you learn to blend in. There's this fallacy of being like a chameleon, but a chameleon is not someone who can just shift, it's someone who can survive a danger or some perceived threat.
Fame, even for the most well-centered person, is not easy to handle, and actually, the most well-centered person will realize that it's a complete waste of time and it rarely ends well. Later on in my career, I was fortunate enough to meet some of those people that were musicians that had done that, and they really helped me to recognize the kind of suffering that I was bringing about myself because of this impossible challenge to keep up a facade, because inevitably it falls down. And really that's what I suppose "Someone" is about.
It sounds very melancholy and people say it's really sad, and it is, but it's also really hopeful because I've never had more peace in myself, and that gives me the most incredibly fulfilled life today, and not from things that one looks for that one thinks that one needs, like all the trappings of success.
Songfacts: What has kept you in New York City as opposed to going back to England?
Langdon: Well, initially my family grew here, and my now-ex-wife and I had a child. We have fairly solid foundations in the city, which we actually did individually, and then we came together collectively through our marriage. Up until fairly recently, my son went to school here.
I think New York's a great place for people that are curious. New York will always be a great place to have a social life, and when I say "social life" I don't just mean NYU students going out in the West Village on a Friday or Saturday night. I'm talking about really meaningful connections with other humans from all over the planet. It's a very inclusive place in that way and it's a very evolved place. I love Yorkshire, where I'm from, but there aren't as many curiosities, so I stayed.
Songfacts: Tell me about how you write a song.
Langdon: That's so hard to put into words. It's a feeling or an idea about a feeling that's a very motivating energy for me. And then I suppose music is a beautiful fluid tool to articulate that feeling or that idea, and then the words are more of a building block around that for me.
It's really frustrating to even try and talk about it because it's a little bit like magic, and you don't really want to play with that kind of mysticism.
Songfacts: Tell me about "In the Meantime" and what inspired that song.
Langdon: Really? Do I have to?
Songfacts: I know, after you just tell me how hard it is to articulate a feeling in a song, I go and I ask you that, which is awful.
Langdon: Yeah. Bastard.
Songfacts: But that song means a lot to a lot of people, and there's a lot going on in it. So, if nothing else, I would just like to get your thoughts on what it means to you.
So, what does it mean? It's me trying to reach people. It's using some kind of metaphor of a worldly or inner-worldly search for the end of isolation, and the acceptance of one's self is in there. At the end of the day it's saying whatever you gotta do, it's OK, it's alright. And I think that's also me talking to myself, getting through my wan anxieties and fear of death. That's what it all comes down to. What's so beautiful about it is that it continues to connect with people.
Songfacts: Did it take you a while to write the song?
Langdon: With me and songwriting, I have sat down and had these times in my life where I've thought, OK, I'm going to write this song, and it doesn't really work very well for me. That song was kind of like little glimpses of some things here and there. I actually know exactly where I was when I first got the chorus. It's hard to say because there are so many things that come into a song like that. It's like a little jigsaw puzzle and you fit all the pieces together, and they take a while to find.
Songfacts: Where were you when it happened?
Langdon: I'm not going to tell you that. That's personal.
Songfacts: OK. How did you find the sample that you used in that song?
Langdon: One of the Leeds bands that I used to play in was called RVHES. I was about 12 when I started in that band, and we just played and recorded in my friend Paul's bedroom. Paul is a few years older than me and he had an educated recorded collection, shall we say, and one of the artists that he introduced me to was the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. They had a song called "Telephone and Rubber Band."
I don't even need to be around a musical instrument per se. I can figure it out in my mind, and that was one that I knew would slot into that thing right there. It was the very early days of audio time-stretching and all of that stuff, and we time-stretched it. On the actual phone it's somewhere between E-flat and E, so there was some speeding up going on to make it in tune with E. And then we changed the chorus to A, and it worked for the whole thing.
It was the early days of Logic, when it was pretty much just a sequencer and there were very small amounts of audio. I was into samplers. There was a whole movement in the UK that came out of dance music, and there were bands like Tackhead I was really into, and a lot of stuff from the US that would occasionally come through Leeds. I would be in the front of the queue - I was fascinated by it.
Of course, being financially challenged to say the least, it was really difficult to get your hands on that gear at that time. And in fact, my first sampler was actually a reverb unit. It cost about £60 and was a chip that would basically turn the delay into a one-second sampler. It was an electric quad reverb, and you could turn it into a little sampler, and you could only play it with the button on the front of the device.
So "In The Meantime" came from me sort of messing around in that way, and that was a big change for me because I started to really play with these themes. I could mess around by playing on the keyboard a little one-second sample, slowing it down and playing it backwards. I loved that stuff - I still do actually. I still think it's an interesting way to mess around with time and sound.
Songfacts: Not all of your songs are abstract. Some of them are more literal. Can you tell me for instance, if "Earthquake" was about an actual earthquake?
Langdon: Yeah, I was in an earthquake in New Zealand. It's a metaphoric representation of that, and it was a pretty big earthquake. A lot of that part of the world is seismically challenged. A few years later they had that horrible one in Christchurch. But yeah, I was in a big earthquake that hit in the middle of the night. I was in Wellington and it just changed my perspective of what I thought was solid. Have you ever been in one?
Songfacts: No, thankfully.
Langdon: Well it's kind of cool in a really weird way because it gives one a deeper appreciation of the atom and also just how powerless we are over nature. It just hit me, so I made this song, and it came up real quick - a little ditty.
Songfacts: Another one of your story songs is "To Be A Millionaire." Is that based on something that really happened?
Langdon: Yeah. That was a lot of things that came together. We were finishing off Resident Alien. I used to work in a recording studio and I had actually been fired for not paying a recording bill for $5,000 that we used because Columbia Records had offered us a demo deal. We did the recording and got the bill, which we couldn't pay. So we wound up in this studio called RPM Studios on 12th Street.
Antony, my brother, had come to me with this idea of the Menendez Brothers, which was in the news at the time. We wrote that song together and we used it as a metaphor for ourselves and what was going on - it was definitely some kind of feeling around change in our own world, as there was some anticipation around the band and all that. And it didn't take much to change where we were from because we pretty much didn't have anything.
So, we wrote that song while we were mixing the record, and I thought it would be ironic to go back to the studio where I was fired to record it. If we could do it in an hour or two, then it would be a fuck you to the boss because I'd only pay him a couple hundred bucks for the session. So that's what we did.
Songfacts: What is one of the songs on Everything's Dandy that is very important to you?
Langdon: Aw man. That's like favoring one kid over the other. I can't do that.
Songfacts: Well let me ask you about one that drew me in. It's one of the ones that's later on the album called "No No No" where you're talking about how you didn't care to lose your soul to get ahead. Can you elaborate on that?
Langdon: Well, I suppose one does what one can to keep up with the illusion of what we think we ought to be, and I definitely used drugs and alcohol to help with that.
It deviates one from getting closer to truth. It's an anesthetic, and in some ways I don't regret it because in a strange kind of odd, perverse way it kept me alive, because I don't think I would have survived had I not had those things. You try to fit in and do the people pleasing, and these days, I'm just a little less inclined to please people, not because I don't want to, but sometimes you've got to displease people. That's the down side of not people-pleasing (laughs)... people are displeased.
Songfacts: Do you really need to please anybody at this point? It seems like this album is made on your terms for your fans.
Langdon: I need to please me and that's it. I really am quite proud of this music.
I think it will hold up. It's a document. It's evidence in relation to what's going on in the world, which feels very hyper-normal and dreamland-like. This is just where I am now, and I can stand behind it and I look forward to doing the next thing at this point. Life is a river in the sense that it takes deviations, and mine have been wild and fabulous and wonderful deviations which I have nothing but gratitude for because it brought me here, and in a sense I think a lot of people can identify with that too. Some of the other people that just want to hear "In The Meantime," it may be more difficult for them.
Songfacts: You mentioned the next thing. What is the next thing for you?
Langdon: Well, I dunno. I really am managing my own career, and I'm quite keen that I don't allow myself to go on autopilot and get swept away again. So, whatever I do will be very considered and grown-up.
It'd be great to take some of these songs around the world and thump it out. There's almost a kind of installation art piece that plays in my mind. I always enjoy the New Museum in New York. I love going there because they have all these modern video installations. They had this holographic thing the other day and I just was fascinated by it. I love all that stuff, and I'd love to be able to bring that in.
I did a tour years ago when Spacehog first stopped playing about 2002 or 2003, with Todd Rundgren, who is of course Liv's stepdad. We coincidentally had the same agent, and Todd was doing a tour on his own and the agent said, "Hey, why don't you open up for him," and I did. I did it for about six months, and I loved it. It was just me and Todd and we went around the States. I brought an acoustic guitar and we had a piano rented for every gig. I'd open and he'd come on and toward the end we'd be on together and that was super fun. I loved it because it's so honest and real and the nearest thing to stand-up comedy when you have to walk out on a stage with nothing really.
The rock band is like a machine, man. Once you crank that beast up it's like a traction engine: it's off, and in a weird way it's not that daft. But what I love about playing on my own and having just the piano or a guitar is I can just surround the song how I want to do it in that moment, and it probably would never be the same twice. A bit more like theater as opposed to film.
Langdon: Oh yeah, I'm totally done with Spacehog.
Songfacts: Speaking of Todd Rundgren - I think he's out in Hawaii now - but my gosh, what a remarkable experience to be part of that. He's one of the most innovative musical minds of all time.
Langdon: Definitely. I got to meet him through Liv and as I got to know him more through his music as well, I discovered a really profound depth. You know, he influenced a lot of people, like Bowie. He was working for Paul McCartney back in 1968 or '69 at Apple in London. He's done all this shit that people don't know about.
I'm grateful to Liv for that - she introduced me to him and I still listen to him a lot and learn. Love Todd. And, he's a great man too. He's a stand-up guy. He stood up for Liv. He showed up for her as a father when Steven was not available. There's something very, very noble about that guy. He's a very considerate chap and he's very sensitive, which is his biggest blessing and also an enormous curse in the world we live in.
In Hawaii, when I first went over there, he had a room full of servers that he built in the '80s when he was down with the government trying to figure out how to bring the internet to mass use. Really an incredible mind.
Songfacts: When you came to America and you released your first album, you got foisted out on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which is one of the more intense bands out there. Can you talk about what that was like?
Langdon: At that stage we toured with quite a few established bands so we were familiar with that kind of venue and arenas. I dated Summer Phoenix, who is Joaquin's sister and was friendly with those guys. And, Rain, who is Summer's sister, was singing backup with the band. It was a very family affair and it was super fun. We had some great times.
There's film somewhere of Flea drawing a target on my chest before we go onstage, and on the top and underneath he wrote "English Tourist," which we had to wear because we lost a bet with them about who was going to win a boxing match. So, we ended up having to go onstage with all these things written on us by the band and then we ran on stage with socks. It was great. That was in some ways as good as it got for Spacehog.
April 10, 2018
Get Everything's Dandy and more info at roystonlangdon.com.
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