Neal Langford, Early Bassist for the Shins, Has Died

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Neal Langford, Early Bassist for the Shins, Has Died

Langford played on the indie outfit’s debut Oh, Inverted World, and was a member of ’90s band Flake Music

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Neal Langford, an early bassist for indie outfit the Shins, has died. The Shins frontman James Mercer announced the news in a statement on the group’s official Instagram, writing, “one of the best friends I’ve ever had has passed.” He added that Langford was a “very important figure” in his life, and that his former bandmate helped him overcome his shyness and perform live. “An invaluable person,” Mercer added, “who turned me onto Dinosaur Jr. and Interview Magazine and the Cocteau Twins.” Find Mercer’s full eulogy below.

Langford played with Mercer prior to the Shins forming, when the two men were members of Flake Music (formerly known as Flake) in the early 1990s. After banding together in 1992, Flake Music issued just one album: 1997’s When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return.  That record included a prophetic song title: track nine is called “The Shins.” Sub Pop reissued the LP in 2014.

In addition to Mercer and Langford, Flake Music’s lineup featured Jesse Sandoval, Martin Crandall, and Phil Higgs—all of whom played on the Shins’ 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World. But by the time the Shins recorded their sophomore album Chutes Too Narrow, Langford was no longer in the band. At the time, Langford said that he had taken up hot-air ballooning.

On July 21, NBC affiliate WITN in North Carolina reported that Langford, whom they referred to as a local hot air balloonist, was found dead in Bath Creek near a private dock. A cause of death was not revealed, but law enforcement officials do not suspect foul play.

In a 2020 interview with Radio Milwaukee, Mercer spoke at length about his early friendship with Langford, specifically discussing Langford’s influence on his musical tastes. “He was just the coolest kid I’d ever met,” Mercer said, adding that Langford was living in North Carolina with his partner at the time, and “doing great.”

Mercer concluded his tribute to Lanford by saying: “There’s too much to the story but I loved him. And I owe him a lot. Neal Langford you were always loved and you always will be.”

Just want to let you guys know one of the best friends I’ve ever had has passed. He was in several bands with me including the Shins. A very important figure in my life you could say. I mean this is the guy who talked me into getting over my shyness and up on the stage. He put me in front of the microphone! He was the catholic school kid who showed me how to sneak into the back of the old El Rey theatre and get a “free” beer. An invaluable person! Who turned me onto Dinosaur Jr. and Interview Magazine and the Cocteau Twins and countless other piles of cool stuff.

He would pick me up in his stepdad’s El Camino and we’d listen to his latest mixtape. With our swerve on. Driving when we probably shouldn’t have been. Where we shouldn’t have been. We were like that. A long time ago. There’s too much to the story but I loved him. And I owe him a lot. Neal Langford you were always loved and you always will be.

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