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.”