Songs of Redemption and Hope
Music has been a salvation for Timothy Showalter, front-man and founder of Strand of Oaks.
Timothy Showalter is a rock musician and songwriter known for his project Strand of Oaks.
Showalter was born in 1982 in Goshen, IN. He began playing music in grade school, starting with the clarinet and saxophone. His first band, Mind Groove, made electronic music, but as Strand of Oaks Showalter specializes in anthemic folk rock with introspective, often autobiographical lyrics.
He began to record as Strand of Oaks in 2004 after moving from Indiana to Pennsylvania to attend Wilkes-Barre University. He released his first album, Leave Ruin, in 2009. His fourth and fifth records, HEAL (2014) and Hard Love (2017), were included on many year-end best-of lists and the 2017 song “Radio Kids” reached number 28 on the Billboard Alternative singles charts.
After a period of depression, Showalter recorded his acclaimed seventh album, Eraserland, with the backing of indie rock band My Morning Jacket. Under the Radar magazine listed it in the top 5 best albums of 2019.
Timothy Showalter, the creative engine behind the rock project Strand of Oaks, isn’t one for holding back.
Timothy Showalter: My favorite kind of music is like, you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, like this endless drop in front of you, and there’s like a thunderstorm, this horrible storm coming at you, like you’re at the edge of such darkness but you kind of stand on the cliff and you’re just like screaming at the storm. Like, “Bring it on.” Like, “I’m going to fight you.” Like, “I’m not going to let you take me.” I’m also very dramatic.
Showalter was born in Goshen, Indiana to parents who valued hard work, and taught their sons to aspire to excellence. As a kid, young Timothy was obsessed with sports, but his dreams of becoming a pro basketball player were dashed before he hit puberty by the onset of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. From then on, music became his outlet. Pearl Jams, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Smiths were his salvation, and before long, paying the feeling forward became his purpose.
Showalter: When I was 15 and I put on a Pearl Jam record or something my life changed and no matter what chaos was happening in my life, that period when I could have that song on saved me from that chaos, and you know, and I think it’s, I think it’s very powerful, the, and I hope people don’t lose it with the amount of exposure we have to media. You know, that we can find it all the time. We can download any movie, download any song, find any bit of information now, but there still is that moment of like, magic that all of that access cannot create. And when you have a record still, you know and that happens to me every day. You know, I’ve listened to music constantly. And as a kid who was kind of in his own head, growing up for me, as an adult now I still look for that escape and a brief moment when you can kind of rise above your life and just be like transcended into a song, I guess.
Showalter has been performing in Strand of Oaks for nearly 15 years. In that time, he’s written candidly about everything from his house burning down, to a near fatal car crash, to his wife’s infidelity. Meanwhile, his sound has bounced all over the map.
For the first decade, Showalter stuck fairly closely to his indie folk roots. Then he began making cathartic heartland rock. The first evidence of this came in 2014, with the critically acclaimed album “Heal.” It would be his breakthrough record. 2019 brought “Eraserland”, which maintained Showalter’s hallmark lyrical depth, while finding more space to breathe.
In 2020 came the most radical change yet. “Ambient for Change”, an EP of meditative synth experiments written in response to the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. But all of these sometimes radical changes don’t seem to have fazed many Strand of Oaks devotees.
Showalter: I am just fortunate to have the greatest fan base on the planet, of people that just, I think the closer I get to doing what I want to do, and the more comfortable I am with myself, approaching music and writing songs, I feel like the people who come to my records and listen to them are really aware of that.
AJC: Do you think there’s an element to musicians generally, or maybe you specifically that, that that live experience is almost a form of obsessive?
Showalter: It is.
AJC: You, you need it and if you don’t have it, you have withdrawal?
Showalter: Yeah, very much so. I, I have, you know I have issues in my life of, it’s not about ego. It’s not about success or money for me. There’s just something that I’m I think I’m inherently a very lonely person that doesn’t feel well connected with the world. But when I play concerts, especially, no matter how many people are there, I feel like I want it. I, I want to play bigger and bigger shows simply because the more people are there, the more I can feed off of that reciprocal interaction at a rock show. And I feel scared when I don’t have a tour because I don’t know what is gonna—and that’s why I always write songs, because if I’m not playing shows I need to have some purpose in my life. And you know, it is, it is, it is an obsession, I think. I have goals in my life, you know? I want to become a big band but I know that’s not going to bring me happiness. Like the success. I think doing things to its best is what, you know, that’s success to me. Like when I walk out of a show and I saw, you know I got connected eye to eye with somebody at the concert where I knew that they were, they were getting into it as much as I did like when I saw Smashing Pumpkins when I was 16. And that to me is the connectivity of music and the magic that I want to, I’m always searching for.
AJC: That’s a pretty big realization with that. Success is not our money or power is not going to make you any happier. It’s probably gonna make you more of who you are. It typically does.
Showalter: Yeah, and I think it, you know, and it is, it complicates things. My father-in-law’s a, a fantastic bass player, you know and he’s been playing bass for his whole life on a bunch of records. And he told me once, he said, “You know what my goal is? I want to play “Johnny Be Good” perfectly on the bass.” And I was like, “It’s the easiest song in the world to play on the bass.” He’s like, “Yeah, it’s easy, but I want to play it perfectly.” And I, and that is, you know, some spiritual, some spiritual approach thing, cause yeah what is perfect, you know? And I walk off every night and I think like “I could do that a little bit better.” And you know, it is just like defining the craft even more.
AJC: It’s interesting that you have such a craft-like attitude towards that. Is that from the 10 years of supporting other people, that it was effectively learning your trade to a point?
Showalter: Yeah, I think it was an apprenticeship. And you know, I, I got to tour with some of my favorite bands in the world and see, you know see all these different sides of things and how, how to truly entertain. And I don’t think art is precious. I think sometimes musicians and artists view their, it’s like, it’s this, it’s this this vulnerable thing that, you know, you can’t like, I have some artists get mad if people are talking at their shows or if they’re, if they’re like not connecting or they’re taking cell phone pictures and me, I’m just like “We’re all in this room together.” That’s enough. And if you do your job well enough, you know it’s your job to connect to those people.
The pandemic posed a formidable challenge for Timothy Showalter. But instead of panicking or letting his idle hands become the devil’s play things, he turned work into his favorite hobby, diving headlong into writing new music and performing it however possible. By November Showalter’s new drone supergroup, Lords of the Drift, dropped their debut album, “The Arecibo Message.” The beginning of the group’s larger project to explore the sense of comfort that can come from facing head-on the overwhelming nature of existence. For a man who describes the state of mind during this time as survival mode, Timothy Showalter, seems to be thriving thanks to music.
Showalter: That’s my one place in my life that I’ve reserved for when I stop trying to, you know, cause I think I’m a natural talker, and I like to entertain, like my dad’s a Midwestern guy that could talk to you about anything forever. He’s just a natural conversationalist, but you know they’re all, it’s all, my friends always say like when I stop telling jokes and stop talking and they catch me sitting and not talking for a second, there’s a look on my face where they’re like, “Where did you just go?” I’m like “I don’t know where I just went.” And I think when that, when that part of me stops, and I kind of let the dust settle of my constant talking, that’s when, you know, there is almost a feeling of like I’m, I keep running and I keep running so fast and not let you know those feelings catch up.