When asked about the music of his one-man band Strand of Oaks, Tim Showalter is tight-lipped, usually answering with a few words or a brief sentence or two. He shows no reluctance on the band’s website, however, spewing loads of information about the most recent album, Hard Love, and lots more personal information than artists usually share.
So let’s first turn to the insights on the Strand of Oaks website:
Hard Love, Tim Showalter’s latest release as Strand of Oaks, is a record that explores the balancing act between overindulgence and accountability. Recounting Showalter’s decadent tour experiences, his struggling marriage, and the near death of his younger brother, Hard Love emanates an unabashed, raw, and manic energy that embodies both the songs and the songwriter behind them. ‘For me, there are always two forces at work: the side that’s constantly on the hunt for the perfect song, and the side that’s naked in the desert screaming at the moon. It’s about finding a place where neither side is compromised, only elevated.’
During some much-needed downtime following the release of his previous (2014) album, Heal, Showalter began writing Hard Love and found himself in a now familiar pattern of tour exhaustion, chemically-induced flashbacks, and ongoing domestic turmoil. Drawing from his love of Creation Records, Trojan dub compilations, and Jane’s Addiction, and informed by a particularly wild time at Australia’s Boogie Festival, he sought to create a record that would merge all of these influences while evoking something new and visceral. Showalter’s first attempt at recording the album led to an unsatisfying result—a fully recorded version of Hard Love that didn’t fully achieve the ambitious sounds he heard in his head. He realized that his vision for the album demanded collaboration and enlisted producer Nicolas Vernhes, who helped push him into making the most fearless album of his career.
After reading such an intense synopsis, it’s difficult to venture a quick question about the new album. I squeeze out: “How does Hard Love differ from Heal and 2009’s Leave Ruin, and did Hard Love meet the musical and lyrical aims you sought to achieve?
“It just rocks more,” Showalter responds. “Closer to what I hear in my head.”
For the uninitiated, he describes the style of music on his albums as “rock ’n’ roll meets desert sunsets.”
Some have called the music of Strand of Oaks indie Americana. It’s music that is often brooding, often beautiful, sometimes creepy, and full of depth. The first time I heard the music I was in Mission Dolores, a pub with a concrete courtyard and a hidden bar in Brooklyn’s Park Slope section. The music seemed to perfectly fit the experience of sitting at that bar which, despite an adjacent windowed ceiling, always seems somewhat raw, dark and mysterious.
Park Slope, though, is a relatively unknown place for Showalter, who grew up in Indiana and lives in Philadelphia. “I've never really found a lot of influence in physical places,” he remarks.
I ask him whether he prefers making music live or in the studio, and he responds:
“I love it all. Music is my passion and enriches my life every day.”
What’s the vibe at most Strand of Oaks concerts? “DEEEEP” is his retort.
Showalter says Jimi Hendrix is his hero, and he reads “all the time.” He says he admires too many writers to mention. “I'm always reading a good fiction book paired with a historical book. It's a tasty combo.”
The best concert Showalter attended as a spectator was Phish at Chicago’s Wrigley Field last year, he says. “It was an awesome show, and they played amazing sets,” he says. “The people there ruled, too. Just a Shangri-La of good vibes.”
As for what artist’s concert most influenced him as a musician, Showalter answers “that’s hard to say.”
“I don't really watch concerts to improve myself as a musician,” he explains. “I like to separate the two, especially when I'm touring all the time. I clock out of Oaks office and just soak in the sweet goodness that the band is giving me.”
Why the name Strand of Oaks? “No idea,” he says. “I still literally have no idea why my band is called Strand of Oaks. I’m very open for new suggestions.”
Any thoughts about the current American and worldwide political scenes?
“I have many thoughts about America right now,” Showalter says. “We need to evolve past the hate and learn to love and uplift humanity. People are lonely and lost and need to feel connected again. I believe music can help.”
Any specific lyrical or musical aims?
“Just to write what I feel,” Showalter responds. “If you aim for something, then it seems way too calculated. All the words are ready, flowing down the river. It just takes being in the right head space to catch the good nuggets.”