Showalter: 'My music doesn't come from the ethers.'
Origin stories are used in comic books as a way to familiarize readers with how heroes or villains became their super selves. Fittingly, origin stories are almost always placed at the beginning of the story.
Timothy Showalter, who writes and records music under the moniker Strand of Oaks and headlines the second night of FRZN Fest 2015, Jan. 16 at the High Noon Saloon, waited until he was three albums and an EP deep into his career before releasing his origin story.
The resulting record, HEAL, was a purging of revelations that hits harder than a piano dropped from a rooftop. Released last July, it documents Showalter's experiences from his days as an angst-filled teenager in Indiana to his more recent personal and marital struggles.
With HEAL, Showalter explained to Isthmus last month, "I literally just wrote what I did."
As he details on the album's anthemic opener, "Goshen '97," Showalter's story begins with him as an outcast in the small town of Goshen, Ind., in the '90s. In the song, he describes how his love of listening to music morphed into a desire to play it.
Though Showalter recorded HEAL like he did the rest of his records -- in what he calls a "hermit-like place" -- it breaks new ground. For one, loud electric guitar rockers now sit alongside his synthesizer-assisted ballads. Second, Showalter went literal with his lyrics, a move that made him question whether or not people would even relate to HEAL. "I just thought, 'No one is going to care about my life,'" he says.
But he was wrong. The prosaic details allow listeners connect. "I found that by somehow being more specific, more people latched onto it," he says. Other details place the band in context, like when he name drops contemporaries Sharon Van Etten and the Tallest Man on Earth. These moments can be jarring, breaking the wall between the art world and reality. As Showalter puts it, "My music doesn't come from the ethers."
Since releasing HEAL last July, Strand of Oaks has been constantly touring as a four-piece, mastering the record's epic numbers without the assistance of either backing tracks or a laptop. Showalter is proud of the band's performances and that they don't play HEAL exactly as it sounds on tape.
"I would rather see some dude just going for it with a guitar solo and completely fuck it up than some guy with his sweater on perfectly playing it," he says. "I don't want to see that!"
Showalter also loves the instant feedback audiences give during a show, compared to the recording process. "When you make a record, it takes six months to make and then another six months to a year to be released," he says. "And you're like, 'Is this good or not? I don't even know anymore.'"
HEAL is certainly a good record, and maybe even a great one. Besides receiving a lot of love from friends and fans alike, writers at American Songwriter, Grantland and The Daily Beast all placed HEAL among their favorite records of 2014.
Strand of Oaks supported the album with an extensive tour around the U.S. and Europe throughout 2014. The band closed out the year with fantastic shows in Philadelphia, Showalter's current home, as well as his hometown, Goshen.
The Goshen show was a significant moment for Showalter. "It could have been the worst experience of my life," Showalter said. "All the family there, old girlfriends -- it was a perfect formula for a complete disaster. But it was actually really nice, like the ending to a movie or something."
Showalter is now working on songs for his next project, writing whatever he feels is right and real. "It's almost like, the closer I get to what I want to do, the more people can see that," he says. "I think musicians often forget that their fans and the listeners can call bullshit pretty quick."
Although he didn't take much time off from touring in 2014, Showalter is itching to get back on the road: "I've got no concept of being a normal person anymore," he says. "The only nice thing about being home is I can write a bunch of songs."
With his origin story taken care of, Showalter appears ready to move on to the next chapter of his personal life as well as his career. And though the record is called HEAL, healing is a more apt descriptor for his current state of mind. Says Showalter: "I want to keep getting closer to what I found last year in myself."