My Firsts: Strand of Oaks | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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My Firsts: Strand of Oaks

It Takes Everything You've Got

Apr 01, 2019 Web Exclusive Photography by Ray Lego (For Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share

My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks.

Showalter is the main creative force behind Strand of Oaks. He was born in Goshen, Indiana in 1982, but for awhile he has been based in Philadelphia, PA. He’s been through a lot in his near 37 years of life (including once having his house burn down and surviving a potentially deadly car crash with his wife Sue) and hasn’t shied away from baring his soul in song (for example, on “Mirage Year,” on his 2014 breakthrough album, HEAL, he tackled his wife once having an affair while he was away on tour). There were more demons to face before he could begin recording his new album, Eraserland. Showalter found himself crippled with self-doubt and convinced he would never write another song. Concerned for his own wellbeing, he took a trip to the Jersey Shore, in what a press release announcing the album described as a “spiritual pilgrimage.” It was then that some of his friends came to his aid. His buddies in My Morning Jacket, especially Carl Broemel, heard Showalter was in a bad way and offered their assistance in recording the next Strand of Oaks album, that they could be his backing band. So Showalter got to writing and demoing the new album in February 2017, alone in Wildwood, NJ. Then the album was recorded in Louisville in April 2017.

The majority of My Morning Jacket (Broemel, Bo Koster, Patrick Hallahan, and Tom Blankenship) back-up Showalter on Eraserland, which also features Jason Isbell and Emma Ruth Rundle. Kevin Ratterman produced the album. To paraphrase the title of the latest album by Andrew Bird, released the same day as Eraserland, this might be Showalter’s finest work yet. Eraserland‘s first single, and opening track, “Weird Ways,” was our #1 Song of the Week. Its next single, “Ruby,” which was shared via a video that was made up of home movie footage captured by his father (Jeff Showalter) on a video camera when he was a child, was also our #1 Song of the Week. The album’s third single, the slow-burner “Keys,” which Showalter says is something of a love song for his wife Sue (one of its most telling lines is “I’ve gotta get my shit together before I’m 40”), was also one of our Songs of the Week. Then when Eraserland was released it was our Album of the Week, transcendent album track “Forever Chords” was again our #1 Song of the Week, and we also highlighted the album’s closing track, the 17-minute long ambient piece “Cruel Fisherman,” a mesmerizing number that’s easy to get lost in.

Read on as Showalter discusses his early jobs, first celebrity crushes, Christian rock beginnings, eighth grade rave music project, campaigning for Ralph Nader, and how a saxophone can sound like a constipated elephant.

First Kiss?

Actually I can’t remember anymore. I grew up in Amish/Mennonite country so chances of it being a Yoder or Miller are about 100 percent. I do think it was in a graveyard though, soooooo…..yeah that pretty much set the course me!

First movie you saw in the movie theater?

The first movie I remember seeing was An American Tale. I bawled my eyes out and then I got the vinyl for my birthday and would listen to “There Are No Cats in America” on repeat. Although I’m pretty sure I saw Return of the Jedi when I was a baby, but definitely can’t clarify that.

First TV show you were obsessed with?

I think it was Cheers. Why in the hell a six-year-old would like a bunch of adults sitting around a bar I have no idea. But I loved Norm and Woody was from Indiana so that scored a lot of points in my house.

First record your parents played for you?

Had to be Genesis, Invisible Touch. This was peak ‘80s and I remember my dad really liked this record. It’s so crazy to think back now and my parents were so much younger than I am now when I was kid. I think they were just 30 when this record came out. Both worked and already had two kids, so I can imagine some slick ‘80s pop took the edge off.

First favorite song?

Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life.” At the end of Christmas break or summer vacation the local radio station would play this as a reminder that school was back in session. I should’ve hated this song for that but even today this song rips so hard. I did get it confused with [Suzanne Vega’s] “Tom’s Diner” for a while (which also rips).

First musician you had a crush on?

Without a doubt James Iha [of The Smashing Pumpkins] from the “Today” video. He was beautiful in that dress. It was a toss up between D’arcy [Wretzky] and James. But James was something else in that video. I wanted to be on that ice cream truck SO BAD. I would wait to catch it on MTV and then immediately get on my bike and ride around just trying to remember the words and melody till I finally got the CD.

First actor or actress you had a crush on?

Definitely Lisa Bonet. Going way back even when I was five or six, I remember just thinking she shined so bright. And there was nobody cooler than Denise back then, especially on television. Amazing that she was allowed to be so completely herself in that character. She still has the nicest smile I’ve ever seen.

First music festival you went to?

Cornerstone Festival, I went a few times. In my town the only real gateway into the underground was through Jesus. I was digging Jesus then so it was pretty natural. I would go up to merch tables and try and talk shop with some of the bands (won’t name any names) but it’s funny being on the other side and meeting a lot of successful artists in my career and realizing that the biggest assholes/pretentious bands were Christian. If a skinny nervous 13-year-old came up trying to ask me questions about guitars and making records I would give them my full attention, definitely not those dorks. But there was some real sweethearts too, I remember Jonathon Ford from Roadside Monument and David Bazan of Pedro the Lion. They were super sweet to me. Dave is a friend now and I’ll never forget that.

First job you had?

My first job where I didn’t work with my grandpa was at Kroger as a bagger. It was 1997 and summer and I absolutely loved this job. I had to join the union and pay dues on what probably was $2.50 an hour but who cares. I was flying so high that summer. Every time I’m in a grocery store I get nostalgic and always jump at the chance to bag groceries again. I don’t know why but working there was so calm and they always had a ton of different things to do. Long live Kroger.

First time you got fired?

Not sure if I was fired but I definitely quit a roofing job. I was probably 17 and got this super hectic roofing job that I was completely unprepared for. I actually had a good amount of construction experience but what I didn’t have experience with was a construction crew of gacked out assholes who thought it was funny to see how long it would take for me to pass out from heat exhaustion. It was one of the only times I got the satisfaction of saying, “Fuck You, I quit,” and I dropped my hammer gun and rode off into the Indiana sunset. What’s sad is that I really wanted to learn how to be on a construction crew. Would’ve been a really valuable skill set.

First time you voted?

This is a tough issue for me. I turned 18 in 2000 and actively campaigned for Ralph Nader. It was with the best of intentions but I realize every single one of those Nader votes could’ve been sent to [Al] Gore and perhaps taking the election from [George W.] Bush. It was so strange graduating right before 9/11 and realizing how different things were.

First instrument?

I was forced to play clarinet for a year in band before I could graduate to the almighty saxophone. I’m not sure why but I decided to play the baritone which if played professionally is one of my favorite instruments but if played by a sixth grader sounds like a constipated elephant. But I actually really enjoyed playing sax, and eventually moved to tenor for one year of marching band. I still occasionally play once and awhile and I hope one day to get back into more.

First band you were in?

I think my first band was called Mind Groove. I don’t know why the hell I went down this folky road because the first music I actually made was whatever an eighth grader’s perception of rave music was. It was actually amazing for the time and how little drugs I had done. It was my friend Dustin and I with two synths and some dinosaur computer drum machine. I always wanted a MC 303 groove box but never could afford it. I’m very lucky that’s how I started because instead of learning Metallica covers I was digging deep into Acid House before I could drive. I think our favorite record then was Plastikman. I still make a lot of electronic music, one day I’ll get around to putting it out.

First professional recording session?

It was at a studio near Wilkes-Barre, PA. Very early on in Oaks we prematurely decided to record, probably in 2004, at this extremely weird studio. Like most bad studios, they love taking your money without any hesitation, bragging about the one hit record they probably had very little to do with (in this instance it was Semisonic, “Closing Time”), and ultimately providing zero results. It was on a burnt CD and quickly lost. Thank God. We recorded an early EP at my friend Greg’s house on his computer that sounded a million times better. That studio better not put Oaks up as a “worked” with client.

First interview with music journalist types?

I was actually a very amateur journalist first. My friend Kurt was a huge influence for me and he started an online zine called Action Attack Helicopter. I begged and begged to write when I was a freshman in college and graciously he let me. I remember the first stack of CDs I got to review and I was in heaven (I think the Rogue Wave first CD was in that bunch and it was amazing). Anyways I went with Kurt to a show in South Bend and got to interview Maserati who just absolutely slayed their set. What a band! I remember they liked my questions so I felt pretty accomplished.

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Richard Roof
May 8th 2019

Timothy Showalter is something of a hero of mine. It was good to see an interview with him - Richard Roof