“I love the thought of music and cars. I play music louder in there than I do in my house. Drake is smart.”
Timothy Showalter is on a tangent set into motion when CL’s interview swerves toward the topic of listening to music inside of automobiles. There’s a warm excitement on the line when he learns that the Canadian rapper routinely litmus tests new music while driving around Toronto. If it was physically possible, white light might shoot out of the phone when Showalter jokes about the topic, saying the anecdote is a little deceiving because Drake probably has a Bentley with a Bose sound system.
“He’s not driving around in an ‘89 Honda Civic,” he says with a big laugh. You could blame the joie de vivre on the fact that his band just opened for Radiohead at Holland’s Best Kept Secret Festival, but conversations with the Strand of Oaks frontman famously go like this — and they’re indicative of the spirit the Goshen, Indiana boy has baked into his last two albums.
HEAL, released in 2014, was a lush rock and roll dream exploding with sound. It miraculously packed up to 40 different layers into a single song without feeling cluttered, and it earned Showalter the allegiance of fans who may not have connected with three folkier efforts released in the three years prior. Critics hooked by HEAL’s sonics molted into veritable Strand of Oaks disciples after living inside of the album’s painfully transparent, often dark, lyrics, which detail the struggle of balancing life on the road with the responsibilities and loved ones counting on you back home.
“There are minimalists out there, but I think I’m a maximalist. It’s how I approach everything. Eating, drinking, drugs, love. All of it,” Showalter says. “I’m a consuming person, and I do that with records, too.” While Showalter actually dialed the vivid details down for a new LP, Hard Love — released in February — actually manages to be every bit as mind-bending, joyous and honest as its predecessor. Showalter, however, was intentionally guarded about sharing the subject matter behind this new album when its release cycle started (long story short: HEAL is album about marriage being fucking hard; Hard Love is about the rebuilding, accountability and friendship required to keep a good thing alive).
“My personality is extroverted, but it’s of a survival method in its own way. I need to fight off the darkness that is apparent in all of us,” Showalter says, admitting that he put walls up in the hopes of not having to dive into intimate particulars about the lives of friends and family during each and every interview.
“I gave journalists everything for HEAL, and it worked for my record, but it didn’t work for my personal life. These are songs about people. I can do these press things, and people can know what the details are, but I mentally can’t handle always talking about it,” he goes on to say. He clearly has no illusions about the necessity of it all, but it’s easy to tell that he’d prefer to let music do the talking when it comes to the tender details.
And that’s perfectly fine when a band is cooking up a live set using songs from HEAL and Hard Love. In press materials, Showalter says his new record represents a conscious decision to buck the calculation and overthinking of a lot of indie music in favor of the “raw, impulsive nature that is the DNA of the so many records I love.” He tells CL that watching new bands lean on backing tracks disgusts him (“Celine Dion uses them”), adding that Radiohead didn’t even do it when he saw them play in the Netherlands a month ago.
“They’re a band that probably should use backing tracks because their music is so complicated,” Showalter says, explaining how happy it made him to see what he called “the most technologically forward-thinking, incredibly genius band ever” actually mess up a little. “They’re human, they’re people. Sometimes I watch bands and think I’m watching a robot, but watching that drummer not hit a fill on time was amazing.”
That ability to pull out a flaw and then wrap it inside of something positive en route to creating a meaningful result is an important detail about Showalter’s current output, and it should be on full display at Crowbar when Strand of Oaks plays a headlining set one night before joining Jason Isbell in Miami for a short run of support shows. Showalter will have his best friend of 13 years (multi-instrumentalist Jason Anderson) onstage with him at the Ybor City nightclub, and he’s hoping for a warm reception.
“I feel bad for Floridians because tour routing is difficult, but my friend Jason has toured Florida a bunch and was like, ‘Dude you don’t understand. Florida has the best shows because the people are just really excited to see shows,’” Showalter says, adding that Strand of Oaks plays the same no matter how big a crowd is. “I’m kind of a purist when it comes to concerts. I don’t give a shit if it’s five people or 10,000 people. Find another job if you prioritize a show differently due to the amount of people in the crowd.”
Plus, there will be at least one other very special person in the audience when Strand of Oaks makes its Bay area live debut. The show falls on Showalter’s 35th birthday, and his wife Susan is flying down from Philly.
“She doesn’t do the wintertime shows up in upstate New York. But she’s like, ‘You guys are playing Orlando, Tampa and Miami? I’m fucking coming!,’” Showalter says. “We’ll have a great time. We have to be in Miami the next day, but it’s not a long drive, and that means we’ll most likely stay the night. We can’t wait, it’ll be a party — a birthday party.”