Timothy Showalter gets to turn 35-years-old in Ybor City, and he'll be surrounded by friends and family as he does so. He's also making his Bay area debut that night, and Creative Loafing Tampa had a chance to catch up with the Strand of Oaks frontman during a pari of conversations where we touched on a myriad of topics including that Stereogum article (the comments were rough), Showalter's chest tattoo (listen to Endless Boogie), Drake ("he's smart") and even the fact that there's basically a different version of Strand of Oaks' 2017 LP, Hard Love, that fans haven't heard.
Below is a transcript of our two-part chat with Showalter. Get more info on his July 20 show with Brother Cephus and Jason Anderson by visiting local.cltampa.com, and read our feature story on Strand of Oaks here or in our new issue on newsstands July 20. Listen to Hard Love in its entirety at the bottom of this post.
Chillin’? Are you just chilling at home?
Yeah, um… I just got back. I was somehow in Europe for 30 hours this weekend. So I played one show, and flew back and so now I’m back for a second and then I fly out back to Chicago for some shows, or something.
Yeah man, you are a busy ass guy these days.
Yeah, it feels good though. It’s better than not being busy. That’s the worst.
I’m calling from Tampa where you’ll be headlining a show and it’s going to be your birthday. Is that bittersweet being on the road on your birthday? Obviously you’re grateful having work and stuff, but are you going to wish that your family and everyone was with you?
Yeah! Hell yeah, man. My wife is flying down, so she’ll be there. She doesn’t do the winter time shows up in upstate New York. But she’s like, “You guys are playing Orlando, Tampa and Miami? I’m fucking coming!” I was like, “Hell yeah.”
It’s pretty cool, we’re doing a couple of our own shows in Florida but after Tampa we’re meeting up with Jason Isbell in Miami, so, yeah man, we’re doing Florida right. I feel bad bad Floridians because tour routing is difficult, and I’ve only played Northern Florida a couple of times and I’ve only been in South Florida opening for someone once a bunch of years ago. My guitarist, Jason Anderson has toured Florida a bunch and he was like “Dude, you don’t understand. Florida has the best shows the people are just like really excited to see shows and are really genuine about it.”
Dude, I’m excited. So you said you have Jason on guitar so does that mean Carter isn’t playing?
Yeah, how it worked is Jason has been my best friend for 13 years and it came to this point. Like life is short, and it’s pretty great, because when you’re friends with somebody for that long there’s no communication needed anymore or practice. We just know where one another is going to go. The bands I look up to so much, I’m like ‘How’re they doing that?’ Then with Jason, it’s like you just have to know each other for awhile. We played one of the biggest show of our careers’ this weekend, and we completely changed up our solos — you know, most bands would try to play it safe in front of a crowd that size but I just saw a smile on his face and thought “let’s keep it fresh.”
That’s awesome. I just want to confirm, so Mike is going to play drums and then you have Devin on bass?
Ah, no actually it’s a guy named Jim Reynolds on bass and Mike is still on drums.
I know a few people that are going to be following you around Florida, at least to St. Augustine. And obviously the sets are different, you play out in these big rooms and you are projecting sound and doing a big thing. But when you get into these small rooms, I imagine there’s a lot more nuance.
First of all, I love that idea. It’s starting to slowly happen for us: people embracing the best parts of the jam band community and moving that into the Oaks world. Like people following us around, checking out setlists and new jams. That brings the biggest smile to my face. That means we’re entering that part in our career, we just have the best fans in the world. They’re paying attention. It’s been amazing since this Hard Love tour started because we are really going for it a little bit more and we don’t know where the night is going to take us a lot of times, there will be sometimes that we will play “On A Hill” for 25 minutes and we don’t know why it happened. It’s really fun, before we go on we have a general set outline but you know other times like we have a tradition now where we’ll make a jam during soundcheck and just open the night with it. I have this mentality, I’m kind of a purist when it comes to concerts where like I don’t give a shit if it’s five people or 10,000 people, I think a show is a show and you need to find another job if you play a show differently due to the amount of people in the crowd or prioritize them differently.
I like the challenge when we play as a support band for Jason, we play like 45 minutes and that becomes a challenge in itself for us. We just announced we’re doing a run with Drive-by Truckers in the Fall, and I like to do that because then you find a whole new audience that you’ve never been exposed to. We did with My Morning Jacket, their whole world welcomed us into their family and it was incredible. Still to this day a bunch of people in our audiences will be wearing My Morning Jacket shirts.\\<\/iframe\>
You wrote Hard Love on your off-days on your My Morning Jacket tour, but it seemed like you wrote a lot was because you were experiencing some kind of trauma. Are you writing on your days off right now? Now that you are able to express this joyful life you want to live more frequently, do you find it hard to find those primal moments when you’re able to strip back all the bullshit of life and really react to really pure, powerful human things inside of you? Does it affect your writing since things are going so well? Or are you still able to get to that primal feeling?
Yeah, my personality is extroverted and I’m always the beer-gutted dude running around and sweating. That is kind of survival method in its own way. I need to fight off the darkness, which is apparent in all of us, especially now. You’ve gotta do that or else you’re a mope — I don’t want to be like that, that’s a waste of a life right there. But needless to say I’m writing. I don’t know where these songs are coming from but I’ve got a whole new record taking life as we speak. They’re all different and I don’t know necessarily where this one is going to go, it’s just always fun when they’re new. I’m ready to do a record when I don’t have to talk about my marriage for press cycle, I’m kind of psyched to be a little bit more cryptic again.
I thought you kind of moved away from that after HEAL, which came and went. I mean you hit some of it on Hard Love. Obviously those two records come from a place that’s wounded, but who isn’t a little wounded?
And the thing is, someone made a good point earlier. A friend of a friend. My perspective on my own records is that I view them a lot less darker than other people because they represent me being able to release something, whatever it is. I only see my record, it sounds stupid, I see my records very superficially like “Aw man that guitar sounds cool there,” or “I like that drum sound there.” Once I can get that out of me it kind of can be put to rest for me. Hard Love represents being in New York City, my wife being there, my friends being on the couch and having such a blast. Maybe I am doing it a disservice because we are talking about serious existential things on Hard Love, but it also represents a really great time in my life. I think that’s how all records should be made. Now I’m getting excited for the next chapter.
That’s the best thing about music. Half the world thought Hard Love was a great record. And half the world, maybe, doesn’t like songs or rock and roll. It’s a record, I don’t care if people like it or not. It’s cool because I don’t want to think record to record, but career. I think if you go back and ask Neil Young what he thinks about Hawks & Doves, he probably doesn’t remember those records. Each record I put out, first off, I love playing live it’s my biggest joy. With each record you put out you add another ten songs to your ingredients. The hardest thing for me is I put out five records, but I should've changed the band name because the first three records are folk songs. And they are very difficult to translate to the setting I play in now. We play a few from time to time, but the moment HEAL was put out it gave playing live a new perspective.
Yeah, it felt like a restart. I like listening to you talk about Hard Love and playing it live. I feel like part of that, and tell me if I am wrong, was a lot of you letting somebody else in, specifically Nicholas who helped you elevate those songs. Do you think he’ll be on your new stuff, are we too far ahead? Also do you think without Nick, especially Hard Love, would be the same record? What did he teach you there? I mean I’m sure the record still teaches you things when you play it back.
Yeah, I think Nicholas taught me how to edit myself a little bit more. I think I’m a maximalist, naturally, there’s minimalist, but maximalist is how I approach everything. Eating, drinking, drugs, love. All of it. I’m a consuming person. I do that with records, too. HEAL is an example of those tendencies. There are so many things on a song. It’s literally impossible to play the song with the same emotion live because I put like 40 different tracks on some of them. I would need like 15 people on stage, and I don’t believe in that bullshit of backing tracks. I used to think they were for Madonna, but now I am seeing them being used by indie bands, and I’m like, “What the fuck?! That’s what Celine Dion uses.”
It makes me feel dirty, and it sounds good, I guess, but at the same time...like right now I am on such a high because we played a show in Europe, fucking crazy, we played right before Radiohead. And I hadn’t seen Radiohead in a long time, on that backing track point, they are the most technologically forward-thinking, incredibly genius band ever, but it made me so happy to realize that they messed up on a few songs. Like they’re human, they’re people. They didn’t get the quarter change on “No Surprises” correct, and that for me was the favorite part of the set. Like other bands sometimes feel like I’m watching a robot, I feel disconnected, and the one band that probably should use backing tracks because their music is so complicated is Radiohead, and they didn’t. I was like, “Damn he didn’t hit the fill on time,” it was amazing.
Did you tell them that when they walked off the stage?
Absolutely not, but they probably would’ve taken it as a compliment, too, because I imagine they probably feel the same way about stuff at times. Sorry I am going on a Radiohead tangent. Like A Moon Shaped Pool was a human record, it was so organic in a lot of ways. So every record I treat differently. I have ideas on where I want to take the next ones, but my ideas are worth about as much as nothing because I change my mind almost every single day. Talk to me now, then in six months. Like right now I could say I’m gonna make a dub record, but then within the six months I discover bossa nova, and I want to make a bossa nova record.
Like I’m only playing nylon guitar strings from here on out.
You have to change your name and learn Portuguese as well.
That would be great. Do I get to move to Brazil for it, too?
I think Sue would like that.
Yeah, she’d be down.\\<\/iframe\>
So you talk about the maximalist in you. I get that you want to do a record that doesn’t focus on your marriage, but when you take a step back from all that it’s not really a negative. It’s just normal relationship stuff.
Yeah, mad respect, totally.
Like you’ve said that the “life of being with me is not easy,” but a lot of it has to do with being fully leaned-in, balls out all the time. Do you think you’ve been able to temper that or have you stayed away from tempering it so can keep this energy up?
Like I don’t take any medicine or anything, but I do think, well, I also do a little less other other kinds of medicine.
Just the good ones.
Yeah, and I pick my party. It’s a new thing, new philosophy where I refuse to ever, I don’t ever want to be in a bar and have to ask myself, “Why am I in this bar,” when I’m in my mid-30s, like, “Who are all these people I don’t know,” but if its a situation where you know, if you’re experienced enough in the world of partying then you can tell when it’s gonna be a real night. For instance my buddy Jason, he’s vegan doesn’t do any drugs, nothing, and we’ve had moments where he’s completely sober, but I love to see how he can be like, “Nah I’m going to the hotel and watch a movie,” but he can also tell when something special is gonna happen and be like, “Let’s be a part of this.”
I think that’s a lot more healthy for me. As far as my marriage and friendships, I am trying. It’s difficult for me. I do tell my wife all the time that I feel untethered, sometimes I do get disconnected from the world and especially when I start thinking about songs. Like right now my text messages probably read like 37 missed texts. Emails, you know. And that’s selfish, but it’s also kind of who I am.
You’re also serving the song and respecting the muse, too.
Exactly. You know there are little things that I am trying to do. Just like bringing in Sue to be a part of tour and have her come and hang out. She’s known Jason and Jim for just as long as I have. I’ve known Jim for ten years. They’re her best friends, too, and Mike — it’s just a really neat unit right now.
You talked about Jason and having Sue around. It reminded me of Ryan’s piece in Stereogum, and I wanted to ask you about that. He wrote a lot of candid stuff, but I felt like I knew you after that. Do pieces like that bother you or does it make you cringe when you read it?
I love it. I mean, it was the first time I ever read comments about me.
Oh man, don’t read the comments.
Yeah, I’m like, “Am I an asshole? Everyone is saying I’m an asshole.” They should meet me and have a beer with me. That’s my first and last experience of clicking “jump to comments,” now I’m gonna be like, “Never jump to comments.”
Yeah, that’s the worst. I think I’m running low on time.
Oh, we can talk this is my last one for the day.
Awesome, I might have to call you back. I don’t know what time you are picking up Sue, but I would love to talk more after a meeting. I wanted to ask you about your childhood in Goshen. Seemed like you had a good upbringing, even got to record with your dad’s tape recorder using a family organ. Seemed pretty good — is that accurate?
It was a really good childhood and I am very protective over that legacy. It was tough, too. My mom and dad worked a lot. My dad at a job he didn’t really love. So my dad was working 70 hours a week at a place he didn’t really want to, so it was stressful at times, but I think it was a situation where I realized from a very early age why he did that. That’s how I got basketball sneakers and stuff. I just developed empathy, but it was tough, the only thing is, like, this is a huge tangent. I love the show Orange Is The New Black, I love that show show much. So when the character Boo in the first season she meets up with her estranged father, and he says, “Why do you dress like that?” And she’s like, “Because I had to fight my whole life to dress like this.”
And I kinda feel like that, not just with my family, but I just always wanted to be kind of who I am becoming now. You know growing up in a small town, there’s like a Ku Klux Klan in my town once in the 90s. I was in high school. It was good and bad, you know. Probably.
I love my family, but it was what it was, and I lucked out since I was a middle brother. I loved that opportunity to have like a really tough but ultra compassionate older brother who was almost like a second dad and have a little brother who is just a sweetheart. It was a cool, nice, bunch of cousins swimming in the river. It was kind of like a version of northern Indiana redneck a little bit.
But yeah I am playing a show in my hometown again, I try to do it every tour. It’s not a place for a band to play, but we try to find a spot to do a show. I am super excited to get back in December, I think.\\<\/iframe\>
What are the chances of you starting a family after the tour? Have you thought about it? Not trying to sound like a grandpa or your mom…
I mean it would be nice, but it’s mostly up to Sue because she has an amazing career. I kind want to let her take the lead on that. I love kids. I was a school teacher for a long time, but I feel like when I have a kid maybe it’ll make me less of a space case and make my band bigger so I can get a tour bus and my kid can sleep on it. It seems like the best time for your band to get big, I don’t think it’s a good idea to take a three-month old on a 12-passenger van.
Unfortunately I have to run, but do you want me to email Libby to set another thing up or should I just text you tomorrow to talk? Same time tomorrow maybe?
Yeah, that’s perfect.
Hey Tim it’s Ray from Tampa again.
What’s happein’ man?
Thanks for letting me call you to bother you again.
No problem at all.
I know you were going to pick up Sue when we left off. Did you have a good night?
Yeah, it’s chill, super easy. I just go get her off the train. It’s nice because we can still live in Philly just far away enough where there’s trees and stuff — it’s nice actually. A great neighborhood.
Cool, what neighborhood is that exactly?
Chestnut Hill near Mount Airy. It’s deep northwest. Philly is so big. If I was to drive downtown it could take 30-40 minutes. It’s huge.
So you live near Kurt Vile then.
He lives up here now?
Yeah, he just moved. I think you shared a guitar player at one point.
German town? Mount Airy? That’s where I live. It’s a place where you can be a little older and you don’t have to be near the cool bar anymore.
Yeah he just moved to West Mount Airy.
Oh yeah, that’s exactly where I live. we’re probably neighbors. I mean we’ve only met once. It’s cool, the guy I go get coffee with is John from Baroness, so we’re quite a sight when we go to get coffee.
I know you’re down to talk, but I know you have a life to live, so I am gonna jump in. You mentioned something yesterday, and not that it hurt or anything, but you mentioned reading some comments on the Stereogum article and feeling weird afterwards since it seemed like people thought you were an asshole, but looking back on it, it seems like that was all just people from Wilkes-Barre. It was really only two people, man.
Oh yeah, totally. And it was too bad because like I didn’t write the article, and I didn’t say anything bad about it. I love it. I mean I have a tattoo of it on my arm and wrote a record about it. It’s very dangerous, I think someone once said that Trump getting elected is partly a consequence of us letting our parents get on the Internet. People take such power in anonymity. I just don’t, I can’t cruise that way. I just feel like, well I get still get in trouble for opening my mouth in person because if I’m gonna say it, I’m gonna say it. The only thing with that Stereogum, my mom — who’s pretty normal, Indiana people — she said she read this thing and told me, “I read this article and there’s some pretty good lines in it.” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” And she’s like, “No it seems like you did some pretty good lines it it,” and I’m like “Oh my God!.” Oh geez.\\<\/iframe\>
I mean, I think that’s what I was talking about yesterday, too. Like I’m here doing my job, and so is Ryan, but Tim is out there living it and you can definitely read that in that article with that cocaine thing.
Oh now I remember, it wasn’t about lines, that comment. I remember now, I was talking to my mom and I told her that part of the music world is smoke and mirrors. And she says, “You used a lot of smoke and mirrors,” in that article. (Laughs), she’s chill.
So I wanted to touch on the song “JM.” It’s so huge. My understanding is that the songs start out as house music loops and then evolve. So my question is how much of the big, layered sound do you hear in your head before you get in there and start to demo something because that song is just gigantic. So many of the songs are.
It’s interesting because HEAL was such a long process. Thirty-percent of that album is still my demos that we just never changed. So the guitars on that are all what I did at my house, so that’s a great point. I can’t record drums, you know, but a lot of the synthesizers and guitar tones are just what I did on Logic and entry level recording program on a Mac or whatever. They do start huge though. I have a tendency. It’s very difficult to record distorted music. You’d think it would be easy to make it loud, but its compression, so it’s actually getting smaller. Like when you hear a lot of newer metal records sound really flat. They’re just way too squished to sound sound big. It’s more like a trick.
Yeah, the best metal shows are just the ones where there’s one mic running through a PA and the rest is no PA.
So how different does it sound after mastering then?
Mastering is a dark art form that I have no idea what it is. I’ve made five records, and I swear they know what they’re doing, but mastering...It’s so unfortunate that by the time you have to master a record your ears are so tired of listening to the song that it’s really hard. That’s when I give it to friends and ask them like, “Yo is it loud?” I just can’t tell the difference at that point, I have such audio exhaustion. I do not know the difference.
You mentioned, and you may have touched on it yesterday so tell me if you did, you talked about people receiving HEAL with a story behind it more than the record HEAL itself. What are your thoughts about the reception of Hard Love.? You were pretty cerebral about the release of it, and now that you’re kind of removed from that initial album release how are you feeling about other people’s reactions to the record.
I think they wanted more of a story. I think that actually, I read the reviews. It kind of did what I wanted. Some have hated it, some have loved it. I’d rather have everybody love it, but I would rather have all the way in or all the way out I suppose. Everybody is looking for, ever since that fucking Bon Iver went up to a cabin, everybody wants someone to go up to a cabin or whatever. It helps journalists, it definitely does. And I gave journalists everything for HEAL, and it worked for my record, but it didn’t work for my personal life. It kind of put a few more walls up.
So with Hard Love, especially because there was stuff on there, I write songs about people. I wrote one about my little brother. I have to be careful. I told my manager that, “You know we do these press things I can’t talk to everybody about it. They can know what it is, but I mentally can’t handle always talking about it.” It was great, people respected it, but it felt like…
They wanted it.
But how many times can you tell the same story to a different person. You know I listen to these interviews you give, like the one with WXPN and all those things, and it’s like he already told the story so ask him something different. Just my opinion.
Yeah, and most times I like to talk, as you can tell. I like to talk to people, and I think it played against me a few times because I had a few interviews during HEAL when I thought we were hanging out, and it all kind ended up all being on the interview. That was my fault for being naive. It was like, “Oh this conversation is all over this.” We’re drinking a bunch of beers, and that record is going the whole time. But I can’t complain or bite the hand that feeds me. We live in an era where that’s how people find music. People aren’t buying records anymore so it’s not like the times when, like I preordered OK Computer. I didn’t read anything about it. I just knew had a record coming out, and that’s all that mattered to me. I don’t need to watch 19 different 30-second Instagram videos getting my pumped about it.\\<\/iframe\>
I found your music on accident. My friend put it on in the car when we were on the way to eat at this new deli we wanted to check out.
Oh awesome. Food knows.
Everyone that was in the car, we just latched onto that moment, then you finally got booked here, and someone made that comment like, “I still remember that day in that car, that record and waiting for this show.”
I love cars. I love the thought of music and cars. I play music louder in cars than I do in my house. Good stereo system or not. I love that combo, always have.
You have that in common with Drake. He says he won’t release anything if it doesn’t sound good in the car.
That’s smart. That’s a little deceiving though, because he probably has a Bentley with a Bose sound system or something. He’s not driving around in an ‘89 Honda Civic that he’s driving around.
If it’s jamming through an aux cord connected to the cassette player, then it’s probably going to be jamming anywhere else.
Would you ever feel comfortable releasing the Plastic Man loops or house music loops that you have around?
I don’t know how to release that stuff. I was just talking to someone about that. The first version of Hard Love I did in Akron, Ohio has like eight songs that aren’t on the record that you’ve heard. So there’s a whole other record that sounds good and good. I might just release that in a few months. The thing for me is I am not in the mentality that, “Oh some of these songs I’ll save for the next record.” I don’t save songs. I wrote those songs in the moment. When it’s time for the next one, all of the songs have a lot in common. Like the timing of when I wrote them. But I also don’t want to waste really good songs, so maybe I’ll put those out. The issue is, I think, I tour all the time, so I never get around to putting my house in order with things like that. I just forget because I am gone. And by the time I stop touring the old record is ancient.
I was gonna ask you about your chest tattoo. I thought it was fake when I first saw it, but it’s real.
Oh believe me it’s real. It did not feel good.
Have you told that story before?
I don’t think so. Part of it is for my brother.
So it’s new.
Yeah, probably a year and a half, two years ago. My friend Josh Stevens does all of my tattoos. We’ve been kind of working together, a collaboration really. It’s the band, you know the band Endless Boogie. You should check ‘em out. They’re one of my top bands. The fact that I got to play Boogie Fest, which is named after Endless Boogie, is awesome. The tattoo is the logo. I’m the only person in the world to have that tattoo in my chest.
You should do a show with them.
We did do a whole tour with them!
You said something once about not being able to really live fully in the present, but I wasn’t sure what context you said it.
Yeah I was probably babbling (laughs).
Well thanks man, thanks for letting me bother you.
Nah man, this has been great. You’ve been a great interview.
I think that was a lot to do with you. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I can say that you’re one of the most genuine phone interviews ever.
Well thanks man. I will say that you don’t ever want to do an email interview with me. I’m so bad at those. I always say to everyone I work with, “Please just phone interviews.” Because then sometimes I have too much fun with email interviews which gets me in trouble because I’ll just copy something from Wikipedia about quasars or something. They’ll ask me why I named by band Strand of Oaks, and I’ll give them the history of the Crimean war or something.
That’s the unfortunate part of your rising profile. The weird questions. I appreciate it man.
We’ll have a great time. It’ll be a party — a birthday party.
So yeah what’s up with that, are you staying in town that night?
Yeah man, we have to be in Miami the next day, but it’s not a super long drive. So we’ll most likely stay. Can’t wait.
Righ on. Talk soon.
Thanks for talking to me. Peace brother.