Tim Showalter has seen some shit. A quick listen to the candid and reflective songs he writes as Strand of Oaks
reveals a long life of loss, struggles, and pain, from betrayed love to living on the streets. But above all, Stand of Oaks’ music also describes redemption, finding the strength to carry all of life’s weight and make it to the other side. It’s truly inspiring stuff, especially when you throw overdrive and sick guitar solos into the mix. As expected, Strand of Oaks’ debut at Boston Calling turned out to be an incredibly hard rockin’, emotional set, I caught up with Showalter after the performance to talk a little more about his music, his new album Hard Love, and sharing the love with his fans.
Robert Steiner: You just wrapped up your set a little while ago, how’d it feel to make your Boston Calling debut?
Tim Showalter: It’s a really cool festival! We’ve played Boston a lot in the past, and the setting, I know it was raining yesterday, but today was beautiful! The weather was amazing, the whole area of Boston, driving in along the river, it’s amazing! Boston’s such a unique, beautiful city, and playing show’s the best. It always feels like we could play for like, two hours, but what we had was incredible.
RS: How do playing festivals compare to playing usual gigs?
TS: It’s a different kind of good experiences. Festivals, you gotta push out a lot in these big, wide open fields. The other thing I love about festivals is some people might have not heard of my band, so it’s that challenge. When we play our own shows, it’s our family, it’s our fans, it’s our crew, so they know what’s coming, they’re looking for the nuances of the set. But when you play a festival, there could be a lot of people who had never heard your band before. So you want them to walk away and be like, woah. I’ve had that happen to me at festivals; I’d be walking around general admission and I’d just hear something and be like, "What is that?" and then just being completely blown away by it. And that’s the coolest thing about these kind of multiple bands, multiple dates kinds of festivals.
RS: Any particular preference between festivals and stand-alone gigs?
TS: I like ‘em both. I like normal gigs ‘cause as a band, we like to jam a lot, so we can play long sets, pretty heavy sets. But then it’s fun ‘cause festivals are like the greatest hits. You gotta throw them down, you got 40 minutes to an hour and you make it happen in that time.
RS: I know that while making your new album Hard Love, you actually scrapped the original version. What was it like to go through that, and when did you realize it was time to walk away and start over?
TS: I think it was, mostly for me, it was understanding that I needed to collaborate. I made a lot of records by myself and playing most of the instruments, and I got to a place in my life where I was like "I wanna have friends here, I wanna have this be a party. I wanna share this with others." With that mentality, I moved the studio to New York, and so many of my friends live on the East Coast, so I just had a lot of people come down and had the best time with them
RS: You state in your bio that Hard Love, "Confronts the struggle between overindulgence and accountability." Care to elaborate on that description?
TS: Well, I think people should experience life to the level they feel comfortable while not hurting anybody, not hurting themselves. But I think people should remove the safety nets from certain heights. And I like howlin’ at the moon, and getting wild and getting primal. It’s what’s trained me as a person to open my mind up to more experiences and understanding the different levels of your own psychology. But I think you also have to understand that you love people and other people love you, and you have to treat them with the proper respect. Sometimes, in my life, I jump a little too much into the wild side, and I think Hard Love is about understanding that there’s people that are my support beams that keep me together, and I want to respect them and praise them for what they do, but also be wild. And I think you can find that balance. I’m not joining a monastery any time soon, so until then, it’s the give and take.
RS: You’ve always been incredibly candid in your music, directly pulling from your many life experiences, both good and bad. For you personally, why do you find music to be such a cathartic and healing process?
TS: I think I’m a forever fan, and I’ll never forget what music did for me when I was just a listener. It made me better, it helped me and it healed me, listening to people being honest and giving themselves to a record, and I just can’t do anything else but that. I could probably play in front of bigger crowds and more people if I made compromises, but I don’t wanna do that. My favorite artists didn’t do that; they were real people, and I wanna be myself. I think that’s why I do this, like if I have an effect on one kid out there- and I know that sounds cheesy, but I don’t care. I want them hear a record the same way I did when I put on any record. That’s why you make these. There’s other ways to make money in this world, but they won’t make you feel any better in your life. There are satisfying things, it doesn’t have to be music, it could just be whatever pursuit you want. Follow your passion. If that means planting a garden or painting or a picture or learning how to dance, just be open to it and follow it.
RS: On a more current events related note: With the recent attacks in Manchester, concerns arose regarding security leading up to this weekend. How did you react to the news,both as a person and as a working artist where live shows are such a huge aspect of your career?
TS: It’s my job, and I’m making the choice to go to those places. It’s just incredibly difficult and heartbreaking to know that, especially with the recent situation, it was children and a lotta kids who just wanted to go to a concert and feel good, and I think it’s a travesty. It’s a sacred place, more sacred than church. Church hurts a lot of people, shows don’t hurt people. They inspire people. And you can see it with the motivations: Kids wanna go to shows, they wanna escape, they wanna feel pretty, they wanna feel accepted. They wanna be happy, and it doesn’t change when you’re a kid or an adult. It’s something you gotta be mindful of, but man, if you just start looking over your shoulder everywhere you go, you’re not gonna trust anybody, and when you lose trust you lose love. There’s bad people out there, but there’s also a lot of good people, and I hope that that wins. I’m not sure, it’s hard to watch the news these days but I’ve been to Manchester many times, and I love that city and love the music and history, and I just think that if there’s anybody tough enough to persevere, it’s Manchester. They’ll figure it out, but until then, look out for each other.
RS: So do you think music is now, more than ever, incredibly important in terms of healing and keeping people united?
TV: Exactly. Doesn’t matter what dictator we have as a president or whatever, music is the escape. The Internet can’t touch it, clickbait can’t touch it. A show is a show, and it’s sacred. No matter what is falling apart around us, you go to a concert and it hopefully makes you feel good for an hour, two hours.
RS: So what’s next for the band? Two, five, ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
TV: I got a lot of records to make, I’d like to maybe have some children, feel like I’m getting to that point in my life, and mostly just build this world that Strand of Oaks is. It’s beyond me now, it’s just getting to go to towns and just seeing it grow and seeing the best people come to my concerts and playing with my best friends. I started playing guitar when I was twelve, and I’ve played every day since then, as many hours as I have. That’s 23 years now, and I still love the guitar, and I love music! That’s my plan; it’s not an endgame, it’s how long I have and how much I can do before it’s over.
RS: Looking back on your decade plus career, many albums to boot, how has your perspective on life as a musician- writing, recording, touring, etc.- changed since you first started?
TV: Well I think that, like everything else with your personality, as you grow and mature as a person and a human, it’s giving so much less of a shit about what other people care about and accepting who you are and being comfortable with who you are, flaws and all, and embracing those and just having fun with it. There’s no rules; I feel like I had a lot more rules for myself when I was 20, when I was supposedly liberated and free and no responsibilities. There were a lot more rules back then than there is now, and I think that now’s a comfortable place to live. I’m a lot more happy that people are paying attention to my band at this age than when I was 20, you learn a lot more.