By Shannon Carlin
Most women would be livid if their musician husband decided to air their dirty laundry in a song, let alone write a track that directly addresses the man she had an affair with. But lucky for us, Timothy Showalter’s wife is not most women.
“I think I would have respected her wishes if she didn’t want [these songs] out there,” Showalter told Radio.com over the phone. “But weirdly enough it was her encouragement that helped me put it out there. She was like, ‘No, this is necessary. You need to be honest here.'”
With Showalter’s latest album, HEAL — his fourth under the moniker Strand of Oaks — the Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter wanted to finally be honest with himself and more importantly with his listeners. He didn’t want to make another album filled with vaguely written story songs that didn’t get at the heart of his problems. Though, his song “Daniel’s Blues” off his 2010 album, Pope Killdragon, which dreams up a meeting between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s drug dealer, is a great piece of fan fiction that earned him a signed bottle of Aykroyd’s wine from the comedian himself. But this time around, Showalter, who says he’s “always had this need or desire to overly share,” wrote a record that was filled with very specific references to his excessive drinking and his crumbling marriage.
“I think there were a few songs that I hesitated, and I really asked, ‘Is this appropriate?'” Showalter explained. “A lot of it was just pulled from very private parts of my life that I wasn’t ready to make public in a way. But then I realized, making them public almost makes them have less power, and when you say something’s name it’s no longer a secret and it’s no longer something that can eat you up.”
Showalter said making HEAL was “definitely like exorcism, there was something living in me that I was avoiding confronting.” He spent nearly two years on the road, and when he got back home he realized he couldn’t run away from his problems anymore. That’s when he started writing, coming up with 30 songs in just three weeks.
“There was no question that I had to make this music. That it had to be created in order to have any kind of sanity left in my life,” he explained. “I’m grateful that I was in just a sane enough place to make music and be focused and just a manic enough place that I could do whatever I wanted to without any limitations.”
Showalter notes that it seems as if every album he makes coincides with some sort of life altering experience. His 2009 mostly acoustic debut, Leave Ruin was inspired by the sudden end off his engagement and a devastating house fire.
“It’s very convenient for song writing,” Showalter joked. “Oh, it’s time for a new record. Something cathartic is going to happen in your life. Get used to it.”
During the final stages of this album Showalter and his wife were in a horrific car accident that left him with broken ribs and a “pretty severe head trauma.” Showalter’s injuries were so serious that he was forced to contemplate the fact that he might very well be working on a posthumous release. But, even knowing this, Showalter chose not to tell anyone how bad his injuries actually were, concerned it would delay production. Showalter also worried that he may have jinxed himself by telling people that he could die happy if HEAL was the last thing he ever made.
“I should have said like, ‘When I play the lottery, I’m going to win,'” he said laughing. “It was just such a fortune-telling experience. But you know, I really feel HEAL could have been the final statement and I would have been fine with it. I’m obviously happy I’m not dead, but I felt like I did it right for the first time.”
He’s four albums in, but Showalter said he feels like HEAL is his debut, or at least the debut he wish he would have made five years ago. He ditched his acoustic this time around for shredding guitars and cool synthesizers in hopes to make something more visceral.
“If someone wants to play [this record] as loud as it goes and head bang, they can do it. They don’t have to listen to one lyric, just put it on, put it loud, take a drive,” he said. “People can take it as deeps at they want to go. If they want to take it really deep, they can, but if they just want to have a physical reaction to music, it seems like the first record I’ve made that they can do that.”
Many will get caught up in the personal turmoil of the album, but for Showalter the record is also just about his love of music. “Music can save, corny as it sounds,” he said. “It can save you and can pull you out of whatever hell you’re in.”
The album kicks off with “Goshen ’97” which has Showalter reminiscing about being 15 years old and listening to Smashing Pumpkins in his basement in Goshen, Indiana. He even got Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J Mascis to help out on the song, adding a meta quality to the track. “The fact that I was singing about 15-year-old me and 15-year-old me would have been f—ing psyched to have J Mascis on his song, almost makes the song more touching,” he explained.
But it’s the singer Jason Molina, known for his projects Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., who passed away last year at the age of 39 due to alcohol-related organ failure, that Showalter calls the “guardian angel looking over the album.”
On “JM” Showalter sings a eulogy for his hero, explaining that he was a lonely, angry kid, but luckily he had Molina’s “sweet tunes to play.” Showalter considers the over 7-minute long track to be the backbone of the album and says if his label would have said no to the track he wouldn’t have released the album at all.
“I want [‘JM’] to be the sun that rest of the planets rotate around,” he said. “It’s like, ‘This is who you are, this is the soul of the record,’ and from that, all the other songs were really born.”
Showalter is in a much better place than he was before making the album, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely healed. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“There’s much healing that needs to be done, but I think what I needed to do was just acknowledge what needs to be improved,” he explained. “You think everything’s okay and actually it’s so wrong. All this time there’s something that you needed to do to be better…I think this record gave me a kick in the a– I needed to get closer to that better thing.”