Tim Showalter walks away from the drama of 'HEAL' toward the natural spontaneity of 'Hard Love'
When he's not on tour, Strand of Oaks' Tim Showalter takes long walks around Philadelphia. After his wife leaves the apartment around 8 a.m., the singer and multi-instrumentalist heads outside with no plan and no destination, putting foot to pavement for two, three or four hours at a time.
“I walked nine or 10 miles yesterday, and I didn't realize I walked too far,” Showalter said by phone on a recent weekday afternoon. “I didn't have a wallet on me, and my phone was out of batteries. I was really thirsty, and it was hot. I was like, ‘Shit, I'm gonna die!'”
Our phone conversation the following day marked the first time Showalter had spoken to a human since 8 a.m., and he was ready to talk. It's not unusual for someone as affable, warm and gregarious as Showalter to be chatty, but conversations these days are markedly different from a few years ago, when Strand of Oaks released its 2014 Dead Oceans debut, HEAL, a cathartic rock record that chronicled a dark time in Showalter's life and marriage.
“HEAL had so much exposition and lore around it. I got so tired of that,” he said. “I don't regret being honest at all, but what I should have done is gone to a counselor. Instead, right at the moment when I probably needed to go to a therapist, I had 400 interviews booked, and I was like, ‘I'm gonna talk about all my problems now.' I'm naturally inclined to be a sharer. Everything is on the table when it comes to Tim Showalter. But I did mess up when I brought my wife into it.”
Even though Strand of Oaks' 2017 record, Hard Love, focuses on the tumultuous times of the HEAL era, Showalter took a more positive-minded approach to the new album. “I went the opposite way of overthinking. I wanted Hard Love to be completely spontaneous,” he said. “When we recorded, we didn't use click tracks or computer tricks. It has a real sloppy feel that feels extremely natural. It sounds so cliche, but I just wanted it to feel like a rock 'n' roll record — a record you would have bought in 1976 that had high, psychedelic points and slow points that make you contemplate, and empowering moments.”
“Radio Kids” finds Showalter back at his parents' house, blasting songs on the radio through his headphones as present-day Showalter tries to conjure those same feelings music once gave him. On the trippier end of the spectrum, closing track “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” takes listeners on an eight-minute journey laced with psychedelic swirls of noise and mantra-like chants.
Showalter also changed his live-performance mindset for the Hard Love tour, which will stop at the Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 4, when Strand of Oaks opens for the Drive-By Truckers. “At the beginning of tour, I think I disappointed people because I wasn't the drunk, sweaty guy falling on the ground and hurting my guitar and stuff,” he said. “I really wanted to be a good guitar player and not lose my voice on the third day of a two-month tour. I became too disengaged at the beginning of Hard Love, simply because I wanted to be better as a musician and not seen as a WWF wrestler or something. But now that I got over that hurdle, I can do both. I've found a happy medium between the two.”
“It's the same with my life,” he continued. “I had to be less crazy and take walks and be really nice to my wife and be less selfish to my bandmates and people I work with.”
When he's not touring or meandering on the streets of Philadelphia, Showalter is working on material for his next album, which he hopes to record and release next year rather than abide by the typical three-year album cycle. “I just wanna put out music,” he said. “My car crashed and my marital problems happened four years ago, and Bon Iver went to the cabin 10 years ago. Let's just give up on all that shit and put out music again. Just release a record.”
There's no shortage of material for a new record on Showalter's computer. “One of my biggest problems with recording is labeling the songs when I save them,” he said. “There's like 50 songs on my hard drive called ‘Awesome Jam.' And then it'll be like, ‘Another Awesome Jam,' ‘Cool Jam,' ‘Vibey Jam.' … I wrote three songs last week about sails and sailboats and the mechanics of sailboats. [My wife] was like, ‘Yeah, you can't write any more songs about ships, Tim. You have to stop.' I was like, ‘C'mon, I love ships! I've been watching all these YouTube videos!'”