LION KING: Strand Of Oaks’ Timothy Showalter


BY NODYIA FEDRICK Strand Of Oaks’ mainman Timothy Showalter looks like a biker meth-lab chemist — long hair, tats, long beard, sleeveless Ts, all wrapped up in black — but in fact he’s this big pussycat/sensitive guy with low self-esteem who loves thrift-store shopping for vintage synthesizers and writes these amazing guitar-rock anthems. HEAL, Strand Of Oaks’ amazing new album, is wowing critics and blowing up on radio and it could not have happened to a nicer guy. “Goshen, Indiana,” HEAL‘s unstoppable lead-off single, gets our vote for Song Of The Summer. Resistance is futile. Strand Of Oaks plays WXPN’s XPoNential Fest on Saturday Union Transfer tonight, so we got him on the horn. DISCUSSED: Pennsyltucky; the night his house burned to the ground; the beard; how you communicate with J. Mascis; teaching arithmetic to Orthodox Jewish second-graders; why he finally made an album that sounds like he looks and how good it feels to finally just rock the fuck out. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally posted back in July in advance of Strand Of Oaks appearance at XPoNential Fest.)

PHAWKER: You’re playing the XPoNential Festival on Saturday, is this the kick off of your tour?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: Yeah, it’s kind of the official start of the world tour we’re about to embark on. There’s no better way to start it. XPN has been so good to us, it’s kind of nice to start it at home.

PHAWKER: Now I thought home was in Goshen, Indiana?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: Yeah, it’s kind of confusing. I grew up in Indiana; I lived there until I was probably 17 or 18 – basically lived up and down the 476 corridor for the past 14 years. I lived in Wilkes-Barre, up in the Poconos for a while. I moved to Philly officially in 2009.

PHAWKER: I was going to ask you about the 570 area code. That’s where I’m from.

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: I know, I saw the Scranton area code and I got super pumped. I was like, “All right! 5-7-0 style!”

PHAWKER: The band name, Strand of Oaks, why does it best rep what you’re trying to do musically?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: It absolutely doesn’t rep what I’m trying to do musically. It’s one of those things that it was kind of named on a whim like 10 years ago. I’m not in love with the band name, I guess I like it, but I didn’t even name my band. I remember being at a party and my friend was like, “You should name the band Strand of Oaks.” And I was like, “Okay.” Ten years later it’s my band name. Symbolically it represents how a strand of oaks is a group of oak trees, but especially with the new record, it doesn’t have a woodsy feeling and there’s still that folk connotation to the band name and it’s just like, “Well, this is my band name. It served me well for such a long time.” It’s too late to change.

PHAWKER: The new album is a lot heavier than than your first two. Was that intentional?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: I think I just finally made the record I always wanted to make and I just didn’t know how to make this record before. I don’t think I had the courage to just totally go for it, you know, turn the guitars up and play as loud as I’ve wanted to. I don’t really listen to a lot of folk music. I’ve always listened to a lot of heavier music and more epic music. It just seemed inevitable because I feel more comfortable playing loud songs. I was destined to play rock music. I just feel so comfortable and happy on stage.

PHAWKER: Maybe if The Metro was still around you could’ve played there.

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: Oh, I’ve played there 20 times. I played the last show that the Metro ever put on. That’s where Strand of Oaks got started. We played our first show there 2004. I was basically a regular there. I opened for more bands than I can remember. That was like my home-base.

PHAWKER: So just to backtrack a bit, you’re playing Xponential. How do you feel going into this?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: I feel better about playing music than I ever have in my life and it’s funny because there are some sad elements to the record, but I just pair that with how good I feel about playing music. With this group of musicians I have I feel so safe and confident. I’m itching to play. With each show we play we get better as a band. I think we give the audience a better experience and it’s still all so new because I haven’t played with these guys very long. I just love my band. I truly love the people I play with. Very inspired by it.

PHAWKER: Do you ever regret being so revealing about your personal life in your songwriting or do think that’s why it connects with so many people?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: If I hadn’t been this honest on this record I would’ve been lying to myself and the people buying it. I came to a point in my life when I needed to be this open. I just wanted to give everything I could to this album and just share my life and although it’s very centered around my life, I feel it’s very relatable. We all get up in the morning and feel pretty similar emotions sometimes. I’ve seen how much it connects with people and it’s encouraging for me to know I can feel comfortable writing the kind of songs I want and people will react the way they are. It validates putting so much of myself into the songs and having people react the way they are.

PHAWKER: You’ve got the biker-rocker-meth-lab chemist tough guy look going on. Do you think that ever conflicts with who you are as a person? Because you’re obviously a sweet guy.

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: It’s kind of the way I grew into myself. I’ve always kind of looked different. My friend said, “Finally, you made a record that sounds the way you look.” It seems like such a true statement. I think sometimes when I play shows people think I’m the bouncer and not the guy playing in the band. I grew up with guys that were head banging and rock and roll dudes. Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to look like the guy who belongs on stage. I’m not going to wear cargo shorts and flip-flops on stage. I want people to get the full experience of the concert. And plus I don’t shave and I don’t know how to cut my hair so I might as well just let it all grow out.

PHAWKER: The current single from the new album is called “JM,” it’s the epic, seven-minute ode to Songs: Ohia’s Jason Molina who passed away last year. Can you talk a little bit about why his music is so important to you?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: Basically everything Jason Molina has ever done, it’s basically been the soundtrack of my life and during so many different experiences good and bad his music has been in the background. On the surface it can be very depressing, but actually it’s very empowering. He talks about being depressed and about the hardships of life, but it’s never self-pity. It’s saying, “Yes, it’s really bad right now, but I won’t let this get me. I will defeat the dark beast that’s trying to bring me down.” I’ve always used the same mentality of my own life. It’s difficult for me to talk about because to have your favorite band no longer exist and to know that he won’t be making any more records, it’s a shame. I think the world lost one of its best artists and best voices. It’s just difficult. I can’t listen to his music as much as I used to. He was such a part of my life and to know he’s not here anymore, it’s challenging. I wrote a song just to say thank you and to be honest with my influences.

PHAWKER: How did J. Mascis wind up guest-shredding on on “Goshen ’97”? Can you tell me a little about working with J., he’s notoriously a man of few words.

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: Guest-shredding — I love it! Well, he’s such a man of few words I never spoke to him once throughout the whole interaction of this song being made. He’s on a sister-label of mine, JAGJAGUWAR, and I wrote “Goshen,” I have my own solo, and when I turned it into the label they were like, “Oh man, it sounds like a Dinosaur Jr. song. We should have Jay play on it.” And I was like, “Really? That’s possible?” And they said, “Yeah, totally. He’d be down.” And 48 hours later, we sent it to him and he sent it back and it was just the ultimate guitar part I’ve ever heard. It was awesome. I’m still kind of in awe of his playing on it. I tried to learn the solo, but there’s no way I could do that solo. It’s what Jay does that no one else can do.

PHAWKER: So you never told him what you were looking for?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: I just said I want Jay to be Jay and do what he does best. “Turn the guitar up and shred face, dude.” There were no deep deep talks about, “What does this song mean?” I was just like, “I want you to play the notes man and play them loud.”

PHAWKER: Is it true that you used to teach at an orthodox Jewish school. Is that true?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: Yes, second grade.

PHAWKER: What did you teach?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: I just taught everything we were taught in school. You know, reading, writing, and arithmetic. I was a teacher at a school in Kingston, on the other side of the river Wilkes-Barre, and I taught at a tiny little amazing school, I don’t know why they let me, but they let me teach there for six years and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

PHAWKER: When was this?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: It was from about 2004-2009.

PHAWKER: If you could travel back in time and play on any rock classic, which one would it be?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: I would really love to be in the studio when Led Zeppelin came out with Led Zeppelin IV. I wouldn’t have to play anything, I would just like to hang out with those dudes and see that album created. That’s probably one of my favorite albums ever. See how they laid down their parts, see their process. That to me would be a magical part in history.

PHAWKER: OK, another hypothetical: You wake up in the middle of the night and your house is on fire and there’s only time to grab one album, which one do you grab and why?

TIMOTHY SHOWALTER: It’s funny because I did wake up one night and my house was on fire. I didn’t get to grab any records, so that was the sad thing. They’re all gone. I think though I would grab Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love. That’s also one of my favorite records ever. That’s something that should be preserved.