Songs of Redemption and Hope
Music has been a salvation for Timothy Showalter, front-man and founder of Strand of Oaks.
(Radio Kids by Strand of Oaks)
- [Narrator] Timothy Showalter, the creative engine
behind the rock project Strand of Oats,
isn't one for holding back.
- My favorite kind of music is like,
you're standing on the edge of a cliff,
like this endless drop in front of you,
and there's like a thunderstorm,
this horrible storm coming at you,
like you're at the edge of such darkness
but you kind of stand on the cliff
and you're just like screaming at the storm.
Like, "Bring it on." Like, "I'm going to fight you."
Like, "I'm not going to let you take me."
- I'm also very dramatic, so I think
♪ There are colors in the places you can't find ♪
♪ It's a weird way to say goodbye ♪
- [Narrator] Showalter was born in Goshen, Indiana
to parents who valued hard work,
and taught their sons to aspire to excellence.
As a kid, young Timothy was obsessed with sports,
but his dreams of becoming a pro basketball player
were dashed before he hit puberty
by the onset of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
From then on, music became his outlet.
Pearl Jams, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Smiths
were his salvation, and before long,
paying the feeling forward became his purpose.
- When I was 15 and I put on a Pearl Jam record or something
my life changed and no matter what chaos was happening
in my life, that period when I could have that song on
saved me from that chaos, and you know,
and I think it's, I think it's very powerful, the, and
I hope people don't lose it with the amount of exposure
we have to media.
You know, that we can find it all the time.
We can download any movie, download any song,
find any bit of information now,
but there still is that moment of like, magic
that all of that access cannot create.
And when you have a record to steal, you know
and that happens to me every day.
You know, I've listened to music constantly.
And as a kid who was kind of in his own head,
growing up for me,
as an adult now I still look for that escape
and a brief moment when you can kind of rise
above your life and just be like
transcended into a song, I guess.
♪ I was rotting in the basement. ♪
♪ Buying Casio's with my friend. ♪
♪ Then I found my dad's old tape machine. ♪
♪ That's where the magic began. ♪
- [Narrator] Showalter has been performing
in Strand of Oaks for maybe 15 years.
In that time, he's written candidly
about everything from his house burning down,
to a near fatal car crash, to his wife's infidelity.
Meanwhile, his sound has bounced all over the map.
♪ Thought I was too old to have dreams like this ♪
♪ Covers thrown on the floor and the sweat stain my eyes ♪
♪ This is what it feels like
♪ This is what it feels like
♪ To see the world end in flames ♪
♪ To see the world end in flames ♪
For the first decade, Showalter stuck fairly closely
to his indie folk roots.
Then he began making cathartic heartland rock.
The first evidence of this came in 2014,
with the critically acclaimed album "Heal."
It would be his breakthrough record.
2019 brought "Eraser Land",
which maintained Showalter's hallmark lyrical depth,
while finding more space to breathe.
♪ I get lonely I erase
♪ I get scared then float away
♪ The sun keeps getting lower every day ♪
- [Narrator] In 2020 came the most radical change yet.
"Ambient for Change", an EP of meditative synth experiments
written in response to the Black Lives Matter protests
during the summer of 2020.
But all of these sometimes radical changes
don't seem to have fazed many Strand of Oaks devotees.
- I am just fortunate to have the greatest fan base
on the planet, of people that just, I think the closer I get
to doing what I want to do, and the more comfortable I am
with myself, approaching music and writing songs,
I feel like the people who come to my records
and listen to them are really aware of that.
- Do you think there's an element to musicians generally,
or maybe you specifically that, that
that live experience is almost a form of obsessive?
- It is.
- You, you need it and if you don't have it,
you have withdrawal?
- Yeah, very much so. I, I have, you know
I have issues in my life of, it's not about ego.
It's not about success or money for me.
There's just something that I'm
I think I'm inherently a very lonely person
that doesn't feel well connected with the world.
But when I play concerts, especially,
no matter how many people are there, I feel like I want it.
I, I want to play bigger and bigger shows simply
because the more people are there, the more I can feed
off of that reciprocal interaction at a rock show.
And I feel scared when I don't have a tour
because I don't know what is gonna-
and that's why I always write songs,
because if I'm not playing shows
I need to have some purpose in my life.
And you know, it is, it is, it is an obsession, I think.
I have goals in my life, you know?
I want to become a big band
but I know that's not going to bring me happiness.
Like the success. I think doing things
to its best is what, you know, that's success to me.
Like when I walk out of a show and I saw, you know
I got connected eye to eye with somebody
at the concert where I knew that they were,
they were getting into it as much as I did.
Like when I saw Smashing Pumpkins when I was 16.
And that to me is the connectivity of music
and the magic that I want to, I'm always searching for.
- That's a pretty big realization with that.
Success is not our money
or power is not going to make you any happier.
It's probably gonna make you more
of who you are. It typically does.
- Yeah, and I think it, you know, and it is,
it complicates things.
My father-in-law's a, a fantastic bass player, you know
and he's been playing bass
for his whole life on a bunch of records.
And he told me once he said,
"You know what my goal is? I want to play "Johnny Be Good"
perfectly on the bass."
And I was like,
"It's the easiest song in the world to play
on the bass." He's like, "Yeah, it's easy,
but I want to play it perfectly."
And I, and that is, you know, some spiritual
some spiritual approach thing, cause yeah
what is perfect, you know?
And I walk off every night
and I think like "I could do that a little bit better."
And you know, it is just like defining the craft even more.
- It's interesting that you have such a craft
like attitude towards that, is that
from the 10 years of supporting other people
that it was effectively learning your trade to a point.
- Yeah, I think it was an apprenticeship.
And you know, I, I got to tour with some
of my favorite bands in the world and see, you know
see all these different sides
of things and how, how to truly entertain.
And I don't think art is precious.
I think sometimes musicians
and artists view their it's like, it's this, it's this
this vulnerable thing that, you know, you can't like
I have some artists get mad if people are talking
at their shows or if they're, if they're like not connecting
or they're taking cell phone pictures and me, I'm just like
"We're all in this room together."
And if you do your job well enough, you know
it's your job to connect to those people.
♪ My mind was erased
♪ Blame it all on your fate
♪ If you wanna live then live with me ♪
♪ And we, we can choose
♪ To make love or to lose
♪ If you're not done dreaming then dream with me ♪
♪ Put down your mind
♪ Light up and shine
♪ Reach out to me, I feel it
♪ Gonna make you move and
♪ Act like a fool
♪ Quit holding back and waiting for the ending to begin ♪
- [Narrator] The pandemic posed a formidable challenge
for Timothy Showalter. But instead of panicking
or letting his idle hands become the devil's play things,
he turned work into his favorite hobby,
diving headlong into writing new music
and performing it however possible.
By November Showalter's new drone supergroup,
Lords of the Drift, dropped their debut album.
The Arecibo Message.
The beginning of the group's larger project
to explore the sense of comfort that can come from facing
head-on the overwhelming nature of existence.
For a man who describes the state of mind during this time
as survival mode, Timothy Showalter, seems to be thriving
thanks to music.
- That's my one place in my life
that I've reserved for when I stop trying to, you know,
cause I think I'm a natural talker, and I like to entertain
like my dad's a Midwestern guy that could talk
to you about anything for ever.
He's just a natural conversationalist, but you know
they're all, it's all, my friends always say
like when I stopped telling jokes
and stopped talking and they catch me sitting
and not talking for a second, there's a look
on my face where they're like, "Where did you just go?"
I'm like "I don't know where I just went."
And I think when that, when that part of me stops,
and I kind of let the dust settle of my constant talking,
that's when, you know, there is almost a feeling of like
I'm, I keep running and I keep running so fast
and not let you know those feelings catch up.
♪ Grind your teeth and cut off all your sleeves ♪
♪ A few good riffs and a sticky bag of green ♪
♪ You said before it's not as bad as it seems ♪
♪ A grown up kid gets to live out all his dreams ♪
♪ No self control, you keep singing through the scream ♪
♪ When you wake up, it's closer than you think ♪
- Articulate With Jim Cotter, is made possible
with generous funding from the Neubauer Family Foundation.