In late March, Tim Showalter released Strand of Oaks‘ sixth album Eraserland. We caught up with Tim to talk about everything from the process of making an album like Eraserland to what it was like to grow up in Indiana. You can catch Strand of Oaks at the Hi-Fi on May 4.
Morgan Hunt: How long have you been making music and who first inspired that passion or interest?
Tim Showalter: I’ve been making music most of my life, but Strand of Oaks is a band started around 2003. I was a second grade school teacher in my 20s and wasn’t really doing Strand of Oaks full-time. I started touring full-time in 2009 when I started putting out records. Pretty much ever since then I’ve just been making music and playing everywhere and making records and repeating and starting again.
MH: Was it hard to leave your teaching career to follow your passion for music or did it just feel right?
TS: It was hard because I really like teaching and I really like my students. The age that I taught was a really sweet age for the learning experience, because in second grade you come in kind of a baby and then you leave able to do a lot of things that you couldn’t do before. It was a nice thing to do, but I had that urge (to pursue music). At the same time I was teaching I was playing concerts and I was coming back from New York at four o’clock in the morning and then getting up an hour later to go teach class. I finally decided that I had to choose one or the other because neither was really benefiting from me trying to straddle both lines.
MH: You grew up in Northern Indiana, so I was wondering if growing up there inspired your sound at all and if there’s anything you miss about living up there?
TS: I grew up in Goshen, IN and what I love the most about growing up there is that there wasn’t really a scene. Some people may feel like that would be a detriment, but I actually view it as a wonderful thing. Oftentimes when you grow up in an active music scene you kind of get into groups (punk rocker or goth kid) and what was great for me is that there was none of that. I think that provided me with this really innocent entryway into music because I just enjoyed it all. All music inspires me. I think that’s still reflected in my music.
What I miss most about Indiana is my family. Another thing that I miss is history. It’s very comforting, for me at least, to be around people who saw me when I was a baby and have known me that whole time. As you get older you enter into new friendships and communities and where I live now nobody knows me. I think that’s why I love going home.
MH: I was reading a little bit before this interview and one biography was saying that before you got into creating Eraserland, you were kind of drained and you decided to take a spiritual journey to the Jersey. Why that was the place you selected to go?
TS: For me, I was pretty depressed and down. I’m full of a lot of energy often and you don’t need to motivate me, and the scary thing that happened was that I lost that. So, at the time I thought I wasn’t really feeling being in a band anymore, but in reality I was just really sad about my life. I was encouraged by my wife, Sue, to find my fire again. I have a tendency to become a hermit; I like to walk around my neighborhood and that’s about it. But Sue was like “You need to leave and you need to go to Wildwood.” Wildwood is a wonderful place in New Jersey where I vacation a lot, it’s about an hour and a half away from Philly. It was just the perfect place to go and write songs because here I was on this amazing expansive beach with snow and fog and all of that and I was alone. Being from the Midwest, even now when I see the ocean I do not take it for granted. There is something so life-giving about it, and I found that.
MH: Speaking of the record, where did the title Eraserland come from? TS: It came from a lot of places. The title came last. I realized as I was recording that I say “erase” a bunch of times over the record. My wife was visiting me when I was in the studio and we were laying in bed one night and I said “I want to call the record Land of the Dead.” My wife was against that title, so I asked her what I should call it. She suggested something that ended in “-land.” We started talking about how I said “erase” a lot and she said “well how about you name it Eraserland.”
MH: There’s one song I wanted to talk about on the album: “Visions.” It is one of the heavier tracks, I could really feel a lot of emotion behind it. Could delve into the story behind that one?
TS: It’s not a happy story. There are, believe it or not, happy stories on this record and very hopeful stories. But “Visions” was one of those songs in my long career of emotional songs that is hopeless, or it has that feeling of being hopeless. It’s necessary on the record because sometimes you need to dig to the very bottom to appreciate the surface, or when it gets better. I always try to write songs that feel like you’re riding a unicorn over a desert thunder storm, just simple things like that, and “Visions” is one of those songs where you just feel that ocean of overwhelming emotions.
Also, that’s about as high as I can sing. I am a little scared to play it live because I don’t know where that came from. After I was done singing that vocal part my co-producer came into the room where I was singing and said “I think there is like an aura of lasers coming off of you.” I didn’t know I could sing like that. I’m proud of how that one came together.
MH: You’re about to go on tour and I know this will be your first time touring with Eraserland, but all of your music is pretty personal and intimate. What’s it like playing them to strangers?
TS: I do feel like when I write a song, even if it is heavy and emotional, when I write it I am letting something go and relieving myself of that emotion or experience. So, for the most part when it comes to performing I have this euphoria that comes over me. Even if it’s a sad song or a darker song there’s this feeling of “if I wrote it then that means I got past it and I persevered.” That’s kind of my hope for people who listen to my songs. I hope that even if they find similar experiences in their lives they can have the same scenario as I did and enjoy the songs from the other side.