In 2014, Tim Showalter brought his music project Strand of Oaks to Ignition Music Garage after the release of his breakthrough album, “Heal.”
With “Hard Love,” his fifth and latest record as Strand of Oaks, in stores, Showalter returns to the Goshen music venue this Sunday.
“I think it’s just a rule now that I have to play Goshen just so my grandma can see us,” he says. “It is pretty much obligatory. I’m not sure that she wants to drive all the way to Chicago to see us.”
Showalter lived in Goshen until after high school, when he moved to Philadelphia and started Strand of Oaks in 2009.
He still has family and friends in Goshen, but his busy touring schedule doesn’t allow him to visit often.
“It’s a really great excuse to see a lot of people in one concentrated time, although it is never quality time,” Showalter says about performing a show in his hometown. “I am pretty proud of Goshen. I don’t remember it being like that. There wasn’t a lot of stuff going on downtown. There was an antique mall and a Mello Yello machine, as I recall. That was about it for Main Street.”
Earlier this year, Stereogum, a music website, featured an article where the author spent two years traveling with Strand of Oaks, telling stories of hedonism and hard-partying. Showalter says that image of him is exaggerated and overblown.
“I had some fun times,” Showalter says. “To be a band of my size, we travel a lot and play a lot of shows. We don’t have people, we have to do the work. We have to drive the van. We don’t have minders. You can’t be that wild of a party person and still have to get up at seven in the morning and drive to do the radio gig at nine in the morning. You’re not going to get anywhere.”
In the Stereogum story, Showalter also seemed to have ill feelings towards “Heal.”
“Oh man, I talk all of the time,” he says. “I just say things. I have no idea why I say things. The problem with situations where you say things and they go into a public arena is that they are etched in stone. The problem with how my brain works is that I will wake up in the morning and have an opinion and by the time I get my coffee, that opinion will have changed again.”
Showalter says he was just expressing some regret at singing songs of a hurtful and troublesome time in his marriage.
“I felt bad about how things spiraled out of control,” he says. “My wife tells me, ‘Why am I reading this piece about our troubled marriage?’ when we just went to the grocery store and had an awesome walk. I don’t know. It has become something out of my hands. I just had my wife’s name tattooed on my hand. That’s a pretty good sign that things are going well.”
Showalter says it is natural to be open and uninhibited in his songwriting, even if it causes him problems later.
“I wanted to sing about whatever was happening,” he says. “I wanted to be very straightforward as opposed to living in metaphor or having a layer between me and the listener. I’m really glad those happened. I see how what started as personal for me is extremely personal for other people. That swells my heart with a lot of joy.”
Touring for the last three years behind “Heal,” Showalter has heard healing stories from fans of his music.
“They were personal songs that were kind of heavy, but I am really glad that they were effected by them in a positive way,” he says. “It wasn’t that cycle of ‘Let’s all feel sorry for ourselves.’ It was empowering to me. Both albums seem to strike chords with people. Yeah, they are heavy songs emotionally, but my goal is to never have a pity party for myself or others. It’s more like, ‘Let’s realize this is happening and it can get rough. Let’s empower ourselves and understand the inspiration that comes from it.’ It is the beauty of music.”
For “Hard Love,” Showalter wanted more levity and wanted the album to rock. Steadily playing live shows renewed his love for raw rock ’n’ roll music.
“It was the first time I had got in front of a lot of people, playing festivals and big shows of my own,” he says. “I opened for big bands. I got out of my shell and learned how to get closer to that rock ’n’ roll spirit and that song I always wanted to write. Whereas, ‘Heal’ felt like I was imagining in this fantasy world what big rock ’n’ roll sounded like. With ‘Hard Love,’ I learned how to do it.”
Strand of Oaks has opened for Jason Isbell and My Morning Jacket. Later this month, the band — the touring group includes guitarist Jason Anderson, who opens the show on Sunday, drummer Mike Sneeringer and bassist Jim Reynolds — will support Drive-By Truckers on that band’s fall tour.
As Strand of Oaks continues to attract a larger audience, Showalter might have to find a bigger venue the next time he performs in Goshen.
“Maybe someday I will play the Elkhart County Fair,” he says. “Maybe we could be the band that plays as the soundtrack for the demolition derby. That would be my dream. We could write original music for it.”