One of the hardest working bands in the business today, Strand of Oaks have had a busy few years since their 2009 full debut Leave Ruin. Following the release of their excellent fourth album Heal earlier this year the band are back on the road with their European tour kicking off this week. Ahead of their long awaited return to Dublin, State talks to frontman Timothy Showalter, about the new record and their big night in Whelans on Friday.
Heal seems like your most personal record to date…
Its funny how when I finally broke free from that singer/songwriter mould, I actually just kinda wrote exactly what I was feeling. It’s essentially a diary entry of the lyrics in the record I was a little hesitant to be this honest and kind of be this much of myself because I wasn’t sure if people cared, everyone has their own life and I wasn’t sure they wanted to learn about mine but its pretty validating to see how many people have gotten behind it and how its spread across, people’s reactions have been pretty humbling actually.
You say broke from singer/songwriter mould?
Everybody makes music their own way and I kinda just made three or four records of pretty much the folk approach of taking your own personal experiences and filtering them through other characters. I went as far as writing songs about Dan Ackroyd killing John Belushi’s drug dealer, and weird dragons who were pokes, and it all was about me but I think there was something in my mind that was scared to actually be myself when it came to a record, and when it came time to make Heal I was tired and didn’t want to do that again. I wanted to just make the record I needed to make as opposed to just continuing the trend that I had done before”.
You were quoted to have said that this album was recorded after ‘Period of turmoil and self-reflection’…
That’s a pretty polite way of putting it, I think I just kinda lost my mind at a certain point! We all have those times where we have bad experiences at a certain point in our lives but I think I just had about 10 years worth of bad experiences that I chose not to deal with in a healthy way and they just boiled over last Fall and I couldn’t contain it anymore and instead of going to an insane asylum I decided to make a record so the record was kind of a result of that and is basically like my own version of therapy.
It all seems very nostalgia, influenced by experiences from your youth and growing up.
I had this goal when I made the record that thinking a fifteen year old head banging version of me, a weird kid in Indiana, would I like this record, as a 15 year old and would I be proud of myself cause that’s when I discovered music and was so deep into it. I wanted to make a record that wasn’t nostalgic in a cheesy way hopefully but more like ‘yea, I survived this, I got through this awkward part of my life, leading into my 20s even, and I was eager to write about it but also to put it behind me, just let it be done.
With regards to the record’s production, it seems like you’ve moved a bit more towards electronics.
I’ve always had a love of synthesisers. I think I’m drawn to them, they put me in a comfortable place when I hear them. What some may call cheesy keyboards I just remember them from watching ’80s movies and remembering being a kid and really liking those sounds and they’ve always been familiar to me. I’ve had this vision for a long time of how can I combine my favourites kinds of music into one record, like how can I combine New Order and Black Sabbath. I don’t know if I pulled it off but I wanted to see if it was possible to put in huge guitars right alongside this 80s electronica that I loved.
It must’ve been fun to mix things up?
The record came from a pretty dark period of my life, but it was the opposite when I made the record, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences ever, just not having any rules in the studio, I was just like ‘I’m gonna do whatever I want’ and once you do that you liberate yourself from restrictions and its just awesome, it just makes you feel good.
What it was like working with renowned producer John Congleton?
I honestly was shocked that he [John] wanted [to produce], as he’s such a busy guy working on so many amazing records. I think he heard some of the recordings and he took time out of his busy life around Christmas time and we worked together. It was such a fluid and fast working environment, we just were on the same page from the beginning. We didn’t talk about it much, we just started mixing records and instantly the connection was made. I was like ‘Yeah, this is what we wanna do’ and we both wanted to take risks and be pretty bold with how the record sounded and as honest as I was with the lyrics, he was just as honest and bold with his production.
Can you see the two of you working together again?
Totally, we’ve been talking a lot and I would love to work with him [again]. It was such a good team, working with John and my friend Ben Verhoren who was another producer. In the future I’d love to make that dream team happen, all three of us together in a room making a record.
And of course the legendary J. Mascis makes an appearance…
I’m still kind of in shock, I hear the song and I can’t believe that my favourite guitarist of all time is playing on it, it doesn’t seem real to me. Again it was such an easy process, J wanted to be on the track and I let him know it sounded like a kind of 90s Dino song and he just was totally down and lay down in like a day. It just worked perfect.
It’s been a long time since you last pitched up in Dublin.
It’s been 10 years now, I’m getting old! I’m kinda sad we’re only doing one show, I thought we were gonna do a few more Irish shows but we’ll make Dublin worth it. If we’re only doing one we’re gonna tear the roof off that place! I’ve heard great things about Whelans too so I’m excited to see that venue.
How do you find playing smaller venues as compared to much larger sets?
Honestly at this stage in my career I’m just excited if anyone buys tickets cause it means that they’re choosing to spend their money, and spend their evening with us and I’m just very grateful for it. Especially now with more people listening to the record and more people are coming out. We’re rapping up our US tour now and we’re selling out shows and I never envisioned my band being like that. It seems like people are reacting so positive to it. I mean, people love the record, but what I’m most excited about is to play it live, just this totally different visceral experience for not only the audience but us as the band. Every night we do something different and we get tighter in the band. Making a record is such a solitary experience but when you tour its such a community that happens and it’s just crazy to think that there’s fans of mine in Dublin and I get to hang out with them soon. I’m pretty grateful right now.
We’re sure you’ll stay for drink afterwards…
Oh there’ll be many drinks! If it’s any indication of the kind of people who come to these shows, people are not coming casually, there’s some real awesome fans that are out at our concerts and we know how to have a good time together!
Just finally, can we expect any new projects/collaborations in the near future?
I’m always making music, always listening to music and right now its difficult for me to write on the road. In my head right now I’m just completely focused on putting on the best concert I can. But I think any time theres down time, I write songs everyday if I’m at home. I’ve got records worth of songs ready to be released so I’m just pumped to get this tour happening and play as many shows and then go back home, make another record and hopefully keep doing that until people don’t wanna listen to me anymore.
Strand of Oaks play Whelans on Friday, October 3rd