Sound & Vision: Timothy Showalter on How Depression Fueled the New Strand of Oaks Album, Eraserland

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox
photo by Melissa Wax (view set)

The new Strand of Oaks album is titled Eraserland. It's reflective of how frontman/founder Timothy Showalter felt at the time: he admitted via his Twitter account that he had hit a level of depression that made him want to give up on music, and possibly give up on life.  After five straight years of touring and recording, the depression began to creep into his life. "And that's probably why the record's called Eraserland. I felt like I was erasing who I am." 

Strand of Oaks will be live on KEXP this Friday, April 26th at 1 PM, and then playing Neumos later that night. In this interview with DJ John Richards for Sound & Vision, he describes how he began to feel drawn back into life and music through friends, family, and fans.

With a Little Help From His Friends

Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket reached out to Showalter in December 2017 to see how he was doing. And that same day, Broemel and his bandmates decided to get Tim back in the studio to record an album together.  

My manager called me, kind of bewildered, and he said, "Tim, you're making a record?" I was like, "What?" "You're making a record with My Morning Jacket guys?" I was like, "I don't know." He was like, "There's studio time booked." And, yeah, I think Carl [Broemel] called Patrick [Hallahan], Bo [Koster], and Tom [Blankenship] and Kevin Ratterman, the producer, and set it all up and then I was off.

I think it was friends knowing me enough that they understood that the best thing for me was to be doing something.

On the Songwriting for Eraserland

I had no songs. Zero. And that's not an exaggeration; especially for me, that's another red flag in my life because, let's say a Strand of Oaks record has 10 songs. There's 50 that aren't on the record, just because my favorite thing to do when I'm home is to write. You know, I love making music and it's kind of like my job, my hobbies, and my passion all rolled into one. But that was another telling sign of my state of mind. I just didn't want to pick up the guitar or write lyrics. And so yeah, I got the call and I had nothing. And I had a looming date because I got the call in December that we had studio time booked for March and I went, "whoa, March is coming fast."

My wife, Sue, she was kind of the huge factor in getting me out of the house. We had been on some family trips though Wildwood, New Jersey, and there's a nice lady that rents out her place right on the beach. So, [Sue] booked like two or three weeks in the middle of February on the Jersey Shore and I just went there with a small portable studio set-up, and I just thought, "well, this is the time I have to write songs."

And throughout the course of, you know, many, many, many miles walking on a snowy beach in the winter, you are the only person in the planet, it feels like. I didn't realize how perfect of a setting that was for me because I just would clear my head to the point of like no emotions left, which was good because I wasn't thinking about what was making me sad or happy. By the end of a walk, I was just clear and I was in this meditative place where I was able to dig to this certain core that is past the impulsiveness of emotions and maybe fleeting things. And I think I was able to communicate with some truer part of me that I may never have found before. And throughout the course of a few weeks I had, you know, 10 or 15 songs that I couldn't believe that I wrote. I still don't know how I wrote them but they came. 

On the Song "Weird Ways"

"Weird Ways" is such an outlier on the record simply because... it was the last song that I wrote and I had dug so deep with my psychotherapy, I guess, of writing some of these songs. And what's special about "Weird Ways" is, I believe, that song is an echo of all of the songs I wrote before it. So, in a way, it's the whole record in one song, musically and lyrically, and it's me assessing where I went to during the writing of Eraserland. And what I find really beautiful about the record is the first line on "Weird Ways" is "I don't feel it anymore." And that's a devastating line in my life. You know, it's definitely not a throwaway line. And what's great is, the rest of the record answers that and it tries to find out why I don't feel it anymore. And finally, in conclusion, the last line on the record is "if you believe you can be loved, you outlive your past." That's the answer. That's like, the opposite end of where the record begins. And I think it's that full circle, and "Weird Ways" just begins that process of understanding how I lost track and kind of lost myself.

Sound & Vision airs Saturday mornings at 7 AM PST. Hosted by Emily Fox and John Richards, the show "uses interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter."