It was a week before Christmas when I saw Strand of Oaks perform for the first time. I actually didn’t intend to. We’d planned toarrive fashionably late to the Wooden Sky show so that we wouldn’t have to sit through the interminable opening act. I should have trusted the guys in The Wooden Sky to line up a decent opener. In the future, I won’t blow off opening acts for events such as this.
We arrived late, of course, and stand in the back of the church, surrounded by the guys from the main event. Eventually, we find a seat on the bench of the organ in the back. We’re elevated above the audience, the acoustics are spot on in this sublime little church in the heart of Toronto. Around us the world rages on, and for the next few hours, we’re completely isolated. This sounds fantastical, but at times the room seemed to shimmer with the crisp notes of a lone electric guitar.
Tim Showalter, a short, stocky, long-haired guy in skinny jeans is filling the room with unexpectedly sweet notes. Even after the show, the lyrics stuck in my head. Of course, it may have been the best show of 2010 for me.
I managed to catch up with Showalter about a week later. And for a long time I didn’t write anything about it. It was a rough night, I had an interview right after my chat with him that didn’t go nearly as well, and I didn’t think I could do Showalter or Strand of Oaks justice.
But I’ve been listening to his albums pretty steadily since, and being a supporter of his Kickstarter project I’ve just received his demo tape of his new album Pope Killdragon. It’s personal, and in many ways it’s quite different from his final product.
Showalter is personable, a Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania native, he’s a schoolteacher turned musician. He’s personable in a way that puts people immediately at ease.
The problem with writing about Strand of Oaks or Pope Killdragon or Leave Ruin, is that you can’t come close to explaining it. It’s sad in a heavy way, but an uplifting way as well.
Pope Killdragon is a sad album, not as sad as his first album Leave Ruin, but sad in it’s own way. The song, Daniel’s Blues, is a fictional account of Dan Akroyd after the death of John Belushi. The story had intended to be humorous for a tribute record for a friend, but ended up sad and melancholy.
“When a comedic actor plays a dramatic role, it’s so much more poignant. Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love is heartbreaking,” says Showalter. The beauty of absurdity is that it’s often linked so primarily with sadness. We share the same views of how tragic the profession of comedy is. Sometimes the funniest people, are the saddest.
“There’s beauty in obtuse things. I honestly don’t know what some of the songs are about, I have a feeling, I don’t know specifically, they don’t have to hear me complain about a particular break up, they can make up their own story,” says Showalter.
“I don’t think a lot. I don’t overthink. I don’t think they’re good or bad, I just wrote it,” he says, explaining that a lot of the songs aren’t necessarily allusions to anything specific.
Showalter has a sort of free-form approach to music, it seems like he can play so casually.
“I worry about my guitar coming unplugged or will my pedal stop working not about will I sing well,” he laughs, on the topic of stage fright.
“World war one vets explained all the awful stuff they’d seen through fantasy,” explains Showalter, perhaps hinting at where his stories take root.
“Sauron was J.R.R. Tolkien’s answer to Hitler, raising orcs and what not.”
It feels difficult to really do justice to what Strand of Oaks is really capable of. Check out his albums here!