Deli Magazine


Where Is My Mind?: Strand of Oaks' Timothy Showalter

- by Q.D. Tran

By now, you may have heard about the tragic story of Timothy Showalter a.k.a. Strand of Oaks losing all his belongings in a fire at the same time his fiancé had decided to leave him, which helped inspire Showalter to write songs for his last album Leave Ruin (La Société Expéditionnaire) with an acoustic guitar on a suburban Philly park bench that he was living on. Well, those days may seem like a distant memory to him now that he lives here in Philly happily married to the love of his life, and his latest album Pope Killdragon (released on eMusic) has been getting some serious blogosphere love. What can we say? We can’t help but root for the guy. He’s a survivor and a helluva songwriter. That’s why we had to invite Strand of Oaks to The Deli’s CMJ Showcase this Thursday, Oct. 21 at The Living Room. We also took the opportunity to pick his brain.

The Deli: Where does the name Strand of Oaks come from?

Timothy Showalter: My friend Josh thought it up. We booked a show before we had a name. I still enjoy the name, but the meaning is so group-oriented that it’s a constant reminder of how I need to get a band.

TD: Strand of Oaks started as more of a “post rock” project and evolved to something more acoustic singer-songwriter on Leave Ruin due to loss of all your equipment in a fire. Do you think that you will ever do a post rock only album?

TS: I’ve had a dream of making a record that sounds somewhere between Leaves Turn Inside You and Come on Die Young. I’m excited to have my songs slightly more driven by the music instead of the words. I love bands that take their time and draw you into their world. I tried to go for that feeling by adding instrumentals on the new record. Personally, I like not hearing my voice for a few moments. It adds a nice bit of contemplation.

TD: You bought recording equipment before Leave Ruin for the first time. How has the process of learning to self-record gone?

TS: Well, my laptop died so I’m back to the old tape recorder. I demoed a lot of the Killdragon songs last fall. I had a blast, but I also realized how much I love studios. My songs come from a solitary place, and I’d rather complete the process with some sort of collaboration. I have friends who are just wizards at home recording, but I seem to just use the same approach for every song. I also lucked out with meeting my friend Ben who produced the record with me. His studio in Akron is beyond amazing. He’s actually buying synths specifically for the next record. I’m a lucky dude.

TD: You talked about the death of Pope John Paul II being the initial inspiration for Pope Killdragon. Are you a religious person?

TS: When John Paul died, I must have been really bummed about something. What was most inspiring is the fact that you can change your name when you become Pope. That’s where the title came from. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m religious. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

TD: You’ve mentioned how lucky you are to have your father-in-law, Bob Gryziec, in your life and how he has “secretly been involved with almost every musical movement since the sixties music”. Do you ever jam with him? Have you or will you ever right any songs with him?

TS: I’ve thought about having him on my next record. We still have yet to jam, partly because I’m intimidated by him. I feel like when I write a song worthy of his playing then it will happen. I’m just not there yet.

TD: What’s up with your obsession with Billy Corgan? It seems like he pops up a lot in your interviews.

TS: I’m glad you noticed! I’m still waiting for the day when someone compares Oaks to the Pumpkins. I’ve been listening to them consistently for sixteen years. I didn’t grow up with a thriving underground scene so all I had was what popular culture gave me. In a perfect world, I would have been jamming to James Chance and played an Arthur Russel song at my seventh grade talent show, but that just wasn’t going to happen in Goshen, Indiana. Then again, I love those bands, but I don’t listen to them as much as Corgan. It’s more than nostalgia…I genuinely am amazed by the music he’s made. I’m not sure if he’ll ever come back, but I have a standing offer to produce his next record, no charge. I’m listening to Gish right now. So epic!

TD: Do you still have flare ups of Rheumatoid Arthritis? If so, does it really interfere with you when you have to perform? What do you do to combat it? My friend with Rheumatoid Arthritis smokes an insane amount of pot.

TS: I haven’t had any major flare ups for ten years. Occasionally, my knuckles will ache, but I’m not sure if that’s real pain or just some old memory of it. If I was Randy Rhodes, it probably would affect my playing, but I feel like I should get into boxing because my pain threshold is so high. It’s funny you bring up pot. I was prescribed three drugs in a row that were eventually taken off the market for disastrous side effects. I actually lucked out and just got lifelong stomach problems and depression. I’ll take the fifth on my own methods, but let’s just say I’ve “heard” that it REALLY, REALLY helps.

TD: What song takes you to your “happy place”?

TS: Golden Ages, “Everything Will Be Alright”. My new Philly buds took me there when I saw them at The Ox a few weeks ago. I’m very excited about the music they’re making.

TD: You love the Chicago Bears. Does the “Super Bowl Shuffle” rock or is it lame?

TS: The Bears winning the Super Bowl is one of my oldest memories. I think my dad let me put a bet down on the game, too. I just remember how happy everybody was when they won. Bears fans still talk about the game like it happened yesterday. That’s the beauty of the Bears, I guess. I also think Willie Gault won the “Shuffle” battle.

TD: What’s it like living in Eagle country? Transplants to Philly often have tons of respect for the passion that Philly sports fans have for their teams and adopt them as their own, are there any Philly sports teams that you root for since you’ve moved here?

TS: My mind has been so into music world since moving. I haven’t had much time to pay attention to sports. I love sports, but in a very general way. I also have terrible attention to detail so I can never follow a team well. It actually wasn’t that big of a transition from Wilkes-Barre to Philly. All my friends are Phillies fans up there. I think I’m on my way to becoming a diehard simply because of my aversion to the Yankees, though.

TD: Do you still teach? Are you hopeful or afraid for the future of our youth?

TS: No, I haven’t taught since we moved down to Philly. I’m always hopeful for the youth. I’d like to have some of my own soon. I’m more worried about the parents. It seems like we’re moving towards this scary future where technology raises children. I don’t believe all of the gadgets are making better students at all. I also feel that standardized tests are encouraging way too much conformity in students. I fear that we are losing innovation at the expense of this terrible system of standards that exists in schools. It’s hard to tell about the future.

TD: You are performing at The Deli Magazine’s Showcase at CMJ this year. Are there any artists on the same bill that you are interested in checking out?

TS: Excited to see Buke and Gass…been hearing some really good things about them.

TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?

TS: Anything that pairs well with spicy mustard and sauerkraut.





Strand of Oaks
Pope Killdragon