Strand of Oaks Finds Honesty in Volume
Whereas Strand of Oaks’ previous albums offered more folk-leaning tunes with lyrics that often were more abstract than personal, HEAL features a fiercer rock sound and more personal lyrics that capture Showalter at his most honest and vulnerable self: the head-bang kid.
Showalter looked back at his life growing up in Goshen, Ind., and listening to bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, and realized he needed to hit the reset button to get back to music he was supposed to make.
“I love folk music and love the sounds and feeling you get when you play it but I was done with it,” Showalter says. “I needed to embrace the inner head-bang kid that I was and just make that kind of record.”
Fittingly, then, the album starts with “Goshen 97,” which features a shredding guitar solo from Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis.
“‘Goshen’ is not only talking about when I was little but it’s about making the music of when I was little,” he says. “If I was 15 and heard that song on the radio I would head-bang to it. I basically wrote it for 15-year-old me to enjoy. This record was the first chance that I could wear my influences on my sleeve and make a record that I would like to listen to.”
HEAL is not a command to ask politely but rather to yell at the top of your lungs with urgency. It’s in that spirit that Strand of Oaks’ Aug. 18 show in Milwaukee was moved from the Pabst Theater to the Turner Hall Ballroom in order to get the loudest performance they could. “It feels like a good room to turn the guitars up and just go as hard as we can,” Showalter says. “I just want to give Milwaukee the best show and right now I think Turner is where that’s supposed to be.”
When Showalter revisits his album Dark Shores from two years ago, he now sees someone unsure of who he was. Rather than go with his initial plan to use synthesizers, he instead created a more traditional folk album. He returned home from touring to find out his wife was cheating on him.
“It took me almost two years to break that denial and actually accept what was happening,” he says. “It came out on HEAL musically. It was the first time I could play the music. I didn’t have the confidence to play the music I wanted to make for my whole life.”
Showalter said it was necessary to get overly personal, including talking about the affair.
“I think it would be safe if I wasn’t,” he says. “I went to some dangerous places in the lyrics and it was a concern of mine and I was scared—it’s not easy writing lyrics like that—but it was necessary.”
A life-threatening car accident late last year made his need to make the record even clearer. During a break from recording the album with longtime producer Ben Vehorn, he and his wife were involved in a serious car accident that left both injured. Showalter had a pretty severe concussion and was on painkillers, but his determination to finish mixing the album led him back to the studio only 48 hours later.
“I think that changed a lot the way the album sounds,” Showalter says. “[It meant] removing any walls and showing the raw nerve of the song, whether it means turning the guitars up more or taking reverb away. It pushed me even further to make the record I wanted to make.”
Showalter says he feels better these days.
“I just wanted to make a change and I wanted to make a bold change,” he says. “That’s what this record has done for me and not just musically or career-wise but just emotionally I feel so much better. When you accept who you really are your life gets a lot easier because you’re not lying to yourself anymore.”
Strand of Oaks plays Turner Hall Ballroom on Monday, Aug. 18, at 8 p.m. with opener Christopher Denny.