“Heal,” the ultra-personal new album from Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks, doubles as a soundtrack to the musician’s life, tracing his evolution from Smashing Pumpkins-worshiping teen (the freewheeling, guitar-driven “Goshen ’97”) to conflicted adult relying on the music of Jason Molina to ward off depression (“JM”).
“Most of my memories are linked to music,” said Indiana-native Showalter, 32, by phone from his home in Philadelphia. “I put on Sunny Day Real Estate the other day ... and I hadn't heard it for about six years, and it instantly took me there. It was like a time machine.”
You adopted a true-to-life approach with “Heal.” Did you find that reflected in the media you consumed during recording? Were you reading more autobiographies or watching more documentaries?
That's a good question. I was so [bleeping] crazy and in my head that I don't remember a lot of what I was doing. But I do know on the darker nights I would fall asleep … watching Richard Pryor's “Live on the Sunset Strip.” I think I watched it 150 times while making this record. When I get really sad, that's the only thing that brings me back. That and McChickens.
I imagine documentary subjects experience some discomfort when they see themselves onscreen. Do you have a similar sensation when you listen back to the record now?
I'm going to go really nerdy on you. Vikings in the past would make these runestones — stone monuments that documented normal things that happened, like, “Today we cut down trees. One guy died in the river. We built a canoe.” For some reason they put them up all over just to mark the places they'd been. In my head the other night I was like, “'Heal' is my Viking runestone.” It absolutely is a time capsule of whatever was going on in my mind this past fall. I now forever have a document of that time, and I feel good about it.
You spend a lot of time on the record dwelling on your faults. Do you find that easier than discussing things you've accomplished?
Man, we're just laying down on the old couch right now. I have this thing — I don't know if it's a Midwestern tic or what — but you're never allowed to brag about yourself. I can't stand being around people like that anyway, but I've taken it to the extreme where I'm quick to make myself the butt of the joke so I feel more comfortable in a social setting or an interview. I'm confident in what I do, but it's hard to express that outside the action of making an album or playing [a concert].
Growing up in small-town Indiana, were you required to worship John Mellencamp?
[Laughs] I'm choosing to plead the fifth on our patron saint because ... I still want to sell tickets in Hoosierland. “Scarecrow” has its moments, but there was someone up in New Jersey that did it a little bit better, so I'll leave it at that.
There's a strong Chicago connection on the record between the mentions of Smashing Pumpkins and Jason Molina.
A lot of people forget I was only like two hours from Chicago; I could see the glowing lights of culture on the horizon growing up. I'd go there with my family when I was little, and later I'd sneak out with friends to go to shows there at Fireside Bowl. I was always in Chicago, and it still feels very close to me. I’m surprised I’ve never lived there. I’d still like to someday.
Billy Corgan has been heavily involved in professional wrestling as of late. Do you think you could take him in the ring?
[Laughs] No way. He's gotta be like 6'5” [or] 6'6”. I've seen pictures of that guy holding a Strat, and his hands can wrap around it like four times. I'm a tough mother[beeper], but I think he's got the reach on me. And he's got that anger. I don't have that much anger in me.
Were you much of an athlete growing up?
I was a pretty decent basketball player, and I liked to hit people so I think I would have been a good football player. My grandpa was an old-school farmer, and the most we ever talked about feelings together was when he said, “Well, Tim, if you ever get sad just lift some weights or go out and get some air and you'll feel better.” That was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars of therapy. I get a lot of emails from people who like my music, and they send some pretty honest and personal messages about tough times in their lives. The only thing I can ever tell them is get the [bleep] off of Facebook ... and go on a walk or a jog. You'll feel a thousand times better.
Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic @andydowning33
Strand of Oaks, 8 p.m. Aug. 17 at Schubas. $12.