Listeners to NPR’s “Morning Edition” not too long ago may have been surprised to turn in to hear musician Timothy Showalter talking with show host Steve Inskeep about taking drugs.
“I got more phone calls after that,” Showalter said. “I did feel weird because I talked about drugs on ‘Morning Edition.’ I asked the host, Steve, ‘Have you talked about MDMA on the show a lot?’ He said, ‘No, never.’ ”
The reason for the interview was the release last month of “Hard Love,” the fifth album from Strand of Oaks, Showalter’s musical project. His U.S. tour in support of the record lands in Spokane on Thursday.
“Hard Love” marks a departure for Showalter in several regards.
“Feels like the only theme of this record was ‘reaching out’ instead of ‘reaching in,’ ” Showalter said in a recent interview. “That sounds really vague, but I feel the record is kind of vague for me. I want to save that mystery for a little bit because my last one was so much of ‘the story,’ and the origin of where the songs came from. This one, I kind of like not knowing where the songs came from, or what they’re meant to say. Maybe in two years I’ll be able to tell you what that song is about.”
“Hard Love,” certainly is more upbeat than its predecessor, 2014’s “Heal,” which was deeply personal and honest. “Hard Love” is still deeply personal and honest – at time brutally so, as when he sings of infidelity and his brother’s near-death experience – but sonically, it’s more electric.
As he told the music website Sterogum in February, he wanted to move away from “confessional Americana”: “I’m sick of being the sad white guy with an acoustic guitar.”
To do that, he did what he hadn’t done much of in the recording studio: He got himself a band.
“The new sound simply came from collaborations, and just inviting the world into the recording part,” he said. “In the past, my records had always been so individual, and just me playing most of the instruments with me tucking myself away in some corner of the world. I always called it my Hobbit hole.
“It’s such a simple answer: Me having my best friends come to the studio, and working with a really genius producer (Nicolas Vernhes, The War on Drugs, Spoon), my wife coming up on the weekends, it was much more of a joyful collaborative experience.”
The process of making “Hard Love” was one of the most satisfying of his life, he said. Looking ahead, he’s thinking he’ll do it again.
“I think you get lonely. I got lonely,” he said. “You get really tired of that once you get a taste of what it means to have people in the studio together, with ideas bouncing off of one another. Sometimes it can go in the wrong direction, but it you align yourself with the right people, five ideas become one great idea.”
Before he can even think about he next album, he’s headed out on tour. After spending a few weeks in Europe, Showalter and his band are winding their way across the United States and back again before heading to Australia next month.
And that is what he’s most excited about: bringing these songs into the light on stages across the land. “I feel like these songs, the record people are listening to right now, that’s the beginning of these songs lives,” he said. “I am beyond excited to play these live and be in front of people. … We have enough songs as a band that we can really switch things up and keep things interesting for the audience, and ourselves, too.”
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