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Strand of Oaks, a Self-Professed Alien in the Music World

3 Aug

By Natalie Gallagher

Timothy Showalter, the man behind the Strand Of Oaks moniker, is a self-professed alien in the music world. The Philadelphia-based artist has been self-releasing gorgeous, layered records that adamantly defy the boundaries of the traditional folk genre—and he keeps changing. 2010’s Pope Killdragon was a synth-laden record delivered from another planet, lyrics laden with ice and ancient dust; the follow-up Dark Shores was meant to be a sequel, but instead the synths are forsaken in favor of a different type of strangeness.

Dark Shores is tremendous as it echoes within its starkness, and the title track in particular is as eerie as it is stunning. If movie execs were to choose a song to play in a movie about a team of astronauts that landed on a new planet a thousand galaxies away in order to find a new habitat for humanity after earth had been ravaged, it would be “Dark Shores.” Seriously, it’s that kind of unexpected epic awesome.

Cake in 15 caught up with Showalter to discuss the album, self-releasing, and touring with The Tallest Man On Earth.

Photo by Adrian Bischoff

So, you just released Dark Shores, and I have to say, it’s a beauty. I know genres suck, and I feel really weird about calling Strand of Oaks “folk-rock” because it’s not traditional at all. This does feel a lot different from Pope Killdragon.

Dark Shores is kind of a work in progress. It’s finished now, but I initially envisioned the record to be a sequel to Pope Killdragon. I went to the studio last fall and I had these huge parts, and I recorded it, and came home and I went on tour for the rest of the fall. Then when I got back I wrote the lyrics, and when I wrote the lyrics, they didn’t fit with that music anymore, and it quickly became apparent that the synthesizers were never going to marry well with the lyrics, so things had to change.

John Vanderslice was interested in producing the record and I just kind of put the songs into his hands creatively. They feel sonically heavy, but stark at the same time, and I think the voice needed to be at the top of the songs.

You’re based in Philly, and to be completely honest, I don’t hear a lot of music like yours coming out of there. Tell me a little about how you arrived at your present sound.

[Laughs] I think I’m kind of an alien. I think there’s something that’s just very strange about me, and I think as I get older I’ve learned not to run away from it. It’s kind of how my mind works. I’m originally from Indiana, and where I’m from is kind of out of the way. There were no punk rock shows, there’s no scene, so you were kind of left to fend for yourself. I just found a huge mix of records, and I wasn’t basing anything around what the cool kids were listening to. The benefit in the long run is listening to everything, because I never knew what I would like.

There’s a lyric from the song “Dark Shores” that I love: “I spent most of my life wandering the wasted hour.” I think that’s a beautiful line, and I love that song—it’s so eerie. Is there a story behind it?

I feel like… “Dark Shores” is intentional. It kind of set the template for the rest of the writing. It just has a weird bit, like ice moons… I think of my grandfather who passed away, and he was just like this badass Viking dude, and I like to envision him on a cloud throwing lightning bolts. I just got to thinking, like, am I building anything here? I think that’s where the songs actually came from.

This is your third album, and the third time you’re self-releasing. What’s your take on going on a label?

I think each situation calls for a different approach. You have to assess each record as an individual project. When it came to Dark Shores, we had a lot of label interest, and they were giving us timelines of when things might happen and what things would be getting changed, and it just didn’t work out this time. I wanted to be proactive instead of waiting for something to happen or to be finalized, and it truly was what needed to happen for Dark Shores instead of waiting for next fall to get it out.

You’re touring in support of The Tallest Man On Earth. How has it been being on the road with Kristian so far?

Amazing. I love him. We love to talk. He’s a guy you want to be around, and from the moment I met him, I knew it was going to be a good thing. I wasn’t super familiar with his songs, so I’m able to get to know Kristian as a friend and as a performer at the same time. The songs are just constantly running through my head, he’s amazing.

Awesome. So, tell me, what’s next for Strand of Oaks?

A lot of shows. I think I’m going right back out after The Tallest Man On Earth for another national tour. I’m kind of in the midst of writing another album already, but I want to let Dark Shores breathe as I continue to grow.

You can catch Strand Of Oaks when they open for The Tallest Man On Earth on Monday, August 6 at First Avenue. 7:30 p.m. 18+. This show is currently sold out.


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