For a guy who writes heart-wrenching folk anthems with titles like "Shut In" and "Sleeping Pills," Timothy Showalter is actually a pretty upbeat dude. As a matter of fact, his latest record under the Strand of Oaks moniker, Heal, is downright rollicking at times. You'd think a guy whose personal rock-'n'-roll mythology includes coming home from tours to a burned-down house and an unfaithful wife would be an unbearable (if understandable) sad sack, but the 33-year-old musician regards the lore of his decade-long career more as a series of tragicomic errors rather than the endless well of despair depicted in the media.
"The press is like a game of telephone sometimes," Showalter says. "I read one article where I've been married like three times. I look at [Bob] Dylan, and sometimes he said he was born in Mexico or was a gypsy's child or whatever. I just talk and see what happens. It's nice to have really terrible things turn into good things, which is songs. It's a form of being productive rather than killing yourself."
Considering Heal's centerpiece, "JM," is dedicated to the late Jason Molina—the Magnolia Electric Co. frontman whose life was cut short by alcoholism in 2013—it's hard, on a first listen, not to wonder if the man behind the music is going to be OK. The cognitive dissonance between the subject matter and the record's widescreen approach to barnstorming Americana, however, is immediately disarming. Whereas Showalter spent his first few records airing out deeply personal issues over achingly spare and melodramatic arrangements, Heal sounds like a record written by a man who would rather invite his personal demons over for a jam session and some Jim Beam instead of wasting time running away from them.
âItâs a lot easier to change your music than your life,â Showalter says. âItâs a lot easier to put on a sweet-sounding psych record instead of a Red House Painters record than it is to fix a relationship. Thatâs a lot harder. I think thatâs probably why Iâm a musicianâyou can always put on a new record. Itâs just that easy.â