By Ian Bremner
The Strand Of Oaks brain trust, Tim Showalter is enjoying the release of his newest record, Hard Love which is an ambitious rock n roll record that builds off the nostalgic emotional experience that was HEAL.
More than once, Timothy Showalter has opened up about the struggles that led to his breakthrough album, HEAL and all of the drug-filled endeavors across the world ever since. So much about new album releases are about the head spaces that lead to writing the songs, but often times by the point the record comes out, the artist is already looking forward. We wanted to know what’s going on right now in Tim’s world as he plots out the next year or so post-Hard Love.
As Tim Showalter prepares for the USA portion of the tour, we got to chat about the Hard Love studio vibes and boring indie rock, but more interestingly, things like what goes into the set list every night. His (perhaps) closeted fandom of jam bands like Phish, our equal adoration of My Morning Jacket, and yes, some drugs make their way into the conversation as well.
Read the majority of the interview below, but you can listen to the full extended interview on soundcloud below:
Ian’s conversation with Tim Showalter:
Ian Bremner: I read the Steregum piece –
Tim Showalter: Rated R!
Ian: It sounded like there was some back and forth on the sonic direction of Hard Love, but where do you even find time to work on new music?
Tim: I think I actually spend too much time writing songs. I know that sounds stupid but I feel as though I use my identity as a songwriter as an excuse to not interact with the world. Often times, I spend hours and hours of time in my little room. Writing for me, I swing at a thousand pitches and I’ll hit one, and sometimes not even. What I do is an obsession. I’m not doing my job unless I’m doing it all time. It was good for me to take a break. At this point, which is weird for me, I haven’t written anything for months. Even with Hard Love, I have hard drive after hard drive of just endless song ideas and half finished ideas. It was cool to do all of them but I melted my brain a bit.
Ian: As a baseball fan, I love the “swing at 1000 pitches” metaphor.
Tim: I don’t know anything else about baseball. I do feel kinda cool that I could use a baseball metaphor.
Ian: I guess we have to talk about the record a little bit. As a listener, HEAL was more introspective, hang at home, where Hard Love is more of a windows-down, rock n roll record. How conscious of those vibes are you when you’re in the studio?
Tim: If you were looking at a pie chart, it was 99.9% vibes and and .1% execution. Meticulous preparation or whatever, that was like .001% the purpose of the recording of it. Everything was about not doing anything correctly. We broke so many things in the studio.. I love it. We would just look at each other, Nicholas the producer and I, and be like, “hey do you want me to turn this organ up way too loud?” “YES” “Would you rather sing in this Frank Sinatra German microphone or this $50 broken microphone?” “Let’s do the broken one.” I mean, shit gets super dark on the record, it’s not all a party, but we weren’t thinking, “oh, I have to have the perfect overdub for this.” I don’t think fucking Keith Richards and Mick Jagger labored over this, “it’s not perfect yet for brown sugar!” No, play it, it fucking feels good, move on!
Ian: Love that.
Tim: I’m gonna be honest, we’re facing some pretty sterile times in what rock music is at this point and I wanted to make the opposite of air-pop radio music. I wanted to make the sweatiest, dirtiest, filthiest… I kept saying, I want it to be sweaty. If we’re playing a saxophone solo, I want to feel like being on the verge of passing out afterwards.
Ian: I couldn’t HEAR the beer cans in the studio, but I felt they were there.
Tim: Yeah! Maybe that was selfish, but I’ve never had so much fun in a studio before. I wanted that to translate to the listener. I owe the listener a good time after HEAL. HEAL was a journey. I gotta give them a few moments of “oh, good I’m not reading Tim’s journal, I can actually have a good time.”
Ian: Was Rest Of It the most pure fun song you’ve ever written?
Tim: Yeah. You can hear it. That’s not planned. That’s like seven of us pounding tambourines and yelling. My friend Jason played that solo. That was the first take. I played a solo and it was kind of mediocre, kinda lackluster. Then Nicholas the producer was like, “Jason you wanna play something?” Jason didn’t have anything written and that was the single greatest shred. I can brag about it because I had nothing to do with it, but that’s one of the greatest guitar solos in the last 20 years and he just did it off the cuff.
Ian: There’s a change in tone, a confidence of the record. Has that confidence bled over into the live show?
Tim: It’s beginning to. Part of my confidence is just stepping back. You don’t have to do stuff all the time. I learned that when I was opening up for My Morning Jacket and seeing, “oh man, there’s a lot of space here.” For the HEAL tour, we were at 10 all the time. Constantly at the loudest volume, which I enjoy, but if you’re at the loudest volume all the time then its not loud anymore. That’s what I’m most excited for, stretching it out. We don’t have to worry about songs ending. They just end when they end. I’m going to bat for this band because I got to see Phish for the first time this summer at Wrigley Field. I had never had had an opinion on them, good or bad, but I saw that show and I was like, “this feels so awesome.” I had been a closeted jam band fan my whole life and didn’t even know it. I took a lot from how they listen to one another.
I go to a lot of so called “indie-rock” shows, or whatever the genre is these days, and it’s like, “man, what is going on? Are they even having fun up there? What am I watching? It feels like a chore.” Then you see Jim James (My Morning Jacket) carousing around on stage like some kind of prophet. “Carl is into this shit right now. Patrick needs 3 showers during the show. This is the best. This is what I wanna do.” I don’t wanna be some shoe-gazing precious person on stage. No one wants to see that.
Ian: Speaking to changing your live-show emotion, does a song like Cry ever make it into the set list?
Tim: Oh, yeah. we have a piano version and I have Lilac Wine Jeff Buckley version of it, so it can morph into either one as the night goes. Maybe we find a way to get the whole band involved. I think it’s important to have moments in the set where, the intensity doesn’t drop at all, but it just becomes a different listening experience.
We do these shows every year in Philly (Boot & Saddle) and it’s just me and Jason so stripped down. This year we thought it was going to ask too much of the audience but it turned out to be some of the best shows ever. We did a 17-minute version of JM. Just the two of us playing off each other. It got heavy and deep and that was so informative of how we want to do this. Just feel the night out more. Not have a “set.” That’s so boring. It’s almost like, “I know they’re gonna close with JM, I know they play that last.” Now, we may not even play JM or maybe at the beginning and start the set off with a 20 minute jam. I don’t know. I don’t wanna know. I’ve heard legends of how Pearl Jam does their set lists and it could be ANYTHING, absolutely anything. The fans deserve that.
Obviously I want people to walk way and to have heard everything they wanted to, but maybe they walk away and and say, “holy shit, this is the only time they’re ever going to do that.” I think that that’s so much more special for everybody.
Ian: I think that’s sometimes more important than hearing your favorite song. Being able to take away something unique that fans in the next city may not get.
Tim: Exactly! Again, I’m so new to Phish, but when I saw them, they played Fluffhead. I don’t think they’ve played that song in 9 years. The Phish boards will get on me for that, “actually it was 325 shows ago they played that..” It’s one of their most popular songs but for whatever reason they weren’t feeling it and now in Chicago in the middle of the summer, here it is. It’s pretty badass.
Ian: Living in Seattle, I feel like I’m not properly baptized or something, but I’ve never seen Pearl Jam, but there is so much legend of them here, with the individuality of each show.
Tim: My manager is a giant fan and he flew out to Seattle for last shows they played and was like, “dude… ridiculous.” Let’s give people more than the status quo. I tell my band, “guys, I would rather you completely fuck up, completely get so lost that we can’t get back, than to play the song the same way every night.” I’d take the mistakes over the ordinary. We know the songs. We know the chord changes. It’s not difficult music in theory, there’s a lot of spirit but we need to make it work. Make it grow.
Ian: You kind of touched on it, but are there songs that you weren’t exactly stoked on at the time, but now you love them? Or songs that you loved when you wrote them but now you’re bored of?
Tim: There’s always that potential for song from night to night. There’s nights where I’m like, “I can not hear Goshen on more time.” But I love playing it still. What I really like, on the new record there’s a song Salt Brothers that’s very ominous and has a certain vibe, but it’s become my favorite song to play live. It’s turned into this complete jam. I had no idea there was a jam in that song.
Ian: Speaking to the changes in your live set, you’ve probably played every festival at this point. Besides the crowd sizes and weird set times, have you noticed any fundamental approach differences between festivals vs. the club shows?
Tim: For a band my size, we get 45 minutes. Until you reach headliner status, I think all bands have that time limit so it’s a different kind of challenge, but a fun challenge. Festival audiences are so fluid. It’s not a stationary show. There might be people who are catching you on your 4th song. Or they might have to run and catch whoever else is playing. We kind of have a plan to not play many festivals this year. We kind of want to save festivals for 2018 so we get our headline thing down. By the time they come around next year, we’ll have the confidence in our stage show. It’ll be on!
Ian: Can’t play a 17 minute version of JM at a festival.
Tim: Yeah… and for the last song on Hard Love (Taking Acid And Talking With My Brother) we can’t even play that in less than 20 minutes. The intro alone takes 10 minutes. I’ll find an idea for a solo and who knows what will happen. Maybe we’ll play a late night set at Bonnaroo and be like, “people are into it! Let’s play this for heads only. It’s gonna get deep tonight.”
Ian: Once you’re co-headlining with Phish, you can bust into that one.
Tim: There’s this festival called Lock’n that I wanna play really bad. There isn’t a lot of bands playing, but a lot of bands play two sets. My Morning Jacket played 2 sets over the weekend, which is so cool. They say that festival is what Bonnaroo was like for the first 5 years. I’m down for anything though. We’re a band that works well with festivals because we sort of sound the same in clubs and in bigger spaces.
A lot of my songs, especially the newer ones, I write them for the back of the room. Not the first two rows. Well, a lot of shows we still only have two rows. I always perceive every set being like Madison Square Garden in my weird mind.
If youtube is your preference, listen to the full interview here
Listen to Hard Love