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“It’s not as bad as it seems.”
On the opening track from Timothy Showalter’s sixth career album as Strand Of Oaks, Eraserland, the above line rings familiar. It’s more than just the fact that he’s used it before, placed prominently in the chorus of the brutally honest Heal tune “Shut In,” where he offers the comforting phrase to juxtapose the details of past bouts of depression. No, it’s more than that, as those words are the same that might have been uttered by parents after a first heartbreak, by an employer in a cold conference room while softening the blow of a passed-over promotion, or by a lover delivering the life-changing news that they are moving across the country. It’s meant to provide solace, whether we tell it to ourselves or hear it from others, the reality is that in the moment, how it seems is all that matters. When pushed to the brink of disaster, it’s impossible to get away from our own perception. Words of solidarity fall dead and flat like leaves off a tree in winter.
When Showalter sings this line, it sounds like an earnest reminder from a man who’s been pushed to the edge and keeps surviving. During the process of his breakthrough 2014 album Heal, he outlined how a near-fatal car crash, an unraveling marriage, and substance abuse struggles led him to new lows, only to find a way through the darkness via music. After a record that piggybacked on newfound success, 2017’s Hard Love, Showalter sank like a brick to even deeper depths, where his future in music was as uncertain as his own survival.
The day before we speak by phone, news broke that Talk Talk leader Mark Hollis had died, prompting Showalter to post a confessional reflection to Strand Of Oaks’ social media. “I’ve mentioned before how I escaped to the beach in Wildwood, NJ in order to write the songs for Eraserland,” he wrote. “Well I also was either running away or confronting a very dark and pretty hopeless bout with depression. It’s hard for me to process or really understand how low I had gotten but it’s safe to say I’d never been more lost in my life.” The post goes on to detail how Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden album soundtracked a moment of clarity, where he realized that despite emotional pain he was experiencing, he was going to be okay. In short, he could finally understand that it wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed.
The story of Eraserland is present in the album’s lyrics, even if Showalter didn’t know it when he was writing it. The first line on the record, on the gorgeously sprawling career-highlight “Weird Ways,” is “I don’t feel it anymore,” and by the time the ending rolls along on the expansive and shimmering closer “Forever Chords,” Showalter’s declaration “I hope it never ends” feels earned. It’s not just that some friends noticed his withdrawal and reached out to collaborate musically, specifically a number of the members of My Morning Jacket (Carl Broemel, Bo Koster, Patrick Hallahan and Tom Blankenship), in a move that facilitated his return from personal disaster. It’s also about regaining a lust for music, and for life, on his own terms. When Showalter swears that “I won’t go down so easily,” on the mammoth “Visions,” he’s putting his money where his mouth is.
In the below conversation, Showalter outlined the crisis that led to the best album of his career, as well as the power of the music of Talk Talk and his affinity for lookalike Jason Momoa. The conversation has been edited from clarity and length.