Alone time down the shore and a lifeline from his friends in My Morning Jacket gave life to Tim Showalter’s newest album Eraserland
Story by Brian F. Johnson
Photo by Alysse Gafkajen
People from Philadelphia don’t head to the beach in New Jersey, they go “down-the-shore.” It’s the exact opposite of Philly’s other colloquialism “up-the Poconos,” which translates to traveling to the Pocono mountains.
But no one — except for extreme fans of the color gray — head down the shore in February, especially to the delightfully-seedy summer vacation spot of Wildwood, New Jersey. It’s eerie, desolate, cold and for Strand of Oaks’ Tim Showalter it was a great place for the Philly-based musician to hit the reset button on life.
After years of touring, a 2017 album that didn’t “land,” and the overall global vibe that followed the inauguration, Showalter found himself just not feeling it. He thought his musical life had crumbled and he didn’t know where his identity without music would land him. “People have said that I didn’t want to make music, but in retrospect, I was worried that the world didn’t want me to make music anymore and that was a lot more scary,” Showalter told The Marquee, during a recent, candid interview. “The soul of me was pretty empty. Fear. I have a lot of it. Everybody struggles with it, I just somehow have a job where I write about it. I’ve been crippled by it most of my life and what’s strange is that I always battle it. I know it’s there and I know it’s dismantling me, but my typical go-to mechanism in my mind is to go to a mode of ‘I will defeat this, through work and sheer perseverance’ and somehow that’s gotten me through a lot of things in my life. But at that time, it was the first time that I didn’t want to fight it anymore and that’s when it got scary.”
Then, a call from his friend Carl Broemel, the guitarist of My Morning Jacket, changed everything. Broemel offered not only his services, but recruited his Jacket bandmates Patrick Hallahan (drums) Bo Koster (keys) and Tom Blankenship (bass) to support Showalter on a new project. All he had to do was write it.
So, with the pressure to deliver songs worthy of musicians that he had admired long before and after a 2015 Strand of Oaks/My Morning Jacket tour, Showalter headed down the shore to get his head straight in the foggy, gray world of the Jersey shore in winter. “It’s amorphous, because the beaches there are a half a mile wide and the fog is so dense you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It turned into like a sensory deprivation kind of thing because there was this nothingness. You just see this blank, gray, but you’re overwhelmed by the sound of the ocean. I would just set out on these pilgrimages every morning and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Heading into that somber dreariness with a modicum of hope and a pocket of psilocybin, Showalter began to turn his fear and self-loathing around, and ended up writing the songs that would become Eraserland, a raw, uber-personal, poignant and heart-rending rock album which almost, not surprisingly, sounds like a lost My Morning Jacket record.
“I’ve talked about drugs too much in my career, but I called it my rock and roll granola. There was a very strong mushroom flavor to my granola in the morning,” Showalter laughed. “And I needed that. I didn’t need any more cocaine, because that was what [2017’s] Hard Love was. I didn’t need any more of that, but what I needed was to have that unbelievable beauty. My mind is very receptive to psychedelics. I found clarity through it. All of the lyrics came from that.”
Showalter said that having his friends from My Morning Jacket come on board for the album made him feel like he’d caught a game-winning touchdown, even though he’s never been a sports guy. “It’s better than fiction. It gave me a reason to rise to the occasion. The record turned out to be more personal than ever, but I wrote the songs with the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be in the studio sitting there playing the bassline — the same guy who played the bass part of ‘One Big Holiday’ was going to be playing it. It was magic for me. I got to have Patrick [Hallahan] raise his arms like he does before he goes into thunder god mode do that on one of my songs,” Showalter said.
If his 2014 album Heal was his recovery from a serious 2013 car accident and Hard Love was his missed-connection drug album, Eraserland seems like Strand of Oaks’ resurrection album and shows an artist that thrives within the yin-yang cycle of catastrophe and triumph. But, Showalter said he wishes it didn’t have to be that way. “I’m not special because I have juicy details for a bio or a press release. Every person at my shows if they were granted an interview would have just as much perspective and life experiences to share,” he recognized. “Maybe that’s why I write these songs. Because I’m definitely not writing songs for the masses to play at weddings. It’s meant for those existential warriors out there, who might feel what I’m feeling. Even if I’m talking so hyper-personal about my life, there’s some kind of narrative that people connect with. It’s not like I got broken up with and I’m sad, or that I’m doing too many drugs and I’m wild. Eraserland is just ‘I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t know why any of us are here.’ It was that larger, more indefinable feeling.”
Go If You Dig:
- My Morning Jacket
- Ryan Adams and The Cardinals