Strand Of Oaks On Getting Sober, Grief, Keith Jarrett, And Other Inspirations For His Reflective New Album

Merrick Ales

Strand Of Oaks On Getting Sober, Grief, Keith Jarrett, And Other Inspirations For His Reflective New Album

Merrick Ales

Under The Influence is a new revival of a very old Stereogum franchise, in which we ask artists to talk about the inspirations behind their albums. From other music, to film, to novels, to stray notes left behind by friends, and who knows what else, this is what’s on people’s minds when they’re writing the songs we eventually come to know and love.

When Tim Showalter recorded the final song of his last Strand Of Oaks album, 2019’s Eraserland, he drew a line in the sand. “Forever Chords” was the album’s sprawling, all-encompassing closer — a nocturnal journey deep into memory and the solace of music that, in its way, summed up much of what Oaks had always been about. It was a conclusion, but it wasn’t the end. All it meant that whatever came next for Strand Of Oaks, one arc had been closed. Now it was time for a new chapter.

Showalter’s new album In Heaven is both a synthesis and a maturation. The songs came to him in sparse, acoustic forms. In their earliest iterations as demos, they suggested an Oaks that was a lot more restrained than the fire-breathing rocker Showalter had fashioned himself as from Heal through Hard Love and onto Eraserland. With that trilogy behind him, Showalter took the lessons from those years but also rediscovered core elements of the music he always wanted to make. A little more rustic, but still cosmic; a little more organic, but still psychedelic.

While In Heaven could’ve become an altogether quieter album, it grew when he brought in his collaborators for the recording. Teaming up once more with Eraserland producer Kevin Ratterman, Showalter also intended to use My Morning Jacket members Carl Broemel, Tom Blankenship, Bo Koster, and Patrick Hallahan as his backing band, as he did last time. The pandemic partially foiled those plans, leading to Showalter and Ratterman tracking rhythm with Cedric LeMoyne on bass, then bringing in Broemel and Koster to add guitar and keys. (Showalter also got James Iha, from his beloved Smashing Pumpkins, to play on “Easter.”) The result is an album that feels deeply personal and human, allowing those stories to conversationally unfold in the twilight before, ever so often, using more celestial sounds to transpose them up into the stars.

There remain many relatively unadorned and subtle songs on In Heaven — its powerfully direct opener “Galacticana,” the John Prine tribute “Somewhere In Chicago,” the grainy meditation “Horses At Night.” But from there “Carbon” conjures a ragged Waterboys bar-rock lacerated by violin, while “Hurry” is one of Showalter’s most graceful and efficient drug zone-outs. There are surprises in the album’s second half. “Sister Saturn” is a bug-eyed, hallucinogenic synth-rocker with a robotic funkiness underpinning hook after hook. Most notably, the hypnotic churn of “Sunbathers” becomes one of the most evocative Oaks songs yet.

Despite the different moods and directions, it all hangs together in what may be Showalter’s most refined and consistent collection of work yet. In Heaven is an album you need to sink into a bit more, bring along for the ride when you’re getting lost in thought on solo drives. There are still plenty of old Oaks favorites to reckon with from the past several albums, but in the near future it feels like In Heaven could challenge Heal and Eraserland as his finest work. To celebrate its release, we called up Showalter and asked him about the inspirations behind what just might be the best Strand Of Oaks album.

Grief

TIM SHOWALTER: I guess this is a good heavy place to start.

You lost your cat Stan around the same time you lost your mother-in-law. I was thinking about the concept of grief on this album vs. something like Heal, which has a lot of trauma on it. Going into this you were trying to make a happy sounding album, right? How did grief impact you while you were also trying to avoid making, say, explicitly funereal music?

SHOWALTER: That’s what was so confusing for me all the time. I still believe it to be the happiest record I’ve ever made. I was reminded often by [my wife] Sue, she was like, “Be careful saying it’s this happy record.” It’s joyful at times, but there’s still the maybe saddest moments. I think “Jimi & Stan” is the most heartbreaking song I’ve ever written hidden under the happiest vibe. With Heal, with Hard Love, it was extremely reactionary — but the difference is I walked away from the car crash on Heal, and Sue did too. I didn’t go over the edge on Eraserland and Hard Love. The difference between those albums and In Heaven, is it happened. Sue’s mom is gone. It’s permanent. It’s so much more real.

It almost felt like I kept missing the real consequence for all those things. The trucks didn’t kill me and Sue in the accident. It didn’t turn out that way for Sue’s mom. That’s part of why I think this album has more empathy. I can’t reason death. That’s what was so hard for me. I can’t fix this. I can’t bring Sue’s mom back. I can’t take back the sadness Sue’s family had to go through. I felt helpless, and I think that helplessness led to being a lot less selfish. So I feel this extra responsibility — which I needed, I needed to fucking grow up, to not live in this ouroboros of my problems eating my problems and being more focused on my problems and whatever existential drama. All of that just gets minimized when there’s real death and true tragedy. I had to grow up, and I had to be there. Because Sue was always there for me, even when I was insane.

Lyrically, the whole record — of course I’m in there, I’m always in there. But it’s coming from a completely different angle that Strand Of Oaks has never done before. I had these songs just begging the universe, “How do I make this OK?” I miss Sue’s mom every day of my life, but it wasn’t my mom. It was the mom of the most important person in the world to me. I had to take the responsibility of, I have to fill a lot of roles now. I have to be Sue’s family, her husband, her friend. Nick Cave said that grief is the price of love. I think about that like, “Man, I feel so emotional and raw because I lost things I loved so dearly.” I’m thankful I got to love those things so much.

That’s why I kept saying it’s a happy record. I have spent 15 years celebrating sadness and monopolizing on my problems — sometimes very big, but a lot of times very manageable and small. That’s why I always said this album, in my mind — the only way I could write it and rationalize it is, you can feel sad if you’re heartbroken, but here I just had to celebrate Sue’s mom, and my cat, and the people I got to love in the first place. Celebrate the fact that I’m not dead, and I want to live. So grief has such heavy connotations, which is true, but like most things in my life it is not a singular emotion. It’s the same thing as “JM.” I’m laughing, and crying, and screaming. I’m standing on the precipice of the Grand Canyon and there’s a thunderstorm rolling in and I’m flipping off the thunderstorm. That’s how I live. It’s maximalism. Grief, in my life, could also be celebratory.

You’re going through these things in your personal losses, but there’s a lot of other ghosts on this album — John Prine on “Somewhere In Chicago,” Jimi Hendrix twice over, Jeff Buckley in “Sunbathers.” Then with the album ending with “Under Heaven,” there’s just a lot of meditation on death and loss overall. How did those figures become involved, mingling with your own life?

SHOWALTER: The oldest song on the album is “Horses At Night.” I had written that in maybe December of 2019, I had played it on the road before. I was writing this song and it was so specific about the universe. The first verse is Sue’s mom, and the second verse was me dealing with what I was just talking about — spending so many years feeling bad for yourself, way too inward-focused. The third verse came out and I was trying to summarize a way bigger feeling than I knew how. I looked up, for some reason, Jimi Hendrix’s last concert. It was Sept. 6, 1970, in Germany. I have no idea what strange parts of my brain thought that should fit in the third verse, but I did that and then I thought about refracted light, the idea that whatever you’re looking at now is a reflection and it’s also in the past. We’re always witnessing the past.

I imagined Jimi Hendrix’s show refracting into the universe — and it may not be scientifically correct, but I imagined how the last sounds he made onstage were 50 years old and wherever 50 light years away is there’s aliens and they hear that performance and it’s amazing. It sounds kind of funny, but it’s so serious in my brain, because I think that might happen with Sue’s mom’s voice, or everything that we love. My grandma’s voice is however many years into the universe. There’s an eternity to that that makes it strangely comforting in whatever rationale I work with.

John Prine was my Midwestern Dylan. Dylan was from the Midwest, too, but he’s always associated with New York and this higher art and this poetic intelligentsia. But Prine talked and sang like my dad talks, and my uncles and my mom. I grew up in northern Indiana and I heard John Prine sing like someone I could relate to. I wrote “Somewhere In Chicago” in the next two days. It started similar to that same place as Jimi Hendrix and aliens. I thought about John Prine just walking around Chicago, having a great day. I was so sad. I had never met him or anything. But I was so sad we didn’t have John Prine anymore. In my way I wanted to memorialize it and wrap it into my own experiences. Heroes, they’re always there. It seems like a broken record sometimes I keep going back to that well. But when I run out of words or things to say, I project it onto idols, almost Catholic imagery of saints and stuff. Jimi Hendrix, John Prine, Jeff Buckley, Jason Molina, they’re saints in my church.

The Acoustic Guitar

There is a subtlety, or a subdued quality, to so some of these songs relative to other recent Oaks albums. Did you find solace in the actual sound of the acoustic guitar, or was this about reconnecting with the instrument in a different way?

SHOWALTER: I think it was the latter. For some reason, I wrote this script for myself in 2013 when I was writing Heal that I’m this bearded rocker. I’m loud and I’m an oversharer and guitars on guitars on guitars. I think I was exhausted by Strand Of Oaks, to a certain extent. I would listen to R.E.M., and not just the acoustic guitar but an acoustic feel — a breezier, lighter feel. Electric guitars can be oppressive within a song, if too many are in there, and you listen to them for 11 songs’ worth. You get a saturation level. I was listening to Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, or when Paul Weller does “That’s Entertainment” for the Jam. It’s like, holy shit, this Ovation sounds like the future.

From a much more clinical standpoint, I realized the range I sing in is so tied with the frequency range of an electric guitar that they almost cancel each other out on recordings. I have a very loud voice. I’m never going to claim I have a good voice; I will claim I have an incredibly loud voice. I think it was on Eraserland when we did the acoustic song, I was like, “Man, my voice sounds so much more like I hear it in my head when I play acoustic.” I just started writing songs around that. With the original demos, I had this vision of being extremely stripped down. Then, of course, if you go to Kevin Ratterman and our relationship and you have Carl and Bo and Cedric and James Iha, we’re going to have some fun with it. The record still holds what the demos did, we just added a lot of fun on top of it. Most songs, even the rockers — maybe besides “Sister Saturn” — are based similarly to how you hear a song off Automatic For The People.

You’ve mentioned having an R.E.M. moment — you actually covered “Imitation For Life” for us last year. R.E.M. specifically is not something I ever really thought about in the Oaks universe before. You were talking earlier about having to grow up, and Automatic For The People feels like this pivot in their career for me. Were you drawn to certain moments or albums like that?

SHOWALTER: I think it was just a matter of… I calmed down a lot in the past few years. Then you realize gentleness can be heavy. A song like “Somewhere In Chicago” can be just as heavy as “JM,” but it’s done with a more colorful and subtle approach, perhaps. When I say acoustic guitar, it’s really a code word for me: letting go of the necessity that, in order for me to convey all the big thoughts in my head, I needed to use thunderous guitars and 17 keyboard parts. You know, Gillian Welch is doom metal. David Rawlings’ guitars are just as doom-y as Matt Pike, it’s just in the context of it. Gillian just switching two words around, that’s just as powerful as any of the loud music that I love. I think I took a cue from that and ran with it. Then it was the obvious ignition point: When Kevin and I hang out with each other, there’s no other place to go but the galaxy.

Dave Macias, the owner of Thirty Tigers, has shepherded this whole record into being. I showed him the record when we were done in Los Angeles and I was almost like, “Dude, I’m sorry, I don’t know if I gave you the wrong impression I was making a folk album.” He was just like, “This is exactly what I thought you could make.” I was worried he thought I was going to make, you know, an Americana album. Much to my delight they said this what they wanted — and it’s what I wanted, because it’s my true vision. I thought I can’t be like I was during my first albums, or something. Now, with perspective, I just think I can be all of what I am. I’m comfortable with all of it. I got a lot stuff out my system, to quote My Morning Jacket. I think I’m much more connected. I love my electric guitar, but it sucks because I think I’m better at playing acoustic than electric. I want to be this shredder, but when I sit down with an acoustic and I can fingerpick on a 12-string, I can kind of be a fancier guitar player, strangely enough. It was nice to bring this back.

In Heaven‘s Producer, Kevin Ratterman

You said when you get together, you go to the galaxy. This is your second album working with Kevin. Tell me about your relationship with him, what do you think he brings out of you vs. past collaborators?

SHOWALTER: Kevin came into my life at a time where I needed Kevin so badly. Making Eraserland was such a cathartic… he was just there for me. He was there for me as someone I knew who was going to love me in my raw state and dark mindset. Eraserland is a dark record. Strand Of Oaks is such a solitary tower I’ve lived on. Then I found Kevin, and Kevin is just an extension of me at this point that I never thought I would find. He’s right there with me, and five steps ahead of me. With this record, we were in Los Angeles, in bathing suits and barefoot, laughing and being goofballs, eating ramen and listening to late-era Miles Davis. Just being two buddies having the time of our lives but at the same time digging so deep into both our experiences and sadness.

Kevin’s from Kentucky, we’re about the same age. The first time I was hanging out with him, he was opening for our band with his band Twin Limb on the Hard Love tour. I asked Kevin, “You ever been in any other bands?” He was like, “I played drums in this band called Elliott.” My heart stopped. I said, “Kevin, the first night I saw Sue, I was at an Elliott show at Cafe Metropolis in Wilkes-Barre.” He was playing drums on the False Cathedrals tour, which is my favorite album of that era. He was the best drummer I’d ever seen. I remember seeing Sue and thinking “Who is that!?” I didn’t see her again for another year, and then I met her and we’ve been together ever since. That is some cosmic shit right there. I didn’t even know that was Kevin. We’d been connected for that long and didn’t even know it.

[The recording] was during the pandemic. We got tested almost every day. We didn’t see anyone. And we just stayed hunkered down in his house. We’d go to the beach — that was all we would do, run around with the dog and be the only ones there. The rest of the time it was just us together. Carl we never even saw. He worked the whole time from Nashville. He needed it too. He could go to his backyard in Nashville and record his parts. It was actually a fun working environment. With Eraserland, everyone had to be there because Bo only had a week, so we had to get all of this stuff tracked fast. This was a totally different work experience. We were originally going to have all the Jacket guys on the album again, but it just couldn’t happen with the pandemic. It worked out to be such a unique experience.

We made rhythm tracks and I did some ghost vocals and we sent those to Carl and said, “Hey, you got three weeks, have fun.” We gave him some directions, and he would just go to the office by himself and he’d be making his magic. It was so fun, we would get these deliveries. Here’s the best guitar solo you may have ever heard in your life. Besides acoustic rhythm tracks and one or two guitar parts, it’s all Carl. Carl and Bo played more on this album than they did on Eraserland, because there was time to layer. In Heaven feels kind of like Heal in that it’s a studio album. Heal was making all the parts and playing them as well as I could. Now it’s a Heal situation except Carl Fucking Broemel and Bo Koster are let loose.

Getting Sober

What do you think this changed about the process of songwriting for you?

SHOWALTER: It’s weird with albums. You and I are talking about me two years ago, when I don’t necessarily remember. I toured all of Eraserland without alcohol. But I wrote Eraserland in a very severe spot of my problems with alcohol. Maybe the peak of it. So it was strange touring Eraserland without drinking. In Heaven was the first album I ever wrote without alcohol as my best friend. I could go on and on. The problem is that alcohol just made me… it made me fucking emo. Everything was dramatic and what the fuck, swinging everywhere. I wasn’t in control, booze-wise. It was really tough when I stopped drinking, to realize that I’d missed so much life. I thought I was having fun, and I was sometimes, but I missed so much. Writing an album, I just thought — so naively, so unfortunately with the mythology of what artists should be — it’s gotta be all burning down around me to get the good art. Oftentimes I would look for drama.

I was never mean. I just got, if anything, more chatty and more gregarious and more wanting-to-be-the-mayor. What I ended up doing is I just gave so much of myself, and not in any controlled fashion. What I realized on the Eraserland tour is first I thought I was boring. I thought, “No one is going to like me anymore.” I’m still talkative and I’m still me but I’m not jumping on the stage and being the wild man and talking to every fan every night until people went home. Sometimes the fans were probably thinking “I need to go home, why’s this man still talking to me. What is the matter.” Once that was taken away, I realized I wasn’t boring. Full disclosure, and I feel responsible to say this: I don’t drink anymore, but I still do other fun stuff. I just stopped the thing that was going to kill me. That other stuff definitely helped with the writing, but it wasn’t the reason I wrote this record. It wasn’t the central creative force. It was just another element to add different colors to the album.

But I thought I couldn’t write lyrics unless I was completely messed up. I thought I had to channel some vibe lord living in the sky. I gotta pray to the chaos lord here to make the lyrics come. I feel real proud of my lyrics on this one. They’re cohesive and they’re focused and really convey something that goes well beyond me better than I ever have. I’m not trying to say I’m anything other than I am, but I was proud I did those without booze. Again, when I said i was emo, I was emo in the way of, “I’m going to talk to myself and blah blah blah.”

Part of the reason I stopped drinking is I knew I had to put down Stan. I knew I couldn’t do that drunk. I couldn’t do that to him. It was three or four days before we put Stan down, and I stopped drinking. I had a hangover, and I was like, “I cannot be wasted when I have to say goodbye.” Then I stayed with it. I was so scared. I did Colbert two weeks after I was sober. I was horrified. I thought I couldn’t do it. Jason Isbell’s there. One of my heroes and inspirations. Musical big brother. I was like, “I’m not going to be able to do this.” Before I said anything to Jason — I hadn’t told anyone besides Sue and maybe one or two other people that I wasn’t drinking anymore — the first thing Jason did when he saw me was say, “You look good, did you stop drinking?” It was the first thing he said. I was trying to play it cool and not get teary-eyed. And I was like, “Yeah, I stopped, I’m fucking scared.” Then I realized, man I just went on TV with him and Amanda [Shires] and Bo and Tommy [Blankenship] — my friends were there, for a real scary thing for me. It was awesome to play Colbert, I hope I get to do it again. That’s the magic of this stuff. You realize you don’t need the chaos. You can walk over and the person who’s written your favorite songs can recognize it in you.

It was so hard on the Eraserland tour. I think I played good shows, but I was a wreck. I was like, “I’m not me anymore.” It was harder to stop than I thought. It wasn’t until I moved down to Austin and I started getting out of that cloud of recovery, then the waterfall opened up. I just got to enjoy the benefits of clarity of mind. Enjoying, “Oh, I can write lyrics and better songs.” More concise. It was purpose. I didn’t want to make a jammy album. I wanted them to be focused, laser-pointed songs — that’s, again, where the R.E.M. influence came in. You listen to Reckoning or Murmur? They are assassins as songwriters. There’s not a wasted moment. For instance, “Hurry” is six minutes long but you better believe part of me wanted it to be 27 minutes long. That noise section, Kevin and I were like, “Are we going to make this 15 minutes or 30 seconds?” I was like, “Should probably go with 30 seconds, let’s do that.” There was a lot of new me. Back to the acoustic guitar thing, I let go of a character I thought I needed to be.

Moving To Austin

SHOWALTER: I went to SXSW in 2019. I brought Sue. It was right after Colbert, Stan had just died, we’re in the thick of grieving her mom. This is the first time we got to be somewhere else. We got down to sunny Texas and went to Willie’s ranch and Scoot Inn and Mohawk. All the highlights that one would find. It was the filet of South By. We were walking on Red River and Sue was the one who said “We should move here.” I was like, “Yes, let’s move here.” Didn’t even think about it. We were somewhat temporarily insane. You know, when you’re sad. I lived in Pennsylvania longer than Indiana. That’s me. That’s my identity, that’s my band. I didn’t necessarily want to leave, and I’m still not quite sure why I left. But we just needed to leave and get away from that sad apartment. On a whim, we bought a house.

We bought a house in July of 2019. I was not very smart. I thought it would take us a long time to buy a house. We could buy a house within a day of getting a realtor. Then it was like, “Oh, I still need to tour through September.” Didn’t plan that one out that well. We played Brooklyn Bowl in September of 2019, drove the van back, slept for two hours, woke up Sue, got our three kitties that are still with us, and just drove straight to Austin to our house. So we got here, and it was cliche as it gets, but I literally kissed the ground. My sweet little house that needs a lot of work — I just love it. The second I got here, I was like, man, I needed the heat. I literally needed the Austin sun to burn away some of the sadness. And it did.

I was always hesitant, except on Pope Killdragon, to say my environment influenced my art, because I thought that was cheesy for a second there. “I looked at the Rocky Mountains and wrote a record.” I’m never that person. But I did. Austin made this album. Being here, having new friends, having a house. I can plant flowers and play in my garage and go out in the desert. There’s something that feels like I should’ve always been here. That’s always just Austin as a spiritual realm. Let alone it’s just fun to live here. Austin is a big party town. But most of my friends here don’t drink. We’re just slamming waters. [Laughs] My treat is I’ll get a Coca-Cola halfway through the night. I’m getting crazy now.

You’re talking about the lifestyle change. Some of the music, like “Carbon,” has this rustic feeling to me, or “Sister Saturn” being inspired by Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury synth-southern-funk thing. Being down there and outside of this old Philly scene, do you find yourself drawn to some of the sounds more associated with that part of the country?

SHOWALTER: You know what, I think I could live on the moon and still be from Indiana. You cannot take the Hoosier out of me. I realize as I get older. I realize a lot of the nice qualities have come from my family and being from where I’m from. I’m nice to a fault sometimes. Paul McCartney and the janitor of the venue could be in the same room, and my dad would be just as nice and just as excited to talk to both of them. There’s literally no difference. At this point, too, my brain has always been a mixtape creator. Everything gets mashed up together. I listened to Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball constantly. But then there’s always a point, “And then Tim does acid.” [Laughs] Then Talk Talk and Miles Davis and all that comes in. The demo is before that, aaaaand then I just go sail the sky for a while. That’s why I called it “Galacticana.” First of all, “Americana” is such a broad type of music. I’ve never been that. I get in the UFO with the aliens, that’s my version of Americana.

Painting, Jazz, And Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert

Another big life change is you started painting.

SHOWALTER: I think what it did was similar to what I was talking about with the acoustic guitar, and how I’m able to break the script I’d set for my life. I always had this strange reaction to calling myself “an artist.” I felt like it was inauthentic. It’s probably Midwest, you’re not allowed to brag or be too fancy. I always have that fear. Even though I have all these big thoughts, I then mask it like “Aw, shucks, I’m just lucky to be here, I’m from Indiana.” I’m going to avoid a lot of bigger reality by just being overly nice. What painting did was it allowed me to be conceptual again. It allowed me to be really comfortable with saying, “I’m a normal person from Indiana, and I’m very proud of it, but I’m also an artist and a conceptual thinker.”

I listen to Miles Davis’ Big Fun a lot more than indie rock. I’m not going to make a Miles Davis record, because I can’t make that, but I’m more comfortable now with allowing those influences. Yeah, I looked a lot of Gerhard Richter and Hilma Klint when I made this record. Basquiat. I listened to Pharoah Sanders and deep heady jazz from the ’70s. Cecil Taylor’s piano playing is just as much there as R.E.M., you just don’t hear it because I can’t play like him. That’s what painting did for me, and it also — I just manifested something. I’ve been doing that ever since I stopped drinking. Just saying, “I’m going to learn how to paint.” And I did! One of them is going to be in a gallery soon. Again, I’m not bragging. It’s just encouraging people: Say you’re going to do something and go for it. Everyone says this. Every musician is like, “I’m a painter now!” It’s obviously been said, but I can see why. [Laughs] You can sit alone for seven hours in your 100 degree garage.

The record that’s changed my life the most in recent memory was: Bo looked at me and said, “How are you not listening to Keith Jarrett?” He gave me The Köln Concert. It’s a completely improvised piece of music. He sat down at his piano after a massive amount of problems that occurred in his day. He was sick, he was late, it was the wrong piano, it was out of tune. He’s a meticulous performer, so he was almost going to cancel it, until he was convinced to do it. He sat down and made, in my mind, a Mozart-level creation. As perfect and transcendent music as possible. I’d have his song playing constantly when I was painting, when I was making the record. I listened to it four months straight every day when I was painting.

Thom Yorke once spoke about how he pivoted to playing piano because he was kind of ignorant of it, and he could get something different out of it — in turn a reference to a Tom Waits quote. It’s not quite the same dichotomy here, but at the same time that Strand Of Oaks maybe got to a fuller realization of your vision, you had this other activity you were sort of figuring out from scratch.

SHOWALTER: They were definitely together. It goes back to that script you think you need to write for your life. I just got to the point where I was like, “I’m so much more than what I think I am.” I can provide more for myself and for my art. Lyrically, musically. Eraserland, I mean, come on — if there’s not a more personal culmination record. Singing about your heroes for records, then you get to make a record where your heroes saved your life by making a record with you. You get to do it in the same room as My Morning Jacket. Those that know about Jacket know. For me, that was as important as anything I’ll ever do. But, at the same time, that was the end of something. When we finished “Forever Chords,” I looked at Carl — he was the one who said that’s the take. I was like, “Alright, that’s it, that’s the last song of this Strand Of Oaks era.”

I remember you saying that when we talked about Eraserland. Like, it could’ve been the last song you wrote because you didn’t know what it looked like after that.

SHOWALTER: In a lot of ways it was. Maybe the folk album is 1.0, Heal is 2.0, and this is 3.0. How do you continue on with an era and a sound when you close it off with “Forever Chords”? Then I was in this position of, where do I go from here. It’s liberating. I put the ultimate seal to end it. Then the songs just started coming, and they had nothing to do with prior songs. There’s elements, and it’s kind of like all my career is this record, but at the same time it’s a brand new band.

There was a moment when I got really emotional in the studio with Kevin when we were making “Horses At Night” and we added a string synth part to the chorus, and synth bass. That was the sound I tried to make with Killdragon. An acoustic guitar with synthesizers. That’s what I envisioned in 2009 or whatever. When we were doing it with “Horses At Night,” I was like, “I finally did it.” This is the sound I’ve been looking for. I didn’t know how to make it on Killdragon or HEAL, but I finally found this formula. In a way it’s full circle but it’s also a brand new whole thing. I’m so freed from the commitment of what Strand Of Oaks is and to make “Goshen” again. That fear of will labels, streaming services, anybody like me if I stop writing Replacements songs. I was really afraid of that. I thought, this is all people want out of me. Then I stopped caring about that, and I wrote a song like “Somewhere In Chicago.”

This is what I want to write. This is what I want to make. This is who I want to be now. Not to get too inspirational speaker, but that’s a thing everybody should do. I’m not restricted. You can just tear the manual up. When I talk about “generational anxiety” — all my grandparents were born on farms, and all their ancestors were farmers. All these years of people scared the harvest isn’t going to come in. This anxiety passed down for generations and it finally lands to me. I’m not going to have a fruit harvest go bad, but I still have that same fear. It was there in all my records. I want to break that cycle. I can be something else. I finished it, very proudly, with Eraserland. Now it’s new. This is the next part of my life.

Merrick Ales

In Heaven is out 10/1. Pre-order it here.

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