STRAND OF OAKS
“When I was writing these songs, every day I would walk on the beach and I was completely alone and overwhelmed by fear…but then I realized how there really aren’t any rules for who you are, who you’ll become, or who you think you need to be. Eraserland is just that. It’s death to ego, and rebirth to anything or anyone you want to be.”
In December 2017, Tim Showalter was uncertain about his next record and the shape it would eventually take. With no new songs written and lacking any clear vision, he was unprepared for the message he would receive from his friend Carl Broemel, the conversation that would follow, and the album that would become Eraserland. Leading off with standout track “Weird Ways” and his powerful declaration of “I don’t feel it anymore,” Eraserland traces Showalter’s evolution from apprehension to creative awakening, carving out a new and compelling future for Strand of Oaks.
“This project seemed to just fall together naturally,” said Broemel, guitarist for My Morning Jacket. “I felt drawn to Tim’s positive energy and his albums…I threw it out there that I’d be happy to help in any way I could with the record.” Broemel quickly reignited Showalter’s interest in what would become Strand of Oaks’ sixth full-length studio release, and within 24 hours, My Morning Jacket members Patrick Hallahan (drums), Bo Koster (keys), and Tom Blankenship (bass) were also on board.
Revived by the support of Broemel and his bandmates, Showalter felt the pressure to deliver songs worthy of musicians he had admired long before and after a 2015 Oaks/MMJ tour. So in February 2018, he spent two weeks alone in Wildwood, New Jersey writing and demoing all of the songs that would eventually comprise Eraserland. And in April, he went into the studio to record with Kevin Ratterman at La La Land Studios in Louisville, Kentucky, and with Broemel, Hallahan, Koster, and Blankenship as his band. Jason Isbell also contributed his Hendrix-esque guitar work to Eraserland, while singer/songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle provided gorgeous vocals. Every song was recorded live, with all musicians playing together in one room and working to bring Showalter’s ideas to fruition. “I remember sitting next to Tim and Kevin listening to the final mixes with tears rolling down my cheeks,” said Hallahan. “From start to finish, this one came from the heart.”
Each song on Eraserland sustains an openness and sensitivity that is enthralling, bolstered by the exceptional musicians there to realize it and rekindle Showalter’s passion for music- making. The album finds Showalter successfully channeling the full spectrum of sounds within the Strand of Oaks discography, from fast, synthy tracks like “Hyperspace Blues” to epic burner “Visions, the gorgeous ballad “Keys,” and his devastating acoustic performance on “Wild and Willing.” But Eraserland also has moments of pure, upbeat exuberance, most notably on “Ruby,” a rollicking, understated anthem driven by buoyant piano and one of Showalter’s most infectious melodies to date. Isbell’s magnificent shredding is showcased on “Moon Landing,” Eraserland’s preeminent off-the-wall groove, while the album’s title track finds Showalter resurrecting his long-dormant alter ego Pope Killdragon for a striking, synth- laden duet with Rundle.
But in many ways, “Forever Chords” is the definitive track on Showalter’s magnum opus, and the manifestation of everything he hoped to achieve on this record and for Strand of Oaks as a whole. “When I finished writing ‘Forever Chords,’ I felt like this is either the last song I ever need to write, or the rebirth of Strand of Oaks.” Poignant and heart-rending, “Forever Chords” gradually builds toward an emotional release rooted in our own universal fears about mortality, personal legacy, and music as a saving force.
But it’s that first Eraserland line, “I don’t feel it anymore,” that sets a stunning precedent for the most affecting and fully-formed album Strand of Oaks has ever released. Because despite whatever doubts or reservations Showalter had going into the process, he crafted a series of songs so perfectly matched to the musicians supporting it, and so emboldened by his own doubts and insecurities, that the result is glittering, powerful, and impassioned, a moving rock and roll saga that feels substantial and deeply satisfying, vulnerable and self- assured.
Born on the banks of the Mississippi river, Lee’s family later moved to Minneapolis. Following the death of his father in a motorcycle accident when he was 12, Frankie immersed himself in the city’s music scene, appearing onstage with local heroes Slim Dunlap (The Replacements) and Curtiss A at the impressionable age of 14. After inheriting records and instruments from his father’s collection, Lee was – as he sees it – “taught to play guitar by a ghost”. He continues, “I was raised on stage. These guys would bring me into the clubs, sit me behind the soundboard and give me all the coca cola I could drink until they’d call me up for a song or two at the end of the night.”
At the age of 20 Lee dropped out of college, re-invested his soccer scholarship funds in a Volvo Station wagon and embarked on a life-long love affair with America’s open roads. Lee’s first stop was Nashville, where he met Merle Haggard on the same day he drove into town. Lee then moved on to Austin, TX where he spent 6 years working for Townes Van Zandt’s son JT building cabinets. The two became good friends and Lee played his first show at a night hosted by JT. “Austin was a Mecca for me. The scene at the time was bursting wide open with everything from Western swing cover bands to Roky Erikson’s psychedelic garage rock. I was out almost every night for 6 years. There was never an excuse to stay in.”
Soon after he turned 22, Lee was diagnosed with narcolepsy, and was prescribed methamphetamines to counteract its effects. Over the next two years Lee struggled to find a midpoint between sleepwalking and speeding, and developed a serious drug habit in the process he has since kicked. “I ran out of pills for the last time, went to bed for a week, and I haven’t really woken up since,” he laughs. Returning to his nomadic lifestyle, Lee spent a year living in a farm truck and on couches in Los Angeles. Eventually, he was taken in by friend and famed engineer Patrick McCarthy (U2, REM, Madonna). The move proved pivotal in Lee’s songwriting career as McCarthy taught him how to listen and record the music he was hearing in his head.
In 2010 Lee moved back from California to Minnesota to be closer to his family. In a series of diners and motels during the long drive home he penned the songs which were later released on his DIY ‘Middle West’ EP. Lee has spent the last 3 years working on a hog farm in rural Minnesota and developing songs for his debut album. Many of these songs reflect his change in focus from the guitar to the piano, a move necessitated by a farming accident that crushed of the three fingers on his left hand. Of his return to the landscape that is the backdrop of so many of his songs, Lee says, “I’d been gone 10 years. I decided when I got back home, to really go back home, back to the land and the people who shaped me. The people I come from are North Dakota wheat farmers. Hardworking, soft-spoken, Scandinavians who moved to the middle of nowhere with nothing, and of that place made everything they needed. There’s a movement now to get back to that way of living, and if we’re gonna last a while then I think that’s the only way we’re gonna make it.”