Tim Showalter is no stranger to Indiana.
Although based in Philadelphia today, the Strand of Oaks frontman can trace an Indiana through line in his life, dating all the way back to a humble upbringing in Goshen. Having now toured the world playing music, he still embraces his Midwestern mentality, excitedly greeting each and every Hoosier he meets while out on the road.
Ahead of his recent show at HI-FI earlier this month, I chatted with Showalter, learning more about his continued love for Indiana. Read our full conversation below.
SETH JOHNSON: Give me a little background on your upbringing in Indiana. What was it like growing up in Goshen when you did?
TIM SHOWALTER: It was kind of an ideal town to grow up in, especially being a kid. It was kind of the old school thing where you’d stay out all day during the summer, riding bikes and playing a lot of basketball. I played a lot of basketball as a kid. All my family was around, along with good friends. It was really nice, even through high school. I’m really lucky I grew up where I did.
It’s getting to the point now where I’ve now lived outside of Indiana longer than I lived there. It’s almost been 20 years since I moved out to Pennsylvania. Those big numbers catch up with you.
JOHNSON: Was music something that came into the picture during your childhood?
SHOWALTER: Listening, I always was drawn [to it]. I remember watching this movie, An American Tail. I was 4 or 5 when it was in theaters, and [I remember] crying because the music was so beautiful. So it was always there listening-wise.
My mom is a wonderful pianist and singer, so there was music there. But mostly, I just looked at guitars as these magicians’ tools. I just found myself looking at guitars, even when I was 9 or 10. I was just like, “What are those? How do those work?” I never had any lessons or anything, so it was just kind of a matter of, “Where do I put my fingers? If I put them here, it sounds good. If I don’t, it doesn’t.” [laughs]
The other nice thing about what it was like then was … there wasn’t a scene. It was all up to me. And because of that, I could create my own world. [I could] make four different bands and make records onto cassettes that no one will ever hear. It’s very similar to what I do now in that sense.
I never was in bands, and I wish I would’ve been. I wish I would’ve just been the bass player in a basement garage band or something. It just never really turned out that way. And, in the long run, I think that’s probably benefited me.
JOHNSON: What eventually led you to leave Indiana?
SHOWALTER: College. But it’s funny. A lot of people from my town in Goshen were foundational members of the Philadelphia world. It was before my time, in the late ‘90s. But in the West Philadelphia neighborhood, a lot of Goshen people started this pretty famous coffee shop.
So there was always kind of this through line from Goshen to Philadelphia that made sense. That’s how I moved out there. I had a good buddy who was two years older than me, and he was like, “You gotta come to Philly!” So I was like, “Okay, I’ll go to Philly. I’ve never been, but it sounds cool.”
JOHNSON: So it wasn’t too difficult to get plugged in once you got to Philly?
SHOWALTER: It was great because I had some familiar faces. But I’m even old for the Philadelphia scene now. I’m not even from here, but it feels like I am at this point. [laughs] I’ve been here forever.
JOHNSON: I’m personally a fan of John Vanderslice, who you started working with back in 2012. How did you two become connected?
SHOWALTER: We made a record, Dark Shores, together. I got to live in San Francisco for a while, so that was awesome. John is just filled with ideas. That was a big learning experience to how studios work. It was kind of the first real studio I went to. I learned a lot on what to do and a lot on what not to do. [laughs] It was definitely good for the personal resume.
JOHNSON: Sticking in the realm of Indiana, how were you eventually linked up with Bloomington-based record label Dead Oceans?
SHOWALTER: A good thing about growing up in a small town is there’s a good kind of pecking order. There were the older kids and the younger kids. So I really lucked out to have these people that were three or four years older than me in my town. One of them was my friend Kurt Morris, who was one of the first employees of Secretly Canadian. So he was the first guy who sent me Jason Molina records and all that when I was still in high school.
I was kind of familiarized with it, but I didn’t start working with Dead Oceans until I was probably 30. So there was a good gap of time there, but it felt like a good connection when it happened. I was like, “Ah, yeah. It feels full circle that I’m here, in a way." It was just special.
I’m a big proponent of Indiana. Like Kurt Vonnegut says in Cat’s Cradle, “Hoosiers somehow always find each other.” And that’s very true of my world travels. You’ll see me have the biggest smile when I’m at some random place, and they’re like, “I’m from Indiana.” I’m like, “No way!” And everybody else in my band is like, “Oh, God. Tim met another Hoosier…This will be about 50 minutes of loud talking and excitement.”
JOHNSON: I know you worked with Carl Broemel (of My Morning Jacket) on your latest album, Eraserland. Oddly enough, Carl is also an Indiana native as well. What did you enjoy about working with him and all of your other Eraserland collaborators?
SHOWALTER: Well, everyone but Jim James from My Morning Jacket was the band. It was great. Continuing that through line, My Morning Jacket consists of … Bo is from Cleveland, Carl is from Indiana, and the rest of the guys are from Louisville. And Louisville is extremely connected with the Midwest.
There’s just a mentality that we all have, and a work ethic that’s extremely familiar. I see so much of myself in them and our upbringings. There’s truly a shared culture, and it’s hard to replicate that. You can’t force something like that. It just feels very natural.
Author’s Note: In our interview, Tim Showalter mentioned this shared “mentality” that he sees fellow Midwestern musicians having. Is this something you see as well? If so, how would you describe this Midwest musician’s mentality? Leave your response in the comments.