Where:Toyota Music Den
Hard Love,Tim Showalter's latestrelease as Strand of Oaks, is a record that explores thebalancing act between overindulgenceand accountability. Recounting Showalter'sdecadent tour experiences, his struggling marriage, and the near death of his younger brother, Hard Love emanatesan unabashed, raw, and manic energythat embodiesboththe songs and the songwriter behind them."For me, there arealways two forces at work: the side that's constantlyon the hunt for the perfect song, andthe sidethat'snaked in the desert screaming at the moon. It's aboutfinding a placewhere neither side is compromised, only elevated."During some much-needed downtime following the release of hisprevious album, HEAL, Showalter began writing Hard Love and found himself in anow familiar pattern of tour exhaustion, chemically-induced flashbacks, and ongoingdomesticturmoil.Drawing from hislove of Creation Records, Trojan dub compilations, and Jane's Addiction, and informed by a particularly wild timeat Australia'sBoogie Festival, he sought to create a recordthat would merge all of these influences while evoking something newand visceral.Showalter's first attempt at recording the album led to an unsatisfying result - a fully recorded version of Hard Love that didn't fully achieve the ambitious sounds he heard in his head. Herealizedthat his visionfor the albumdemanded collaboration, and enlistedproducerNicolas Vernhes, who helped push him into making the most fearless album of his career.Throughout the recording process, both Showalter and Vernhes maintained an environment that pairedmusical experimentationwith a mindsetthat defiedShowalter's previous studio endeavors:the atmospherehad tobe loose, a celebration of the creative process and a reinforcement of the record's core themes. "In a time of calculation and overthinking, I wanted to bring back the raw, impulsive nature that is the DNA ofso many records I love."And in keeping with that loose, hedonistic vibe that encompassesso much ofHard Love, Showalter looked to his best friend, Jason Anderson, whose musical prowess and expert shredding augmented the unrelenting energy that would become the record's backbone.This uninhibited andcollaborative studio experienceled to the most dynamic album in Strand of Oaks discography, moving beyond Showalter's original conceptfor a singularly feel-good record to something more complex and real.For as much as Showalter wants this record to seem like a party, it'smore than that.It feels like living. "You went away...you went searching...came back tired of looking" is how Showalter begins the title track, a sentiment that epitomizes Showalter's own mentalityin beginningHard Love. And as the record progresses, so do the themesof dissatisfaction and frustration with love, and family, and success, and aging, both in personal experience and songwriting. "Radio Kids," Showalter's infectious, synth-driven ode to youth and a time when music represented something pure and uncomplicated, perfectly encapsulates his desire for escapismfrom both his adult responsibilities and a world he no longer recognizes. But if there's a sun in the Hard Love solar system, it's "On the Hill,"a psychedelic, celebratory homage to three days in the excesses of thatmind-alteringBoogie Festival. "On the Hill" capturesthe true zeitgeist of how Showalter wants this record to feel. "It's like I had to fly across the world to find out who I was...it was all about getting loose, and connecting with people on a primordial level...letting go of all the bad things, losing your inhibitions, and figuring out what it means to be alive."The accumulating intensity that Showalter crafts throughout this flagship track seems to effortlessly
achieve an almost hallucinogenic ambiance,with images of lighters beinglifted, concert-goers embracing, and the magnitude of the moment eliciting nothing less than mass euphoria.And then, there's "Cry." "Eventually there's this crushing reality of what it means to hurt someone, what you did to hurt someone...you're not the victim anymore, it's not romantic, it's not a narrative...you just realize you're the cause of problems." This noticeable shift in the tone of Hard Love - a heartbreaking, piano-laden ballad with thechorus "Hey...you're making me cry" - is a sobering reality check in Showalter's universe.And as Showalter struggles to reconcile his youthful desireswith the realities of adulthood, we're eventually led into the final death rattle of hispervasive partying, "Rest of It." With itsloud, raucous arrangement of sing-along vocals and searing guitars solos, "Rest of It" emerges as Hard Love'sflawless manifestation of an exceedingly fun, belligerently drunk night where you try to forego life's responsibilities and have one more good time. Muchof Hard Love was either written or conceptualized duringShowalter's post-tour break, ashe reveled in the memory of what he considered to be life-changing experiences.Butit was during thisperiod that hereceived devastating news: his younger brother, Jon, had suffered massive cardiac failure. "He was 27years old at the time...it happened out of nowhere. I flew out [to Indiana]and stayed in the hospital for almost two weeks. They said he had a 10% chance of surviving and they had to induce a coma to prevent brain damage. Sometimes he would start to wake up and look me in the eyes...it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But he got better. That's all that matters." In so many ways,it only seems fitting that Showalter'spsychedelic journey, his awakening to drug-fueled excess, the loss of inhibitions, the inevitable reality check, and his subsequent last hurrah be capped with his darkest, most life-affirming experience yet. The title of the record's final track, "Taking Acid and Talking With my Brother," represents Showalter's last-ditchattempt at reconciling his personal life and his impulsions, craftinga clear connectionbetween what were previously considered trippyexperiences and the now extraordinary surrealism of witnessing his younger brother's medical emergency. And as Hard Love comes to its conclusion, it becomes that much more obvious that the singer/songwriter has grownto something larger and more momentous, craftinga passionate, brazen, and fully realizedrock and roll record that capturesthe escapism ofsexand drugs while offering anequally sincere perspective on the responsibilities, complications, and traumasthat punctuate our lives and force us to evolve. "Some records are built like monuments, set in stone...I want this record to be burned in effigy, I want it to be burned in celebration of the limited time we have on this Earth."