No matter the circumstances, no matter the person and their methods, everybody needs time to heal. We find solace in company and in solitude, we reconsider our direction, we put our headphones on and release ourselves momentarily of burdens and commitments. Tim Showalter’s chosen technique is self-assessment through his music; except with the intent to aid the healing process for as many people as he possibly can. And rather than delicately tend to his wounds with cotton swabs and kisses, on HEAL he took a more heavy-handed approach. “I ripped out my subconscious, looked through it, and saw the worst parts. And that’s how I got better.”
Labelling the record as “scream therapy”, Showalter delves into his past and its meeting with his present, using volume, crashes and his own pained voice as instruments of purging. With the additions of an amassed gaggle of great music minds – including producer John Congleton and Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis – what’s delivered is an ambitious, striking dosage of release. Mighty drums that recall the strained pleas for absolution of yesterday’s power ballads, bursts of diamond-cutting synths and lapses with which to charge them, the music of HEAL has been bred as a tidal wave to batter us, beat us, and remove us of air – all so that we may cast off our unwanted cargo like dust into the wind.
Noted: You have described your new album HEAL as being “scream therapy” – could you elaborate on what it means to you to be able to relive the more traumatic experiences you’ve had, and why you would consider it therapeutic?
Timothy: In the past I’ve approached songwriting through some filter or heavy metaphor. I got to the point where my songwriting style was exactly how I was living. I was hiding everything I should’ve been feeling and just living in some kind of haze. It finally boiled over and then I was faced with the darkest parts of my “self” that had long been denied. Through the songs I was able to give all those feelings a name and hence try and remove their power. It’s no different then getting a splinter in your hard and having to remove it. You know it’s going to hurt really bad, but if you don’t it will fester and become infected. Writing this record was not a tender process, it was extremely painful. But the actual songs are some of the least depressing songs I’ve ever written. I felt joy because I faced the darkness.
Noted: As far as playing these songs live, do you think that insistent nightly reliving might end up watering down said trauma? Is that the intention, to faze it out, or is it more to keep them at your mind’s forefront so you can shape yourself around them?
Timothy: Great question. I’m actually playing my first show with these new songs tonight. I’ve thought about this a lot during band practice and wondered how I’ll act when singing these. I feel best about myself when I’m playing live so it’s probably the most healthy place for me to deal with the trauma. I’m at my strongest and most focused and I feel prepared so much more than my domestic life. The way the record is designed is really conducive to the live shows. I’ll be singing a set of heavy lyrics but then I get to click on the distortion pedal and shred on my guitar. It’s turning into this powerful call and response. I don’t claim to be a great guitarist but my solos are able to say things that my lyrics can’t. When I’m singing I’m too focused to really get that emotional but when I just play guitar I tend to let more emotions in. It feels like a warm bath.
Noted: Though steeped in your nostalgia, HEAL seems like your most polished effort yet in terms of production value. Was this a conscious goal of yours sonically speaking? Would you consider HEAL to be the album you’ve always wanted to make?
Timothy: Yes, HEAL feels like a culmination of the past ten years of making music. I always try my hardest on any recording but when it came to HEAL, I feel like I was able to unlock something sonically that I’ve never been able to reach. I’m at the point where I know what I want in the studio and arranging songs feel more natural. Also given the caliber of people that I worked with it allowed me to reach those goals. After three records I was beginning to understand the importance of the studio and how to allow myself to give in to the moment and just capture what was in my head.
I’ll be singing a set of heavy lyrics but then I get to click on the distortion pedal and shred on my guitar. It’s turning into this powerful call and response.
Noted: J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr fame provided the lead guitar on ‘Goshen ’97’ – how did this partnership materialise, and was his involvement a way of connecting the track to the past which it details?
Timothy: My label asked if I would like to collaborate with J on a song. That’s the equivalent of asking thirteen year old me if I wanted a stack of Playboy’s and a dirt bike. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I don’t have many musical heroes but J is one of them and he melts the room with that solo.
Noted: You’ve previously heralded the world-domination ethoses of the likes of Sigur Ros, U2 and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. To that end, would you prefer performing to and sharing experiences with a massive audience?
Timothy: My GOD yes. I would feel like such a phony if I didn’t. I wouldn’t make music or lose my mind and money touring if I didn’t believe in it 100 percent. There are a lot easier and calmer ways to live. So naturally I’m proud of my records and proud of my band and I want to share that with as many people as possible. There are reasons why those bands are huge. Because they offer both an individual and collective experience for the listener. I work so hard to bring that even at a smaller scale. And honestly playing to more people means I don’t have be constantly broke, so maybe that’s the real motivation.
Noted: As your own sound and ambitions expand, is there any venue or city that you haven’t played yet that you’re dying to? Do you consider yourself to be a traveller, or do you identify more with the hermit crab?
Timothy: I live two distinct lives. When I’m home I’m definitely a hermit almost to an unhealthy level. I walk constantly around my little town but rarely venture too far out. But the second tour starts I’m ready to be a pirate. I feel just as comfortable in both worlds. I don’t think there is a particular city or venue that I would like to play. Rather I dream about creating the right experience. I want to be at the level when we can play a venue with great sound, awesome lights, and reach for the songs fullest potential and impact. That’s my dream.
Noted: Do you see your tenure as a musician-by-trade remaining a constant in your life?
Timothy: Whether my checking account agrees with the decision I really can’t do anything else. Making records and playing music is the closest I’ve ever been to good at something in my life. I understand how it works. I have so many more records to make and my goal is to keep sustaining the band so I can keep making music at the quality that I think it deserves.
Noted: Is there anything, whether professionally or personally, that you still want to achieve on a life-affirming scale?
Timothy: So many things. Professionally, like I said before, I just want to grow this band and keep chasing whatever creative energy that is always in my head. Personally I’m not sure. I can talk for hours about music but I still have trouble when it comes to the personal part of me, if that even exists anymore. Talk to me in a year and I might have a better answer for you.