Originally published in Spinner, April 6 2009
by David Chiu
Timothy Showalter has the life of a young singer and songwriter. Under the name Strand of Oaks, he has recently released an album, ‘Leave Ruin,’ and, in addition to touring with his band, he’s also toured with other musicians, including Kimya Dawson and Jason Anderson.
Yet no one would suspect that this long-haired musician from Goshen, Indiana, is also second grade teacher at a Hebrew day school in Pennsylvania. “I’ll be playing a show and just get confused,” he tells Spinner, “and think, ‘Oh, we’ve got that rhyming project due.’ It’s definitely a double life.”
Showalter’s life has taken twists and turns along the way, which may explain why ‘Leave Ruin,’ whose sound is atmospheric and intimate folk rock, is very introspective. He says that he was trying to deal with the rough times in life as he was writing. “I basically kept shifting back in forth,” Showalter says, “between being completely victimized by my own despair or I tried to make something productive out of it.”
He had a lot going in his life on five years ago: Showalter, who is now 26, was engaged, but then the relationship ended and he left Indiana. Shortly after relocating to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he found out that his house burned down through a friend’s phone call. “So it was kind of a final blow to a bad period,” Showalter says. “It felt very finalized at that point. I was like, ‘Now that everything’s gone, it’s a good time to start over.’”
Although Showalter has played music since his early teens, he originally went to college to study drama but then gave up on it. Instead he got his degree in elementary education. “It felt like a pretty natural thing to do,” he says. “The music and teaching happened at the same time because I started taking it more seriously once I got out of college and had a little bit more time to devote to it.”
Showalter was in search of a public school teaching job when a woman from his college suggested the United Hebrew Institute in Wilkes-Barre. He has now worked there for four years and has taught second grade. “They gave this bearded crazy-looking guy a job, which is amazing,” he says. “I really felt like they let me [be] a part of their community.”
On some occasions he’ll also drive the kids in the school van where he would put on music by Sigur Ros and other bands. With the musical accompaniment, he and the kids would have an ongoing narrative whose storyline was inspired by ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ “They love music that are on my [van],” he says. “It’s times like that I can’t believe I’m getting paid for it. I’m thinking, ‘Am I doing something wrong, because it’s really fun.’”
As for Strand of Oaks, Showalter and his band are touring April for two weeks that coincides with his school being off for Passover. While he tries to keep his daytime profession and his musical life separate, Showalter discovered the two intertwined. It happened when the school found out he released a record.
“One of the rabbis came and said ‘I’d like to buy your record.’ [I said], ‘Really? We put some curse words on it.’ [He said], ‘Oh, I’m not going to listen to it with my kids. I just want [something] to drive to New York and listen to.’ That’s probably one of the proudest sales I’ve ever done.”