a chance meeting with Strand of Oaks in San Diego

Last night proved to be interesting in San Diego.  I started my day in the most unlikely of places and ended it much the same way.  Drew Brees Celebrity Championship in Rancho Santa Fe is not my idea of a good time, but that is where I spent the first part of my day for a work event.  After presenting to 50 or so executives on the perils of tape backup and some forced conversation about technology, weather, the cost of higher education and skiing in Colorado over lunch on the golf course, I drove to my hotel by the airport and changed into my real uniform…jeans, t-shirt and hoodie.  Back in my own skin, I planned to have dinner in the Gaslamp with my parents before hooking up with a friend I had met in Peru some years earlier.  But the night was just not going to cooperate with my plans.  Dinner was a disaster because there was only one guy working the whole restaurant; evidently he was the only one to show up to work.  Then my friend got held up at her job and because hanging alone in the Gaslamp is not my scene, it was back to the hotel for me.  But as it happens I passed an old friend along the way. The Casbah.  A venue I used to frequent with a fake id back in the day. And it just happened that Strand of Oaks were opening for Joe Pug$12 cover. Newcastle in hand. Live music. It seemed the night knew where I belong after all.

It was around 9:45pm or so when I got settled in the tiny venue.  San Diego‘s own Gayle Skidmore had a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered for her sweet, indie folk songs.  I had never heard of her before but she has a very strong voice that put up a good fight against the jets flying overhead through her set.  Gayle was hanging out later talking about the lack of camaraderie among female artists on tour and I have to say she is a unique beauty.  I only caught a few songs and spent a few minutes in her presence but she seems like someone with a huge personality and smile to go along with it.  It was nice to see an independent musician who wasn’t jaded or despondent…an attitude that proved to be the norm last night.

Timothy Showalter and his guitar took the stage as Strand of Oaks around 10:15pm.  I was expecting a band but was not disappointed that this turned out to be a one-man show, especially when the one man turned out to be such a gifted storyteller.  Introducing himself to the 15 people in front of him and the 20 or so others flanked on either side as ‘Tim‘ and this band called ‘Strand of Oaks‘, he went right into Kill Dragon from last year’s excellent Pope Killdragon.   A song about a woman giving religion another chance because she has nowhere else to turn.  This was followed by Last to Swim (I lost all my teeth last night And held them in my hand Cavity filled and crumbling It happens more than I understand) before he went into some older material with Lawn Breed Songs (about guilt and a dying father) and Leave Ruin from the album of the same name.  So as you can probably guess, these aren’t happy things we’re talking about here.  Tim writes from the heart and there are dark things in that heart of his, but they are real things and we can all relate. And that’s what good folk music is about, right? And ‘fuck it the world is ending in 2 days‘ anyway.’

Refusing to let go of the ‘band’ persona, Tim continued to refer to everything as ‘we’, as if his words alone could convince us he was not up there alone.  But it didn’t matter what pronouns he decided to use in between songs, it was the stories that had our imaginations going.  No matter what he said he couldn’t convince me of a ‘band’, but I could picture him driving a busload of 2nd graders to class blasting Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  I could picture the kids reciting tales of dragons, danger and adolescent adventures to these post-rock soundtracks.  When the subject matter turned to the ‘costs and benefits of malt liquor’, I wonder how many others in the audience could taste the Crazy Horse coming out of the wide-mouth 40 oz. bottle…could actually taste it even though it had been some 15 years since that awful brew had touched their lips.

The long-haired, bearded ex-school teacher could not have been more serious when he spoke about the worst times in his life, times when a ‘40 oz., no dinner and little bit a depression’ were the perfect poison.  Drinking himself to sleep every night.  But we couldn’t help by laugh and clap.  It was the delivery.  There is no doubt the self-described ‘approachable misguided lumberjack’ had seen what my high school history teacher called ‘blanko canyon’, or what others call ‘rock bottom’, during his 10 years in the hard business of independent music, but he was no longer there.  With a Pitchfork “Best New Music” rated album, a loving wife at home who supports his passion both emotionally and financially and a voice and songwriting skills that should make every Fleet Fox run back into the woods, his biggest problem might just turn out to be inspiration for depression inducing stories.  Somehow I doubt that will be a problem though.  He ended the set with Bonfire, dedicated to his ‘beautiful wife’ whom he has not seen in a long time.  The road is hard and paved with broken dreams, but for this ‘band’ the future does look bright.

Joe Pug was up next and to be honest I have never been a huge fan.  I’m not sure why this is.  He’s got a great voice, he’s an excellent songwriter and his brand of indie folk/rock is my type of thing.  But there’s just something that doesn’t click for me.  Maybe it’s because he’s too pretty for this type of music.  Ok, that’s a joke, but if you do want to know about his music, check out Fuel/Friends…it’s a great blog and Heather is a huge Joe Pug advocate.

The Fuel/Friends house show was how my conversation with Tim started.  We were over by the merch booth and got to talking with some kids in the local band, The Howls.  Tim was a part of Heather‘s house and chapel sessions and he was joking about how her son fell asleep during his set.  This led to conversations about the pros and cons of house shows, being independent vs. being on a label like his friends The Rosebuds, booking agents vs. labels and other band related things.  It seems when Pitchfork gives you a good rating, you get calls from 15 labels in one day and that can be a good and bad thing.  If a band is not ready for this, they can implode (see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) but when you have been doing this for 10 years, you can probably handle the hype.  Tim prefers to sell a record and put his money in his own pocket though.  So far it’s working for him.  It was interesting to talk with these guys, one a semi-successful touring musician and the other a band trying to break out of the San Diego scene.  I hope to continue these conversations soon, so look for an interview or more information…

We cut our conversation short last night as one or another Joe Pug song drew one or two of us back into the main room and I have to say I really did enjoy his set this time around.  I might have to give this guy another chance!

Strand of Oaks:
Kill Dragon
Last to Swim
Lawns Breed Songs
Leave Ruin
Alex Kona
Daniel’s Blues
Two Kids