Pope Killdragon and the Dream Synthesizer Album
Sparked by this creative firestorm, Showalter found himself with a stockpile of songs. Not only was it enough for Leave Ruin but also the follow-up, Pope Killdragon. Released in 2010, Pope Killdragon finds Showalter shifting gears and working towards making his dream album, one that experimented heavily with synthesizers. Though he was helped by a producer, he played all the instruments.
“I thought for years and years that I never heard a record like I wanted a record to sound and this was my opportunity to make the record I always wanted to hear,” says Showalter. “I wanted to make a record that mixed the parts of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake I love and German pioneers of electronic music and the Blade Runner soundtrack and other bands that make synthesizer music.”
Showalter wanted to marry very real personal songs with strange stories, strange sounds and heavy metal songs into an intriguing group of songs. The name Pope Killdragon, like the songs, came from a strange place. Originally creating the name as a joke, Showalter began sympathizing with the life of Pope John Paul II.
“It sounds goofy but I started empathizing and that’s really how the story took shape coming from a bizarre and weird place but I started feeling for him.”
As far as sonically, he knew he wanted to include synthesizers. Unlike guitars, synthesizers remind him of a very peaceful place.
“When I hear synthesizers, beautiful vintage ‘80s polyphonic synthesizers, it takes me to a place in my mind that really is peaceful and feels safe and overwhelmingly beautiful. And the possibilities of what those instruments can do. When I was working on Pope Killdragon I had songs that required that arrangement. I finally got to bring that together.”
For Showalter this album will always have a special place in his heart.
“It represented me not listening to anyone else and not listening to what other people thought,” says Showalter. “It was a time that I didn’t give a f***. I’m like ‘I’m going to do whatever I want and I don’t care if people like it, I don’t care if people understand it, but I need to write these songs.’ I could die tomorrow but I made that record and Pope Killdragon will always be that for me.”
When it came to writing Dark Shores Showalter didn’t want to forget what made Pope Killdragon but he says its part of the artistic process that you keep writing.
“I always think of Neil Young when he made Harvest and it was so good but he didn’t stop there, he made everything else and kept going. I like people that are in it for the long haul. It’s an art I go for. Dark Shores is part of that art and I’m not sure where I’m going next but I know it’s going to be something that when I leave this world in how ever many years that I want to leave something behind that I can stand behind proudly.”
Finding a Vision
Strand of Oaks has and always been Timothy Showalter. But on Dark Shores, he feels his vision for Strand of Oaks is the most realized it’s been yet. While Leave Ruin and Pope Killdragon found Showalter tackling various instruments, Dark Shores finds the songwriter taking a bandleader role and surrounding himself with superb talent.
“When I went to Tiny Telephone with John Vanderslice I knew that everyone else could play better parts than I could,” says Showalter. “I could have played the piano part, I could have played the bass part as I had written all of them but I knew that the people I was surrounded by were better than me. It’s a really nice place to be in when you can let go of any ego or intention that you have and give them to more capable hands.”
Showalter says John Vanderslice made things safe for him and that he could let go as the others would “do it justice and do it with dignity.” While it took about six years for the previous two albums Dark Shores took only one to two months to write and record.
“That was a very important learning experience of learning how to let go and when to let go. I think I let go too early in Leave Ruin. When I listen to Leave Ruin now it’s not quite the record that I want. I felt I gave up control to the wrong people at the wrong time in my life and the record is beautiful but I want more out of it.”
Emboldened by the unexpected success of letting go on Dark Shores and creating something very beautiful, Showalter says he might end up rerecording Leave Ruin at some point to get it exactly how he felt it. That isn’t a surprise given Showalter’s continuing efforts to experiment and explore his songs.
“He’s always tinkering with his sound and band arrangement because I think these songs continue to grow and live and haven’t been fully realized yet,” says Matteson.
While Showalter doesn’t think the way Dark Shores was recorded will be a model for all his future albums, he’s glad that he did it at least once.
“It was good to do it once to learn as a person how to trust people and trust the right people to complete your vision,” says Showalter.
Setting No Limits
Showalter doesn’t have any plans to stop or set any limits to what he can accomplish.
“This is all I do – this is what I live for, and lose friends for, I have trouble in my marriage for and I go crazy over,” says Showalter. “I have this blood thirst for creating and I need to create because I don’t know if I can function if I don’t. But that’s for the greater good I think.”
The past year has taught him that through working with others, or the collective ego as he calls it, he can mold his band into whatever form is best for the songs.
“It’s really understanding the group that you need to be with and what the record calls for and project calls for and letting go of yourself and giving up to the whole,” says Showalter.
He also doesn’t want to put limits on what the live show could be, whether it’s in the current duo with drummer Chris Ward or a dream nine-piece band.
“I don’t want to put any limit on what live could be. The live experience is very precious and important for people who are deciding to take a night and go pay money and see someone I want to give the best possible show. Whatever it calls for I want to be up for that challenge.”
Working live with others can make his job much easier.
“When I tour with Chris Ward I call him my drum therapist because it’s really like therapy,” says Showalter. “He makes me comfortable with what I’m trying to do as a songwriter and performer.”
While he encourages outside ideas from others he doesn’t think Strand of Oaks will ever be four people writing together as a group since that’s not what the band is about.
“I feel that Strand of Oaks is this extended projection of me relieving myself of thoughts and therapeutically getting rid of problems through song. That’s my journey that I have to go on.”
With that journey, each day is a new lesson on how to be a musician and person.
“I have so many things to learn as a musician and as a person. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time as a person. I think I’m more comfortable as a performer and making records than I am a friend or husband or anything,” says Showalter. “I think that’s why music works for me because it feels more natural to me than living in the real world. That’s probably not very healthy but that’s part of it.”
Showalter is already working songs for a new album, anxious to keep documenting what his mind is doing. Though it probably will change numerous times, he says the new songs currently sound like Paul Westerberg of Minneapolis rockers The Replacements singing in front of the atmospheric Blade Runner soundtrack.
“I’m very fickle and that’s a strength and weakness for me,” says Showalter. “It’s exciting to see where things can happen.”