Timothy Showalter is a tough-looking guy with a beard, tattoos and a flat Midwestern accent, who's pretty open about taking drugs. He thinks a lot about where life is taking him.
"I read somewhere that the idea of joy, and to live a joyful life, is different than living a happy life," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Happiness is fleeting. Happiness is something that you're always going to reach for but you're never gonna quite get or be satisfied with."
For Showalter, who performs music under the name Strand of Oaks, "joy" is being fully engaged in life, whether it goes well or badly. His new album, Hard Love, deals with some of the highest and lowest points of his own life.
In the case of the song "Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother," Showalter says, he was reflecting on the lows: Two years ago, his younger brother John was stricken with cardiomyopathy, a disease affecting the heart's muscle tissue.
"When he was having dinner with my parents in Indiana, his heart completely stopped," he says. "My dad revived him to a certain point until the ambulance came, and they induced a coma. So I flew home and proceeded to sit with my family by my brother's hospital bed."
Within two weeks, Showalter's brother had made a miraculous recovery. But the suspense he experienced in the intervening time was consuming — and the strain it put on him inspired the song's title.
"It has nothing to do with taking acid. Strangely, it's the only song on the record that may not have to do with stereotypical psychedelic experience," he says. "The reason why I called it 'Taking Acid' is because it's more psychedelic than any drug could ever give — when you're put in a position of not being in any control, and knowing that you have absolutely no way to help.
"I remember my little brother's cell phone was still on [while he recovered]," Showalter adds. "I didn't read them, but occasionally he would get text messages from my dad saying that he loved him. ... That's this record! That's the idea of what hard love is. You have as high as it gets and as low as it gets."