May 2, 2018
By William Glanz
Country punk singer-songwriter Sarah Shook stands out in a way few other country artists have – and she’s okay with that.
Shook is an outspoken, bisexual, vegan, social activist.
“That’s a whole lot of non-redneck shit right there,” Shook told Rolling Stone recently.
Is that all? Nope. She’s also a proud, confident fireball and a single mom. And she’s busy as hell these days because Bloodshot Records released Years, Shook’s second album on the indie label, on April 6.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers emerged from the Chapel Hill, N.C., music scene and the band is on a 50-day tour – its longest ever – to promote their new album.
The tracks on Years are her life laid bare for all the world to see. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
We caught up with Shook recently to ask about the tour, the new album, her powerful songs and how her unique background sets her apart.
SoundExchange: You’ve said that the songs on Years are your experiences – that this isn’t made up. That’s significant because there’s a lot music out there that sounds like it was written by a committee of marketing people. Is it important to you that people know these songs truly represent your life? And if so, why?
Shook: Very much so, yes.
The shit I’ve lived through, the heartache, the torment and failures, they’re only redeemed by the songs I write about them. If not for the songs it would be like all of that was for absolutely nothing. And what a total waste that would be.
Also equally important, everyone is going through some shit. Everyone. If… my songs can help people feel less alone, feel connected to us through shared experiences and shared pain, that is something really damn powerful. You don’t get that level of artist/fan human connection with shitty songs written by nine people on a committee who are in it for the money and the stardom.
SoundExchange: I want to ask about where you fit in country music because you’re not a typical country singer-songwriter. You’re a social activist and you support LGBTQ issues. You’re a vegan. You’re outspoken. Does that make it harder to break through to the traditional country music fan? And even if it does, does that matter?
Shook: No. When the entire basis of your message is “hey, we’re all in this together,” it erases a lot of lines and misconceptions.
We don’t have to be the same. We don’t have to have identical world views or politics or opinions. We’re all out here doing the best we can with what we have and what we know. It’s our personal responsibility to educate and inform ourselves, to evolve into better, more compassionate humans. But we also need to love each other, for all our imperfections, and grow together as best we can.
SoundExchange: In your view, how is Years different from Sidelong, your 2015 debut album (which was reissued in 2017 by Bloodshot Records).
Shook: Sidelong was wide open, we’re gonna burn it all down and you’re gonna listen the f*(!< up. Years is the perfect next stretch of highway in the Disarmers’ trajectory. I dislike the word mature, but this is unquestionably a more solemn and contemplative collection of songs, and there’s a next level tightness in the band’s performance.
SoundExchange: How different is this tour compared to the tour you went on to support Sidelong?
Shook: This tour is blowing my mind. Our first night in D.C. was absolutely packed. The next three nights in Philadelphia, NYC and Boston were sold out, if not over capacity. And the number of people in the audience punching fists upward, crying, feeling everything with me, singing… shouting… screaming the lyrics word for word.
It’s been one of the most powerful, profoundly humbling and deeply moving experiences of my life. That connection and that bond is real and it is undeniable.
SoundExchange: Do you feel good about the reception you’re getting from fans and the reviews you’re seeing about Years?
Shook: Absolutely. I’m always glad to see rave reviews of the album and live shows. But, ultimately, it’s about the music and it’s about the fans. I love touring, and am so very grateful to everyone who takes time to come see us play.