Interview: Sarah Shook on Playfulness, Her Favorite Good Cause, and a Touring Tip

Interviews

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’ outrageously catchy new album, Years (Bloodshot Records) is coming out today, and we couldn’t wait to talk to her about it a few days ago. Shook has a reputation for being a badass. But Americana Highways asked her, after hearing the new album with its funny songs like “the Bottle Never Lets Me Down” (the way you do) and “New Ways to Fail” with its lines “if you had your way I’d be some proper kind of lady… I need this shi-t like I need another hole in my head,” whether there may be more playfulness in the mix this time. “Yes,” Shook replied, “the best kept secret, is that I’m actually playful and mischievous – that’s much more in keeping with my persona.” As she puts it: “I have a ‘Do No Harm But Take No Bullshit’ motto. There’s definitely a sense of humor in my songs that is self-deprecating but they are also based on very real very personal experience.”

Years is the name of the new album but it’s also the name of one of the songs on it. Why did you pick “Years” as the title?    “Two weeks before we were supposed to go into the studio to record I was feeling pretty unsettled, like the album wasn’t complete and it needed something else. All of a sudden this song just came to me.” The song refers to looking for signs, and Shook says: “the sign was the song being needed to complete the album.”

“We track everything live, so there’s a lot of preproduction work before we go into the studio. The rest of the songs had been being rehearsed for weeks.   I sent a message to the band that I had ‘just written this song, and I feel strongly that it needs to be included and it needs to be the title track—are y’all willing to do a couple extra rehearsals to make this happen?’ Everybody said ‘yes;’ it’s great to be supported in that way by your bandmates.”

“We recorded it, and then a few months went by and we had it mixed and mastered, and Bloodshot contacted us to tell us the album was too long.” (laughs)

“In terms of the fidelity of the vinyl, we had to take 2 songs off the album.   We recorded 12 songs, there are 10 songs on Years, but I was determined to keep the song “Years” on there, because even though it was a latecomer it’s the heart of the album.”

Addressing another layer of irony in the tale of the album’s production, Shook relays that “A lot of the songs on that record are breakup songs. It was written at a time when I was still in a relationship with this person who was also still in my band. This person played on the album too. So those were some very intense times.”

To what degree is music therapeutic? “Absolutely. That was what was happening. My general approach to songwriting is to go about my life while my subconscious takes notes without my even realizing it. And when a song comes to me, my subconscious lines up everything in a very concise, visceral way. By the time it hits me, it’s all there –the verses, the melody, the chords, everything is just there at once, my subconscious releases it long enough to sit down and capture it quickly. There’s a sense of urgency to it, and it’s absolutely therapeutic, and cathartic even. I like to joke that I can’t afford a therapist so I write songs! But there’s some truth to that.” And, we might add, the relatable songs provide free therapy to the rest of us, too.

What’s your favorite “good cause”? “Oh, there are a lot. But the one I put the most work into is with my activism partner Erika Libero.   We have laid some groundwork in our local community to provide a platform for women and nonbinary people and members of LGBTQ community. Our goal is to amplify their voices and take this demographic – people who tend to be underrepresented or even marginalized — and give them a platform and amplify their voices in a way that presents them as completely normal. These people are making music just the same as straight white dudes are, they just need more representation. They are just not getting the same opportunities as frequently. It’s been very cool to see the ripple effects of this project. We’ve thrown this festival called “Manifest”  two years in a row, in October. It’s a 2-night, 3-venue festival and last year we had 23 bands. The centralized idea is every band has to have at least one woman or female-identifying member or trans person or member of the LGBTQ community. One of the coolest things that we didn’t anticipate is that all these bands have formed relationships with each other so they have people to open and support them when they are on tour. It’s a very cool and unexpected effect.“

Tell us more about the album. “Ian Shreier produced it, he’s the chief engineer at Manifold Recording Studios in Chatham County NC, he also produced Sidelong.   Manifold is one of the best kept secrets in the area, it’s one of the most technologically advanced studios on the Eastern seaboard. It’s nestled away near Jordan Lake. They’re very private about it, they don’t even have their address listed on their website. It’s a beautiful facility and it’s a wonderful place to record.”

How’s your upcoming tour schedule? “Last March we went on a 2 week tour to and from SXSW, we did 7 shows in 4 days at SXSW and that was the longest tour we had ever been on. That was the first tour we went on after signing with Bloodshot Records and one of the main sticking points with signing with the label was adjusting to the touring schedule, we didn’t have an extensive touring history. That tour last year was the first long tour that we went on. And it was amazing, it was very intense but it was action packed and a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to this year as well.   The tour to and from Austin is looking really good, I’m really excited to play a lot of new places and new towns I’ve never been to. I really like getting to travel all over the place. “

Any tips from the road? “We are very strategic in where we stay on tour. We do a lot of couch surfing.   There’s a whole online community at www.couchsurfing.com. It’s basically connecting people who like to travel with people who like to meet new people. Actually it’s one of the wildest things you can imagine. We have stayed everywhere from tiny little apartment where 8 dudes lived to multi-million dollar homes in gated communities, so there’s a huge range of host situations and housing situations.   You usually have an idea of what you’re walking into. But sometimes you can’t predict. Some people are super chill — just give you towels and leave you alone — and other people want to stay up and hang with you all night.”

What’s coming this spring? “Our album release is April 6th, the show is at the Cat’s Cradle. Then it’s touring and more touring, we’re going to Europe and touring some more in the US through summer. Hope to see you on the road!” We’ll definitely be seeing Sarah Shook & the Disarmers.  Check the tour dates in your area, here.  Get your copy of Years here:

https://www.bloodshotrecords.com/artist/sarah-shook-disarmers

 

 

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