Watching Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’ star shoot straight through the atmosphere is righteous. Shook is a lightening rod for radical southern folks who’ve always felt that country music belonged to them. On the new album – just released today – she deepens that connection with a simple, furious mix of blood, sweat, and fucking tears. And yet it sounds effortless. If you’ve been following her, you know that Shook only operates at 11 but with a wit and chill that would impress Dottie Parker, and it is paying off. Buy her albums and find out for yourself, but, also, read on for what Shook told us about being in a band in demand, her new music, and life on the road.
From my perspective, your visibility and popularity as a band has skyrocketed. What’s that like for you and the band?
It’s totally weird and totally rad. We’re all pretty flexible and prepared to change things up and we’re definitely ridin’ the wave like crazy over here!
How was SXSW this year?
SXSW was super great this year. Had an absolute blast kickin’ things off in Austin with the Bandsintown Big Break showcase, the Bloodshot Records showcase at the Continental Club, and so on. We played 6 shows in 3 days and it was nonstop good times. The Brooklyn Country Cantina party is always a blast and I got a damn decent amount of two steppin’ in between all the madness!
My favorite SXSW moment though, my band had just played on the rooftop of a riverboat and this group of folx came up to me and told me they used to come see my old band when we had a residency in Carrboro, NC, like 8 years ago. They had all since moved to Austin and when they saw we were playin’ they grabbed tickets straight away. Such a cool small world moment and super humbling. We’ve come a long damn way.
What does your new album do differently? How have you expanded your sound?
In essence I think the fact that when we went into the studio to record “Years” we’d had, by that point, way more experience playing together as a group. Everything feels more cohesive and real. Another big difference is the transition from lap steel to pedal steel on Phil Sullivan’s part, this was a huge moment in the evolution of our sound. I feel like the songs and vocal delivery are noticeably evolved as well, it’s really encouraging as an artist to see real, marked growth both as an individual and as a band.
How has the lineup changed?
Our new drummer is Kevin McClain, formerly of American Aquarium, and we couldn’t be happier to have him on board. He’s an outstanding musician and just a super cool person to have in the group; when you’re touring relentlessly it’s so special and such a relief to have a good crew of positive, forward-thinking humans on board. Adam Kurtz, presently of American Aquarium, is also doing several runs with us as our pedal steel player. He is also hands down aces as a musician and human being. We feel lucky as hell.
Is touring as fun as you make it look on Instagram? Where are you touring next?
Oh my lord, yes. Absolutely! There are so many time pressures and punches to roll with on tour, you gotta have fun with it and can’t take anything too seriously. We have a total blast together. We embark on our longest tour to date starting April 26 with an 18 day northeast/midwest US tour immediately followed by 32 dates in Scandinavia. Fifty dates on the road is just absolutely wild but we’re all geared up and ready to go! Then we’re lookin’ at another West Coast run, Canada, central USA, and are super close to being able to announce UK tour dates for the fall. We’re totally touring like lunatics this year, and it’s a great feeling to be in demand. We’re ready.
How would you describe your music in relation to other women and queer folks making country music today?
I feel like we’re out here doin’ our own thing for sure and lord no, I’ve never fit into anything anywhere. Been comfortable being a sort of outsider for a long damn time. We’ve been pushing the boundaries of the genre from the word go and I’ve made a point to blur gender lines as much as possible in my songwriting. Always pushing the envelope and testing the limits.
How have things changed in the last two years – everyday living and musically? Where direction are you headed? Moving to Nashville?
The insane touring schedule has been the biggest adjustment for all of us. We love it, no doubt, but logistically it can be tricky to navigate. I’m actually stepping down from my day job which is just . . . that is just nuts to me. Pursuing music full time is not something I thought I’d ever be able to do but here we are. It’s humbling and amazing. We got miles and miles of touring to go, I gotta write a new record in the midst of that somehow, hoping to put out record #3 in 2019, and just keep pushing this baby as far as it’ll take us. Nashville is cool to visit and play, but I really love living in Chapel Hill, NC. It’s become home.
Finally, any advice for new musicians looking for inspiration?
Work relentlessly on being the best most authentic version of yourself. If you want to improve your art, improve yourself, and everything else will happen natural as can be.