Interview with Sarah Shook

Published: April 04, 2018

After an impressive touring schedule supporting their debut album Sidelong, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers have become a well-oiled musical machine that’s running on all cylinders throughout their brand new album Years (out April 6 on Bloodshot Records). We invited the dynamically forthright frontwoman back for her second NoiseTrade One-on-One to discuss her newest batch of songs, her thoughts on the intersection of classic country and punk music, her evolution as a songwriter, and much more!

NoiseTrade: It’s been just shy of a year between Bloodshot’s re-release of your Sidelong album and your new album Years. How has the last year been for you supporting Sidelong and what was your process for finding time to write an entire album’s worth of new songs?

Sarah Shook: It’s been a hell of a year in all the best ways. We’ve toured harder and partied harder than ever, met so many good people in so many places, and we got boots on the ground and our seatbelts on for this release. Touring this year is going to be even more insane and we’re ready for a super rigorous schedule.. I’ve been super grateful to have enough time here and there to write new songs and get a lot off my chest and I feel like this new record is solid as hell. Very proud of my bandmates and everything we’ve accomplished so far.

NT: Your NoiseTrade sampler features new songs “Good as Gold,” “New Ways to Fail,” and “Over You.” What can you tell us about the musical and lyrical inspirations behind those songs?

Shook: The last four years I’ve experienced a lot of heavy stuff within the context of an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be free of that, to be on the other side, and moving forward. A lot of the songs on this album center around surviving, overcoming, fighting back, and figuring out how to find the strength and courage to pick up and leave. When it’s time it’s time.

NT: When we talked with you last year, we discussed your love of classic country and punk music. What do you feel are some of the shared intersection points between those two genres and who are some of the bands and artists that you feel blend the two aesthetics pretty well?

Shook: There’s a strong undercurrent of rebellion and defiance in both genres. Anger can be a powerful tool to effect change on both a personal and societal scale, it’s all about harnessing it and steering towards the goal. Zero tolerance for injustice and constantly calling out the bullshit. There is so much great outlaw country comin’ out right now, it’s a really exciting time to be in the thick of it. Kelsey Waldon is country as hell but you can hear the punk spirit in songs like “All By Myself,” a no holds barred I-don’t-need-anybody kinda tune.

NT: When you listen back to the songs on Sidelong (originally released independently in 2015), what are some of the biggest changes that you hear between your writing and singing on that album compared to the performances on Years?

Shook: I feel like I’ve definitely evolved as a songwriter, there’s more of a quiet, steady strength to the songs on Years. There was definitely a lot of determination to make this album our level up record and I wanted the vocals to be more controlled with more emphasis on nuance and cadence and I feel like I accomplished that.

NT: Part of your back story includes being raised in an atmosphere devoid of all secular music. Is there any non-secular music from that time that you revisit for enjoyment or creative inspiration and what were some of the first secular songs you ever remember hearing?

Shook: I still love Vivaldi! Belle And Sebastian’s Tiger Milk and the entire Elliott Smith discography still hold a very special place in my heart.

NT: Finally, you’ve got an extensive U.S. tour coming up, immediately followed by an incredible run of shows in Sweden and Norway. Can audiences expect any Disarmer-ized covers of ABBA or Ace of Base (or any other surprises) sneaking into your setlist?

Shook: Goals. We’ve been talkin’ about working up some covers so maybe some surprises in the works here. I love surprises.

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