Meet Sarah Shook, Country Music’s Radical And Ordinary Hero
Her band’s incredible debut album, Sidelong, is out now.
Sarah Shook and The Disarmers’s debut album, Sidelong, is a stunning LP propelled by raw enthusiasm and unforgettable lines. I couldn't recommend it more — it's available now on Bloodshot Records, home to the equally affirming Lydia Loveless.
Shook is a 31-year-old upstate NY native who made a home with her son down in North Carolina. As she once said, "I’m a vegan, bisexual, atheist, civil rights activist, female in a country band in the south." And the hits don't even stop there.
Above, watch the new video for "Nothin' Feels Right But Doin' Wrong," filmed at her home and the bar where she works, and below read her story in her own words.
You are going to love her.
SARAH SHOOK: I was born in Rochester, New York, and my family moved around quite a bit. We came to Garner, North Carolina, in 2004. I was really unhappy at home at the time. My relationship with my parents was in a bad place. So I met a guy on the internet and married him about two weeks later, against my parent’s wishes. It got me out of the house. I’d just turned 20 years old, and I’d been home-schooled my whole life. He was my first boyfriend. Two months, I became pregnant with my son, who is 10 now and who’s awesome. Got divorced a year after.
Music was a come-and-go thing throughout my teens, and when I was 16 I taught myself to play the guitar. I was 21 when I played my first show, after my son was born. I just wanted to live my life and take care of my son. That’s always been my number one priority. I'm 31 now. We’ve got a great single-wide in the woods, it’s just beautiful out here.
When I started off, there was no reason to go touring, because I had my son three days a week and that’s what I was doing. When Bloodshot Records came to me with this offer, and they were like, “You’re going to be on the road 100, 150 dates a year” — and keep in mind I’ve done no extensive touring, at all — the first person I went to was my son. I was like, “Dude, if you tell me that this is not OK with you and you can’t handle it, then I’m not going to do it. But if you say OK, I’m going to try and make a go with it.” He was totally like, “Mom, the bigger you get, the more platform you have to affect change. Go for it.” Ah, he's just a cool dude, man. So with his blessing, we jumped into the thing.
We did a two-week run in March for SXSW. It was good. It was kind of intense. We recorded the next album the week before we left, and I blew my voice out. So the first night of tour, my voice was really shaky. The next night, I just couldn’t do it. I was freaking out about keeping my job. We stopped for lunch in Texarkana and our bassist was like, “There’s an Urgent Care place across the street, just run across the highway, get a steroid shot, let the steroids do their job, and it’ll save this tour.” And damned if it did.
Some of these songs are like three or four years old, even older in some cases, and it’s just kind of remarkable that when we perform the same feeling is there, and every bit as real when I first wrote these songs. I think the explanation for that is simply that it comes from a real place. It comes from my life experience, and it’s bigger than me. I want people to know that, like, everybody is going through some hard-ass shit but nobody is alone in that. I try to put words out there that people feel an affinity with it, so they think, She knows what I’m going through.
A big part of the reason I turned out the way I turned out is based on where I grew up, poor as fuck. My dad’s been self-employed for over 30 years now, and my mom opted to stay home with my two sisters and I. Poverty pretty much followed us around wherever we moved. My sisters and I went completely different directions with that same experience. My older sister went to school for a million years and got a double-masters because she was like, “I want to be able to live a different way.” My younger sister is in the navy in Spain right now. My reaction was just like, “Man, do I really need a shit-ton of money to be happy? No, I just don’t.” That’s where the punk rock comes into it, and the country.
The guys in my band are older, and they’ve been playing music for so fucking long. I think Eric Peterson has been in bands since he was 16, and now he’s in his fifties. I feel like I’m in this special unique position where I can actually help them do what they’ve been wanting to do for decades. I love those dudes. They’re like the family that I got to pick. I want to help us as a band and steer us on a successful path so that for them all those years and years and years of hard work will pay off, and they can finally make a living wage making music instead of having to hold onto some side jobs.
And I don’t think it’s that far off. I only work like one or two nights a week now at The Cave, and I fucking love that bar, man. It will be a sad day when I leave, too. I’m pretty involved in the local music scene trying to make spaces for women and trans folk and members of the LGBTQ community, and just get them more platforms, better visibility, and better representation. Working in a venue, I mean it’s just straight white dudes every night in band after band. So my main project with my activism partner Erica is Manifest, a two-night street venue music festival in Chapel Hill, and the only requirement for each band is they must have one woman member, a member of a minority, or an LGBTQ member. We’re not trying to do a super-flashy progressive thing, we’re just trying to say this is normal, this is the way it should be.