Interview: Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’ Leader on Long-Overdue, New Album

Sarah Shook and her band The Disarmers had every intention of following up their brilliant 2018 record, Years, in 2020.  

But the combination of a global pandemic and their label, Bloodshot Records, closing up shop shut down those plans pretty quickly.

“My mentality when we were recording Nightroamer was, ‘2020 is gonna be our year,’ Shook says. “A fall release in a normal world would have been ideal, but you gotta roll with the punches, as they say.” 

So, roll they did, and though a tad bit late, Nightroamer is well worth the wait. Coming out on Abeyance Records and Thirty Tigers on February 18, the long-overdue follow-up contains some of Shook’s best writing yet. It’s a remarkably compelling mix of country and Americana slathered in punk rock swagger. 

“I don’t write a record, or write specifically with a record in mind,” Shook says. “I write songs and then figure out which ones are going on the next album. The songs on Nightroamer were written over a span of about nine years, the majority being on the newer end of the spectrum, so I was listening to all sorts of stuff that decade.” 

“I’ve been sober a little over two years now, and with that has come a lot of newness,” Shook continues. “Not feeling like a fuck-up 100 percent of the time was certainly new territory for me, and it was like some entire veil had been lifted. I could say ballsy shit like, ‘I got this,’ and it was actually true.” 

And there are plenty of moments on this record that stem from very personal emotions but are bound to be felt by many of the listeners. To help shape the sound of Nightroamer, Shook worked with producer Pete Anderson, who is best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam and KD Lang—two other country-adjacent musicians who have been able to cobble together remarkably unique sounds.   

By the time we hit the studio, we have a pretty solid arrangement for each track,” Shook says. “I write the songs on my own, lyrics, melody, chord progression, initial arrangement, then I take it to the band, and we suss it out together with more finality. Pete took what we had and worked in some incredible finishing touches. We really enjoyed working with him.” 

Outside of music, Shook, who identifies as genderqueer, has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ and civil rights causes. She has also opened up in the past about her struggles with depression. Asked if she ever regrets being so open, she answers with an emphatic no.    

I’m so grateful to be out, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Shook says. “If it means someone feels less alone, especially a young person, if it means a parent might challenge their own beliefs about having a non-straight kid, if me being out means even just one person might set aside homophobic beliefs or begin to think differently, that’s all I could ask for. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine was literally thrown out on the street when his ‘Christian’ parents discovered he was gay. He was 17. That shouldn’t happen to anybody, much less a teenager or a child.” 

Bloodshot Records—the Chicago-based label that hosted a brilliant hybrid of country/punk bands for decades and which released the last Sarah Shook & The Disarmers album—was sold off earlier this year after the former co-owners parted ways, with accusations of sexual misconduct aimed at the partner of one of the label owners. The closing left some of the best contemporary artists in punk, country, and indie music scrambling for new homes. Shook and her band were among them.  

“A lot of things were figured out in motion, we’re so grateful to have landed a home with Thirty Tigers, but we’d really rather not go through that train wreck again if it can be helped,” Shook says. “Bloodshot Records was so good to us and has a special place in our hearts, always.” 

Along with finishing up Nightroamer, Shook took advantage of the year or so off the road to record even more music.  

“I actually wrote and recorded an entire solo album that’s dropping on Kill Rock Stars (in the) fall of 2022.  Next year is gonna be something else, I got my seatbelt on.” 

The band recently announced their first set of tour dates supporting the new album, kicking off in December in their home state of North Carolina, and leading to the end of February. Expect more dates to be announced soon. 

Watch the video for “Talkin’ to Myself” here:

For more from Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Shook & the Disarmers and Harvey Robinson.

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