Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Sarah Shook performs tonight, Thursday June 1, at The Burl in Lexington with her new project The Disarmers. Below is the transcript of an email interview between Shook and Matt Wickstrom of Big Blue Tunes.
What is your earliest memory of playing music and who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
“When I was a kid my parents had a very old, very out of tune upright piano in the hallway. I spent hours on that ol’ thing, teaching myself what notes sounded good together, learning by sight and ear, I didn’t even know the names of the notes at that time. I was around eight or nine when I wrote my first song with lyrics, melody, chord progression.
I wasn’t allowed to listen to much music, just religious and classical. Vivaldi was my favorite.”
How do you feel you’ve evolved as a musician and songwriter from your time with Sarah Shook & the Devil and The Dirty Hands to now with the Disarmers?
“I feel like I’ve definitely made some strides in both arenas; the Devil and the Dirty Hands were fun, drunken projects I never took seriously. They were merely a vehicle for me to have a crew of bandmates I adored and party it up at shows. The Disarmers are a more sinewy, more sleek animal. We’re more focused and far more together. We’re still a bunch of drinkers mostly but that doesn’t get in the way of the music or the writing any.”
One of the tracks I enjoy most off your new record is “No Name”. Can you tell me a bit about the story within the song and how it came to be?
“I wrote “No Name” shortly after reading Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”. I was blown away by the gratuitous violence and the base savagery many of the characters posessed so unapologetically. It’s a bit mind blowing that there was a time in this country not long ago where the wild and lawless west was just about as wild and lawless as any land can be. Putting myself in the shoes of a relentless, cold blooded killer was definitely a challenge but I think in the end I did okay painting his portrait.”
I saw on the band’s Facebook page that you’re mixing a record this week. What can you share about that at this point?
“Oh hell yeah, we’re looking at a spring 2018 album release on Bloodshot Records. It’s pretty cool to compare “Sidelong” to this album, even though it isn’t mixed or mastered. During the recording of “Sidelong” we were a relatively new band in that we had some lineup changes and we’re all getting comfortable playing together. Over time we’ve become locked in, tighter, and more of a united driving force and that shines through clear as day on this new album. I’m really really super proud of my band and how far we’ve come. These dudes are amazing.”
Do you ever delve into politics in the lyrical side of your music, and with the current divisive state of our society, how do you feel music can bring people together to alleviate some of that tension?
“Not in any obvious way, no. I think one of the big issues dividing us as a nation is the two party system. This keeps our worldview in a very basic us vs. them mentality and prevents us from seeing that when politicians talk about hot button issues and use buzzwords, they’re actually talking about people. So while there’s all this emotional hype coming from the media and politics about LGBTQ rights, and civil rights, and welfare, we’re choosing to feel either angry or suspicious or outraged on both sides for different reasons and the emotional torrent takes away the humanity of it all.
No politician is ever going to bring us together because it’s not the government’s job to bring people together. It’s our responsibility as human beings to reach out to people who think and believe differently than us and try to truly understand their point of view. Empathy, compassion, and community. And music has its place in each of those things.”
I understand you’ve been involved in local activism efforts in North Carolina since the passing of HB2. Can you tell me a little about your efforts and how you plan to continue them with Trump in office?
“My activism partner, Erika Libero, and I still run a little Facebook page called “Project Safe Space NC”, we mail our stickers to anyone requesting them to put up in their place of business. It’s a simple design, it’s a small thing we thought we could do as a grassroots, community oriented counter measure to a lot of the discrimination and hatred aimed at trans folk and other members of the LGBTQ community. Maybe it just helps a little, but I feel like if you walk into a business and you have to wonder every time you do how you’ll be treated, seeing a bright friendly sticker that simply states “SAFE SPACE” can maybe alleviate the anxiety and let you know you belong, you’ll be treated with respect and dignity. That can be worth a lot.”
Can you tell me about Manifest – how the idea for it sprouted and what your biggest challenge has been organizing everything?
“Once again another project Erika and I dreamed up together. Erika did about 90% of the work with Manifest, I secured the venues in downtown Chapel Hill, NC, (Local 506, the Cave, and Nightlight) and Erika booked almost all the bands, worked out catering and hospitality for the green room, and worked relentlessly for months to procure a fantastically received, well attended fest. The venues were happy, the bands got paid, we had great coverage from WKNC out of Raleigh leading up to and throughout the festival. We were really pleased with the outcome.”
What has music taught you about yourself?
“It’s taught me to be more compassionate and more understanding. It’s taught me to listen and be patient. Music ultimately has taught me to do my best to take care of the people in my life and in my band, and to work tirelessly, even when, no *especially* when, it’s thankless work. Builds character.”
Tonight’s show begins with Lexington’s The Other Brothers at 9 pm followed by Shook. Tickets are $10 at the door.