Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

As the leader of North Carolina’s Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, singer/songwriter Sarah Shook offers up a full-bodied combination of the sound of vintage outlaw country — with lyrics that waver between defiance and honest introspection — and the fire of punk rock. Shook is unafraid of opening up about their passions and failings in song, and the tough but emotionally honest tone of the Disarmers’ mix of outlaw country and lean roots rock is an ideal match for the songs. Shook and their bandmates sounded scrappy and fearlessly honest on the indie efforts Sidelong (2015) and Years (2018), and both songwriter and accompanists sounded more mature and equally forceful on 2022’s Nightroamer, written and recorded after a period of personal re-evaluation.

Sarah Shook was born in Rochester, New York in 1985. They were raised in a deeply religious household, home schooled, and only allowed to listen to classical or Christian praise music as they grew up. Despite these restrictions, Shook learned to play guitar in high school and began writing songs. The family moved frequently during their childhood, and when Shook was 19, settled in Garner, North Carolina, a town Shook openly disliked. A brief marriage left Shook with a son, and they relocated to Pittsboro, North Carolina, a half-hour drive from Chapel Hill, where Shook felt much more at home. In 2010, they put together their first band, Sarah Shook & the Devil, who issued an EP in 2013, Seven. (The EP was given a belated vinyl-only American release in 2020.) By the end of 2013, that band had split, and Shook & the Devil guitarist Eric Peterson started over with the group Sarah Shook & the Dirty Hand, a stopgap project that played live around the Chapel Hill area. Meanwhile, Shook had found a fan in producer and engineer Ian Schreier, who was eager to make a record with them. In 2015, Shook and Peterson assembled a new band to record with Schreier, which also included Aaron Oliva on bass, Phil Sullivan on pedal steel, and John Howie, Jr. (who was also Shook’s partner) on drums. The new combo, dubbed the Disarmers, cut their debut album live in the studio with Schreier at the controls. Sidelong was self-released in late 2015, and the band toured as much as Shook’s commitments as a working mother would permit. The album received positive reviews for its hard-edged tales of empty bottles and broken hearts, and they landed a deal with Chicago’s well-established “insurgent country” label Bloodshot Records. Bloodshot gave Sidelong a nationwide reissue in 2017, and in April 2018, the label dropped the second Disarmers’ album, Years.

Filmmaker Gorman Bechard, who had previously directed documentaries about the Replacements, Archers of Loaf, and Lydia Loveless, was on hand for the Years sessions, and his feature about the making of the album, What It Takes: Film en douze tableaux, premiered at the Independent Film Festival in Boston in 2018. In 2019, Shook stepped away from touring to seek treatment for a debilitating addiction to alcohol and drugs. As they pursued sobriety, their next batch of songs often touched on those experiences, and became the basis for 2022’s Nightroamer. (Shook, who had long identified as bisexual, came out as genderqueer in this period, and changed her chosen pronouns to they/them.) The sessions included previous Disarmers Eric Peterson, Aaron Oliva, and Phil Sullivan, as well as Skip Edwards on keyboards and Adam “Ditch” Kurtz on pedal steel, while Pete Anderson, best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam in the 1980s and ’90s, produced the album. Its release was delayed several times after Bloodshot Records ran into problems that led to the sale of the label, and Shook struck a new deal with Thirty Tigers for Nightroamer.
Bio written by Mark Deming

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