This Sunday Sarah Shook & the Disarmers will be performing at the Rose Bowl Tavern, with locals the Caleb Cook Band opening. Shook comes all the way from North Carolina, mixing country and punk rock, giving off a more old school country sound similar to that of Dwight Yoakam or Johnny Cash. Since the band's popularity has grown, Shook remains humble by using her platform to represent the underrepresented. She helps with speak out against the lack of diversity in bands, specifically at an event called Manifest in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where only bands with at least one non-cis white male, are invited to perform.


Smile Politely: You haven't toured much right? I read you lost your voice after a show earlier on, how's adjusting to tour life been since then? How's your son taking it?

Sarah Shook: We kicked off some more serious touring in March with a run down to SXSW in Austin, TX.  We were in the studio the week before tracking the next record and I blew my voice out the last day.  The first night of tour we played Nashville to a packed house, my voice was pretty touch and go but we made it work and the Basement has a great sound which helped a bunch.  The following night in Little Rock, AR, the sound tech couldn't get vocals in the monitors even kind of and I totally lost my voice trying to sing loud enough to hear myself even a little.  The following day we stopped in Texarkana for lunch and I ended up runnin' across the highway to an urgent care center for a steroids shot to the hip and a prescription.  I try to stay away from shit like steroids but it was that or pack up and go home.  Totally saved the tour and even made it through our seven shows in four days at SXSW.

My son, Jonah, is totally supportive and actually pretty excited about how well things are going for us.  We talk on the phone a lot, I miss him a ton when we're on the road and vice versa but keeping in touch via phone calls and email helps immensely.  He's a really special kid and without a doubt the hands down best thing in my life.

SP: Since this is your first tour, you've probably never played in the Champaign-Urbana scene before, what are your expectations? How'd you come about booking a show here?

Shook: We've been touring quite a bit since Bloodshot Records released "Sidelong" on April 28 but this is our first run into Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois.  It's been pretty damn outstanding so far, great crowds, making lots of new friends and all.

Our booking agency, Prater Day, takes good care of us and it's pretty awesome to have a team of folks you trust and are really fond of in your corner.  Typically I throw my gear in the trailer, hop in the van, and show up wherever I'm supposed to be.

SP: You're very active in providing a platform for non-cis white males, there's a lot of people trying to do the same the in Champaign-Urbana, any advice? What's shown the most success?

Shook: I think giving women and minorities visibility and representation and presenting it in a very matter of fact, it's-no-big-deal-this-is-normal kind of way is paramount.  It's not radical or edgy or sensational for these folks to have a platform, it's what should be the norm, you know?

Photo by John Gessner.

SP: "I'm a vegan, bisexual, atheist, civil rights activist, female in a country band in the south." Can you expand on this quote? How's having this type of background affected your goals? Is it easier now that you've got some momentum?

Shook: While I haven't personally experienced any backlash over who I am and what's important to me, I wouldn't be surprised if there are folks who wouldn't give my music the time of day simply because I'm bisexual and non-gender conforming.  Which works out great, in my opinion, I don't want bigots and homophobes in my audience.  Ever.

SP: Your music country be considered both country and punk rock, what would you say in your life influences this sound? Do you have any major musical influences? I see you have a song titled "Dwight Yoakam," was he an influence at some point?

Shook: Not much of a music listener, I do like Hank Sr. a great deal and, absolutely, Dwight Yoakam is one talented mother.  And I listen to a lot of old school punk rock at work.

SP: Your most recent release, Sidelong, was just re-released through Bloodshot Records in Chicago. Since this record you've since quite a bit of success and attention, how has this impacted you/your music? Do you think you'll continue to stay in North Carolina? Will you continue working a side job?

Shook: Oh man, yeah I can't see myself ever leaving North Carolina in any permanent kind of way.  I love where I live.  There are some major political issues here currently but it seems that's true of most places in the states at the moment.

When we're not on tour I work one or two nights a week at the Cave in Chapel Hill, NC; it's the oldest bar and venue in town and I love it to pieces.  So much history and character packed into a 74 capacity room, it's my favorite job I've had.  No plans on leaving.

Photo by Jillian Clark and Matt Ramey.

SP: Now that you've acquired a larger platform, are there any civil rights and LGBT efforts, similar to Manifest and your Safe Space efforts at Chapel Hill, you're starting or would like to talk about?

Shook: It's looking like Manifest has an exciting announcement comin' up soon, my activism has slowed significantly as our touring has taken off.  Erika Libero is doing even more of the work than last year, and that is saying a LOT.

SP: Being a band with members all older than 30 and recently finding a lot of success, how do you think this sets you apart from other bands with similar success?

Shook: It's pretty sad the way this and so many other industries focus on youth and beauty and other inevitably fading attributes.  I wouldn't want to be in a band that's successful because we're all young and good looking.  We're having success because we have talent and chemistry and we're putting the work in and that is exactly the kind of band I want.  Not some overnight sensation.  Not some flavor of the week.  A lasting, steady, evolving group of people working together doing what we love.

SP: How do you think these new experiences will shape future albums?

Shook: Not sure, I can definitely say it's hard as hell to write a song on the road.  That's a very personal deal for me and being alone is hard to do when you're on tour. Really trying to take advantage of down time here lately.

You can see Sarah Shook & the Disarmers this Sunday at the Rose Bowl Tavern at 3 p.m., $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Top photo by Poprock Photography