Iconoclastic roots-rocker looks back on her debut on the occasion of its vinyl release.
By Cindy Emch, Contributing Writer
Sarah Shook is a singular talent. She has a strongly voiced swagger, with songs that can cut you to the quick with their vulnerability and power. She is an out and vocal advocate for the LGBT community. And, most of all, she is one of the most talented and generous musicians I know.
She entered the national Americana scene via the album “Sidelong,” her first as Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, and garnered critical plaudits with the follow-up “Years,” which landed on too many “Best of ” lists to count. Before Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, though, was Sarah Shook and The Devil, the billing on “Seven,” a self-released EP from 2015 that Bloodshot Records is re-releasing on vinyl on May 22nd. Sarah recently took some time to talk to me about The Devil, her writing process, and how “spittin mad” her old self would be at how things have turned out.
Cindy Emch: Bloodshot records is re-releasing your first EP. How does it feel to have the album get the full release treatment after all of this time?
Sarah Shook: It’s a pretty weird feeling, but thankfully it’s not actually getting the real release treatment. We kept the press release low key and I’ve declined almost all interview requests. It’s an important landmark in our trajectory but I don’t feel connected to it the way I feel about our upcoming new release.
CE: Did it bring up any old memories or ghosts to revisit these tunes?
SS: Some good some bad, sure. I think it’s kind of weird to listen to your own music so I typically don’t unless it’s for a new release but I had to give “Seven” the a-ok on the test pressing, so yeah. Kinda blew my mind how far we’ve come as individuals and as a unit.
CE: You’ve made a lot of changes since this album came out, most notably that you’re now vegan and sober and playing sold out shows all over the world. Did you ever think when you made the EP that this was where you would be?
SS: The possibility was not even a seed in my little brain and if I’d thought it was even remotely possible I woulda been spittin’ mad. I never wanted “commercial success”. I wanted to play in dive bars and get drunk with my friends. I wasn’t, I’m not, and I never will be ambitious when it comes to music. And contrary to my public image I’m actually really introverted and it’s actually really hard for me to talk to people.
CE: What is the most surprising thing to you about your life at this moment?
SS: An actor and writer whom I’ve been a fan of forever just followed our Insta and messaged me saying he’s a fan of my writing. That is nuts and no I can’t tell who it is.
CE: Do you play these songs out on the road anymore?
SS: No. The transition from a drumless country quartet to a full blown loud a.f. quintet with drums changed everything for us. Like everything. If the Disarmers were to play any of these songs from the Devil we’d have to change the arrangements, possibly the key, the tempo, everything. Also, like I said earlier, I don’t feel connected to these songs anymore. I think they’re solid songs, I think they’re important and relevant as a marker to measure our growth against, but I’m a different person now than I was at that time.
CE: Do you have a favorite song on the EP that you can’t wait for your newer fans to hear?
SS: I think out of the seven songs “Ghost Town” is my favorite. It’s about depression and it’s the first song I wrote that referenced multiple people in my life instead of just one.
CE: Has your songwriting process changed from then to now?
SS: When I was drinking all the time songs would just fall outta the blue into my lap. Complete songs. Done. My subconscious had a way of lining stuff up for me. Now that I’m sober it’s a lot more cerebral. I don’t think I’ll ever be a disciplined writer; I’m never gonna have a set time that’s for writing, but my writing process is much more fragmented now. Missing pieces come here and there and for multiple songs instead of just one. Sometimes I’m in bed almost asleep and I have to get up to make a note or hop on Garageband to make an edit on a demo cos if I don’t I am definitely not gonna remember. Stuff comes but stuff also goes, ya know.
CE: What do you look to for inspiration when you’re songwriting?
SS: Not an external writer in that I’m not actively looking for anything outside myself to prompt me, the stuff I write is internal.
CE: How collaborative is your songwriting process with your band?
SS: I write everything, lyrics, chord progression, melody, arrangement. Sometimes I write key little riffs or comps. Then I take the song to the band and as we learn it together we collaborate on finalizing an arrangement.
CE: What is something musically that you still have on your bucket list?
SS: I’m working on a solo album. And I need to see True Widow live.
CE: What are you looking forward to this year?
SS: Phew. Hoping we can all safely get back to some semblance of normalcy.
CE: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
SS: I love you all.
Order the Sarah Shook and the Devil EP on vinyl HERE.