MORGANTOWN — Right around the last time Sarah Shook and the Disarmers played in Morgantown, in October, was when the rising country artist from North Carolina said things “began blowing up pretty fast.”
“It seems like the growth has been pretty slow and steady. But at the end of 2018, we saw a change. … And the tour we just did in January was 19 days and was really, really promising,” she said. “The turnout to shows has been bigger, and more people are singing along to the lyrics.”
Shook and her backing band, the Disarmers — made up of Eric Peterson on guitar, Aaron Oliva on upright bass, and Phil Sullivan on lap steel — will return today, Feb. 8, to 123 Pleasant Street, performing in support of the band’s sophomore release, “Years.”
The album landed on Rolling Stone’s list of the 25 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2018 So Far. And, like its predecessor “Sidelong,” has earned critical praise for the group’s outlaw country/punk sound, as well as Shook’s songwriting and expressive vocals, both of which are at turns vulnerable and defiant. This is a product of the fact that most of the tracks on the records are about past relationships, something listeners can likely gather from titles like “New Ways to Fail,” “Misery Without Company” “Over You” and “Parting Words.”
Shook, who, at 9, taught herself how to play guitar and piano and began writing songs, has said that her music is a form of therapy and a way she attempts to not repeat past mistakes. But how does it feel singing about said mistakes over and over again in front of crowds across the country?
“I’ve played those songs an immeasurable amount of times but I never grow tired of them no matter how repetitive they are to me, because I know there are going to be people who it’s brand new for them,” she said. “And because it’s so relatable and everybody goes through it, this is stuff that they may feel acutely. So it’s important for me that I bring the same energy as when I was singing the song for the first 10 times on stage.”
This sense of responsibility comes because of the in-person interactions Shook said she’s had at shows as well as messages she’s received on social media.
“It’s really cool feeling that connection,” she said. “And it can be overwhelmingly emotional, when people share these intense personal things but then listened to my song and say it made them feel less alone. My art moved them, so I want to follow up with something else that offers them hope.”
And she is.
The band is in the process of working on material for another album, which, in Shook’s words, will “certainly be a lot more encouraging” than her first two releases and include “helpful, happy songs.”
To be clear, this is not an attempt to pander, but because of where she is in her life and career.
Shook, who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, came across secular music later in life and was drawn to country. An outspoken social activist who is vegan and pansexual, she’s carved out a place for herself in the genre through deeply personal songs and a relentless touring schedule that she still loves, even if it means she only has a few days in between dates to cram in “all the adult stuff” like going to the DMV.
“I’ve always said whatever I’m doing for a living, I’m going to enjoy it, or I’m going to find something else to do,” she said, laughing. “I’m keeping my eye on the prize, which for me is making good records and putting on a great show.”
And as the band has spent plenty of time performing together, she said fans can also expect a tighter, sleeker sound on the next album.
“It’s something that’s very important for me creatively, as an artist and a human, to take that next step of evolution.”
- Sarah Shook and the Disarmers will perform Feb. 8 at 123 Pleasant Street. Opening acts are Charles Wesley Godwin, and Haley Slagle & the Hard Way. Doors open at 8 p.m. Music begins at 9 p.m. for the 18-and-older show. Tickets cost $10. Info: 123pleasantstreet.com.