As new members of our Chatham County community, Chatham Park is powering our Go See This series this year because art is an integral part of Chatham County’s identity. They join us in inviting you to Go See This . . .
Sarah Shook’s path to music stardom has been as windy as the Haw River. Growing up in a strict fundamentalist Christian home in upstate New York, she wasn’t allowed to listen to any current music–only gospel and classical. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she found her way to contemporary music, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Sarah’s family moved to North Carolina when she was 19. It was here in Chatham, at the City Tap, that she and her band The Disarmers (formerly The Devil) cultivated a loyal following. The band released their first album in 2015, Sidelong, followed by a second in 2018, Years, which landed on Rolling Stone’s list of the 25 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2018 So Far. Both albums were recorded at Manifold Recording, here in Chatham.
As with most bands, Sarah’s touring schedule was interrupted by the pandemic. But instead of resting on her laurels, Sarah has been busy at home, and she’ll be playing a live streamed performance on May 22. No tickets are necessary, so sit back in the comfort of your own home to hear her sing.
Sarah sat down with the Chatham Arts Council recently to talk about her journey in music and her life as an artist here in Chatham. Enjoy!
What was the music scene like in Chatham when you first started playing here? How has it changed?
There wasn’t much in the way of full-time live music venues in Chatham circa 2007; the Bynum Front Porch Music Series had a weekly band or artist when the weather was cooperative and that about summed it up. Over the years, different businesses in town have had live music as a sort of add-on, but none succeeded in becoming a hub or destination to see music quite like the City Tap. While most of the acts you’ll see there are regional, any national act worth their salt looking to play Chatham County can typically find an exceptional audience and a good time at the Tap.
Growing up, which bands/artists inspired you?
I had a really strict fundamentalist Christian upbringing and was only allowed to listen to worship music and classical music. It wasn’t until my late teens that I started listening to contemporary artists. I cut my teeth on Elliott Smith, Belle & Sebastian, and Blonde Redhead.
What was the first song you learned to play on your guitar?
Probably something I wrote, but honestly it was so long ago I can’t be sure. It’s pretty typical for beginner guitarists to pick a sort of classic song everyone knows to learn first, but I didn’t really have that option considering my raising.
How do you feel your music has evolved, especially between your first and second album?
It’s a really big deal for me to work on myself as a person and to evolve. I think anyone who makes art of any kind will tell you that the more you grow as a person, the more your art grows and evolves. If art is an outward expression of an individual’s internal world, this makes perfect sense. I did a bit of growing between when we recorded “Sidelong” in 2015 and our studio time for “Years” in 2017, and I do think it reflects in the work itself. “Years” feels a bit more self-aware, polished, and poised, in contrast to the blow-the-doors-off recklessness of “Sidelong.” We recorded and mixed both albums at Manifold Recording Studio here in Chatham County, and the sound quality of both records is truly phenomenal.
What have you been up to while you’ve been quarantined?
I’ve been scheming up lots of ways to keep my brain and body busy! I’m teaching myself Spanish, practicing vocal exercises, going for lots of walks, practicing yoga, drawing, painting, I enrolled in “Fashion As Design” (an affordable online course from MOMA), writing and recording demos of new songs, and, of course, keeping our social media channels spinning like a top.
How do you feel about doing live-streamed performances? Is it hard to play without having an audience’s energy?
I do miss the energy of a packed club, but mostly I miss playing with my bandmates. When it comes to exuding energy and breathing life into my songs, they’re the real MVPs.
What: Sarah Shook on Livestream
When: Friday, May 22 at 7pm
Where: Online on YouTube
For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/north-carolina/live-stream-sarah-shook/2267129690260613/
All photos courtesy of Bloodshot Records