The North Carolina singer and songwriter, who joins her band the Disarmers in concert at Rumba on Thursday, talks about her newfound sobriety, rebounding from a broken relationship and the growing sense that the best is still to come
Sarah Shook wrote 2018 album Years in the midst of a relationship that was coming to a fitful, inevitable end, which has made revisiting the songs on subsequent tours a bit of an emotional minefield.
“It definitely changes even from night to night when we’re on tour,” said Shook, who joins her band, the Disarmers, in concert at Rumba Café on Thursday, Feb. 6. “There are times I’m singing about a breakup, or a person from my past, and it feels more like I’m relaying a cautionary tale, sort of like I’m trying to give other people a head’s up, like, ‘Don’t get stuck in this trap, too.’ Then there are other nights where the pain is still there, and it feels just as fresh as the day that I wrote it. And that isn’t a bad thing.”
These feelings have been magnified since Shook got sober more than six months ago, giving up the bottle, which had been a prominent presence dating back to the North Carolina musician’s debut, Sidelong, from 2015. “I can’t cry myself to sleep so I drink myself to death,” she sings with typical candor on early song “Fuck Up.” “I got cocaine in my bloodstream and whiskey on my breath.”
“I’m still getting into the flow of [being sober] and all of the very positive but very intense things that come with sobriety,” Shook said. “I’m sitting with a lot of intense feelings these days.”Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
The mood throughout Years is mercurial, flashes of hope giving way to pain and regret as the musician gradually comes to terms with the poisoned relationship at its core. Even the title track — which was the final song Shook wrote for the album and appears as its conflicted closer — ends things on a more ambiguous note, the singer recounting how the romance’s fruitful early years eventually gave out to a growing rot. “I been waitin’ ’round here for too long,” she sings, “Lettin’ dust collect on my sense of who I am.”
For Shook, this admission served as something of a turning point, and she now says that the song and the album both offered “a foreshadowing of better things to come.” The tune is also one that she said she couldn’t have written without first navigating everything that falls before it, be it the alcohol-dependent “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down” or the emotionally exhausted “New Ways to Fail.”
“Well, I’m too damn tired to feed the dog or get out of bed,” Shook sings atop a loping country groove that moves as though unencumbered by this baggage. “Too damn tired to walk away. Too tired to make it through another day.”
“The whole point of writing those songs is to get those feelings and emotions out and to be able to be more objective about my decisions and their cumulative fallout,” Shook said. “But it’s very interesting to perform these songs that came from what was very much, at the time, my life. Drinking was my life. That was it. So it’s interesting at this point to stand on the stage and sing these songs that still resonate with me, because … it’s a part of the past that led me to where I am now.”
Expect this suddenly open future to feature prominently on Shook’s next record with the Disarmers, which recently entered the pre-production stage and which the musician anticipates releasing on current label Bloodshot Records by year’s end.
“There’s a lot of good energy right now,” said Shook, adding that the band will likely premiere at least one new tune in concert at Rumba. “There are songs that are in different stages in finality, but the songs we have that are super, super close to getting that last stamp of approval … feel really good, and that’s really encouraging. It makes me feel like we’re on the right path.”