In a genre that's top stars are easily interchangeable, Sarah Shook is the kick to the balls that country music so desperately needs. An outspoken rebel with a cause, Shook shakes the foundation of country in the way the outlaws Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, and Guy Clark did in the 1970s and 80s.

Shook and The Disarmers will be playing Club Cafe tonight.

Shook was raised in a Christian fundamentalist household where only Christian and classical music was allowed. At 18, Shook was exposed to The Decemberists and Belle & Sebastian. It was also when she picked up her first guitar and learned how to play.

A year later, in 2005, her family moved to Garner, North Carolina. Shook formed her first band Sarah Shook and The Devil in 2010. The band lasted until 2013 when she and guitarist Eric Peterson formed Sarah Shook and The Disarmers.

The Swerve Magazine recently interviewed the no nonsense Shook, who talked about her introduction to country music, her contentious clash with fame and much more.

The Swerve Magazine: How did you find country music? Considering your early home life and upbringing, how do you make the jump to old-school country that is featured on "Sidelong?"

Sarah Shook: An ex-boyfriend was my grand introduction to traditional country music. His record collection boasted the timeless likes of Patsy Cline, Charley Pride, Buck Owens, George Jones, Wanda Jackson, and my personal favorite, Hank Williams. This introduction was made years after my earnest yet brief love affair with indie rock, and it made a lasting and powerful impression. It was one of those, "Where have you been all my life?" moments. I get that's usually a sentiment shared about a person, but it is exactly how I felt the first time I heard true-blue old school country music.

SM: Speaking of the music on "Sidelong," your music is decidedly influenced by the classic country artists. In the fucked-up world, we find ourselves where country music is now akin to Top-40 pop music. Where did country lose its identity? Was there any temptation to follow that path instead of the one you chose?

SS: I don't know that country music lost its identity so much as a bunch of sleazy industry douchebags figured out a way to package, replicate and repeat, a vapid and talentless product that is basically a weak, and somewhat insulting, imitation. Folks have been making the real-deal country stuff as long as the fake shit has been shoved mainstream. It's never gone away; it just lost center stage. And no. In no fucking world would I ever be tempted to parade a bunch of trite, cliche, shitty-ass lyrics around a stage in front of packed stadiums backed by predictable chord progressions and gag-inducing music industry shills.

SM: It took ten years to make the first album, how and why did it take that long to get into the studio? How long do you think it will take to make a second? Are you constantly writing?

SS: The short answer to your first question is that I had absolutely no interest in making a career out of music. And that's putting it lightly. Fame and celebrity are abhorrent notions to me. That said, the Disarmers are on a path at this point that there's no turning away from and we're moving in a direction with a certain level of momentum that, whether I like it or not, is great for the band and great for my bandmates on an individual and personal level. I'm not doing any of this shit for me. I'm doing it for my bandmates.


And on those notes, the next record is in the can. We are hoping for an early 2018 release. Writing is difficult for me when we're on the road as much as we have been. I'm looking forward to a little down time in August and hoping to get some relief via writing in at that time.

SM: Your quote to Rolling Stone, "Look, you're welcome to be a fan. But full disclosure, I'm a fucking civil rights activist, and I'm a bisexual, and I'm an atheist, and I'm a vegan,' you know what I mean?
That's a whole lot of non-redneck shit right there."

It is a bold, admirable move. Have you experienced any blowback or negative effects from putting that out there? How have the country fans reacted as that is a very close-minded genre that likes to stick to its stereotypes?

SS: If there has been negative backlash, I haven't heard a damn thing about it. It wasn't meant to be combative so much as it was meant to be forthright and honest and explain a bit how I'm not your average outlaw country band leader. It's important to me that women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community feel safe, respected, and welcomed at our shows. And it's important that other fans in the audience that might not fit those demographics know exactly where we stand on those issues, so they're fully aware that they're expected to treat those folks with respect, courtesy, and open arms. We're all about bringing people together and finding solid, common ground.

SM: You have taken your increased visibility and turned it into boots on the ground activism with "Safe Space NC." Can you talk about how the project developed and what it does?

SS: Sure, my activism partner, Erika Libero, and I started "Project Safe Space NC" last year when the infamous HB2 passed here in North Carolina. We did a small crowd funding campaign and printed up a bunch of stickers, a very simple design of the words “SAFE SPACE” against a rainbow flag backdrop, and we basically went door to door, business to business, in downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill explaining what the stickers were, why they were important, and what the responsibilities of the business would be once they had a little sticker out on display. It was a very small, very simple way to say, "Hey, you're welcome here. You can come in here and shop (or have a cup of coffee, or a beer, or whatever) and know that you will be treated with the same respect and kindness we treat everyone else with. You matter. And you are safe here." Again, it was a small and simple thing. But I think sometimes it's the smallest, most simple things that can make a huge and lasting difference in someone's life.