Sarah Shook and the Disarmers — Sidelong

Sarah Shook came to Manifold Recording by way of an Intern from Italy, Mario Bianchi, but the story of Sidelong, Sarah’s first full-length album, has a longer history.  And one that makes this album release that much sweeter.

A recent feature in INDY Week tells the backstory of a Sarah’s journey, from growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household in Rochester NY to the devilish ways that led first to her musical emancipation, her break from religion, and ultimately the embrace of herself as a unique and uniquely driven person.  Regardless of how dangerous that may be.  And without any apologies.

Sarah first came to Manifold Recording to make an EP with her band, Sarah Shook and The Devil.  It was a fast and wild ride, but one that told us that there was some real magic, too.  Ian Schreier took it upon himself to use his 20+ years in the business to convince Sarah to come back and make a real record, with him as producer.  The fact that her band had just dissolved wasn’t an excuse to sidetrack the project.

Once Sarah had recruited a new band that could both play together and work together, Ian was ready take the reins as Producer.

There is no question that Sarah has a keen ear for lyrics and the practiced hands of a player who can hit the right chords no matter how late the hour nor how rowdy the scene.  She has a voice that can sound vulnerable or invincible, ready to punch out a line or wrap it tightly around your neck.  And she has the powerful presence of one who has been to hell and back, bloodied but not unbowed.  In a live show, these elements all work together to make a compelling performance.  When making a record, you cannot rely on the smile or the snarl to get the point across–you have to hear the smile, you have to feel the snarl without the benefit of seeing the teeth behind it.  Ian spent four months working with Sarah and the band, doing pre-production and leading rehearsals so that all of the energy of the personalities could be heard in the music.

The INDY Week article confirm’s the success of this collaboration: “[the] resulting country gem, Sidelong, captures Shook’s wild, reckless energy and wide-open, raw dejection. […] Pent-up anger and drunken frustration power these songs. At moments, they threaten to burst apart from emotional pressure.”

Ian’s fundamental strategy was to aim for an “edge of the seat” live feel, with all the energy that entails.  That required a lot of practice, but also a space where the musicians could all play together while still capturing studio-quality sound.  One of the beauties of the layout of the Music Room and the booths is that instruments can be far enough apart to achieve sonic separation without resorting to acoustic isolation.  Ian had the Upright Bass in a booth, but Sarah’s guitar, Eric’s guitar, the lap steel, and John’s drums were all open to the Music Room.  Almost all the recording was live.  All the tracking for the 12-song record, including vocals, happened over four days in April.  The mixing took 6 days, in June.  And now, in October, the fruits of those labors are out there for all to enjoy.

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