An interview with Sharon Van Etten


AE: Did he tell you he was going to be playing one of your songs?
No, but he did call me randomly to ask me what my favorite song on the album was, and I was like, “I don’t know, ‘Tornado’?” And he ended up playing and helped put me on NPR’s radar.

AE: Well, a lot of people’s radar! That was the first I had heard of you as well. You’ve touched a lot of ears and a lot of hearts with your songs. Your songs are packed with so much emotion, have you ever been afraid of sharing so much of yourself with your audience?
Well it took me a while because everything I’ve ever written has been done for self-therapy. I was afraid to share it with people but then I would start playing it for a friend or two and then they said how much it helped them get through hard times. So then I thought, well this isn’t just for me. This is helping other people get through things and not feel so alone. So, it was hard, but playing it every time is a release too. It is weird having it be so confessional and having it be so autobiographical. Especially the old record, that’s super autobiographical and it definitely takes me to a specific time and place. But to have other people relate to it, it makes it more timeless than I had intended.

AE: I’m assuming that this was the “ex-boyfriend” album? Is he still locked up? (Van Etten’s ex was a drug addict who ended up going to prison)
Actually I just heard on the last tour in September that he’s out. I don’t know what he’s doing right now.

AE: Probably picking up your album!
Ha! I hope not!

AE: You’ve mentioned before that Ani DiFranco was a big influence on you.
Yeah, my friend Alexa in high school was really into Ani and she gave me the first few records she put out. It was the first time I had played around on an acoustic guitar and really tried learning how to pick properly. At the time, my older brother would always tell me that girls couldn’t play guitar. Stupid older brother stuff. So whenever he would leave, I would play his guitar and try to learn some songs and put them into weird keys and stuff. But she was the first musician I had ever heard whose songs were super confessional. She could really play guitar, it wasn’t just a girl with a guitar, she really meant what she said and it wasn’t poppy. That was my first experience with non-pop female musicians. She made me want to start playing more.

AE: Considering how emotional your songs are, do you ever just have to take a step away and have a dance party by yourself? If so, what music do you listen to to get the job done?
Totally! I listen to a lot of OMD, I’m into ’80s music a lot. I have pop songs that I just write for myself but I’m like, “I could totally do this if I wanted to." I’m into a lot of the new post-punk electronic stuff. I like a lot of different kind of stuff.

AE: Your album Epic just came out, is it too early to talk about working on another album or are you constantly coming up with new songs – not just pop related for your own pleasure?
I’m actually in the studio right now, I’m just taking a break. I’m working on an album that will hopefully come out early next year. I’m always writing because it’s the only thing I know how to do! [Laughs]

AE: Well, in a past interview you’ve said you enjoy learning about new hobbies but aren’t really good at any of them — can you give an example? I’m like that with decoupage.
I like knitting and crocheting but I haven’t really gone past hats and scarves. I like taking old clothes and re-altering them just so they fit me or are a little more interesting. Also, my boyfriend left me a ukulele after he went on tour so I’ve recorded a few songs on there.

AE: Ukuleles are really making a huge comeback these days!
Yeah it’s nice because it’s a really simple, portable instrument with less strings so it kind of minimizes things so it’s easier to write a melody over.

Hear more from Sharon at Epic would make a great gift for a music fan in your life.

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