Sharon Van Etten wants you to listen (crying is optional) Special

Posted Oct 7, 2014 by Cate Kustanczy
Sharon Van Etten is a musician known for the emotional honesty of her work. With her latest album, the acclaimed “Are We There” she shares a painful, deeply personal part of her past. She just wishes you’d stop talking about her hairdo.
Sharon Van Etten s latest album  Are We There  documents the painful end of a long-term relationship...
Sharon Van Etten's latest album 'Are We There' documents the painful end of a long-term relationship.
Dusdin Condren
Sharon Van Etten is in her New York apartment, talking about music, life, love, internet trolls, and good collaborations. She’s also thinking about how much she’s going to miss her apartment when she goes on tour.
“I’m just sitting here on my kitchen floor, with my pedal board, and I’m thinking, 'I'm not going to be here…'“
Van Etten's fourth album, Are We There (Jagjaguwar) is a searing exploration of the painful intersection between love and career, and was inspired by a harrowing relationship break-up. The self-produced album has won the 33-year-old New York native acclaim and a growing legion of fans who relate to van Etten’s experiences. She's kicking off her North American tour tonight in Toronto, with several dates in various cities (including Chicago and Austin) as well as an onstage interview with music writer Sasha Frere Jones at the esteemed New Yorker Festival this coming Saturday.
Between late-night show appearances (including Letterman and Kimmel), a tour with Nick Cave, and the recording of Are We There, it’s been a busy if emotional time for the singer/songwriter, who told The Lab Magazine earlier this year that “(e)very album I have done is such a huge chapter in my life.” Are We There is no exception, documenting the pain of ending a decade-long on-again-off-again relationship. As she explained to The Guardian in August, her then-significant-other “couldn't handle it – he was always telling me my career meant more to me than our relationship when I knew it was much deeper than that."
Van Etten says she has tried to separate work and life “a little bit, by taking these sessions that I do, and turning it into something a bit more universal — apart from dark diary entries on a dark day —so people can relate to them on their own level.”
“There are people connecting to it   Van Etten says of her work   people feeling they’re not alo...
“There are people connecting to it," Van Etten says of her work, "people feeling they’re not alone, I know it’s too dark for some, but other people feel like they know you right away. It’s sweet but a little scary sometimes.”
Dusdin Condren
As she confessed in August, fans will approach her after shows and pour out their personal troubles. “One out of four people will tell me a story. Which is great because it helps me feel people can talk to me as a person.”
Social media is another outlet Van Etten uses to connect. Her personal Tumblr features various photos, videos, and thoughts; she recently posted a link relating to Emma Watson’s U.N. speech on feminism and the later threats made against the actress. Though Van Etten doesn’t want to be what she terms "a really political figure," certain attitudes in the digital realm tend to rile.
“There’s a lot of these day-to-day things about being a woman in the work world,” she explains, offering a glimpse at the inspiration behind her Watson post. “There are so many things we have to put up with, like all these really misogynistic comments about women in music... and they’re so ridiculous! Like, 'why don’t you talk about the music? You’re talking about my body and my androgynous haircut?!' There are so many people who objectify women in this world. It’s just amazing when people dismiss it, like, ‘Oh that isn’t a female thing’ —um, yes it is.”
If anything, it’s these attitudes that have given Van Etten a certain toughness her music might not imply. “Whatever you do to put yourself out there, of course you’re going to have some negative feedback or comments. It's something that toughens people up. But no matter how hard you try to not fall into a certain thing, there’s going to be some jerks.”
Another thing toughening Van Etten up has been her lack of solo time touring; the artist almost always composes on her own, in long, stream-of-consciousness-style sessions. Lately though, she’s done some unexpected collaborating. “I learned how to re-work songs for the Nick Cave tour we did last year,” she recalls. “I could only afford to take my drummer (Zeke Hutchins, who now manages the band) with me. We reworked songs as a duo, which was really fun. He helped me to flesh out some of the songs I was working on. That was the most collaboration for me in the writing process I’ve gotten to so far… but I’d like to do more writing with my band.”
Sharon Van Etten embarks on a North American tour in Toronto October 7th before embarking on a Europ...
Sharon Van Etten embarks on a North American tour in Toronto October 7th before embarking on a European tour in mid-November.
Dusdin Condren
Van Etten is enthusiastic at the prospect of collaborating with other artists, too. “Jana Hunter (of Baltimore-based indie band Lower Dens) came in on this record,” she notes. “I would love to be a part of something she does — she’s a great writer, a guitar player, has a really incredible mind.” Van Etten has already collaborated with some impressive artists, including J. Mascis, Beirut's Zach Condon, Jon Cale, and The War on Drugs, though she says she'd love to do further collaborations with the latter's Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel, as well as PJ Harvey. Van Etten recently collaborated with Australian singer/songwriter Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders on two songs for their new album (including the Lee Hazlewood-meets-Kraftwerk, synth-pop single “Come On Back This Way”) and did a song by legendary American blues/folk artist Karen Dalton — sort of — for a tribute album.
“What was tricky about that project was that it was never recorded,” she says, a palpable trace of excitement in her voice, “it was just lyrics and chords. So I got to make up the melody and create it. It was a double-edged sword; you get excited, and then you think, “Oh my God, I hope Karen’s not spinning in her grave!” It was a fun challenge. I like those kinds of things.”
Even with touring, she says, maintaining an air of quotidian normalcy is something she cherishes. “I like going to the grocery store and shopping and laundry,” she laughs. “I’ll be on tour, and I’ll wonder, ‘What does my apartment smell like right now?’ They’re things we take for granted sometimes.”