Q&A With Sharon Van Etten

The artist sits down to talk about her new album, Tramp.

By Bill Chenevert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 8, 2012

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After recording her first two records in Pa., Jersey native Sharon Van Etten settled on Brooklyn to record her third LP, Tramp. It’s out this week, and Van Etten’s tour kicks off this Friday with a sold-out show at Johnny Brenda’s. On it, she got support from esteemed colleagues including production from the National’s Aaron Dessner, and guest spots from Julianna Barwick, Zach Condon (of Beirut) and Jenn Wassner (of Wye Oak). PW talked shop with Van Etten about the record before she hits the road.

Your huge spring tour starts here in Philly! Any significance to starting in Fishtown?

Yeah, I’m excited to come back there. I love Philly. I feel really comfortable there and I love Johnny Brenda’s. The routing is sensible, but I feel really good there and it’s kind of where everything started in a ways.

You must admit with Tramp, some of these lyrics are a little dark.

Well, ya know, I’ve always written from such a personal place. The only thing that’s changed is that it’s not about sadness. Because I’m not a sad girl. It’s just the natural way that I write and if people are going to be critical, then they’re probably not really in touch with their emotions.

The singing feels its most expressive on this record. You feel it especially on “Leonard” and “Kevin’s”. Do you feel like your singing has been developing, too?

I feel like my melodies are the strongest they’ve ever been. And my range has gotten a lot bigger. I can sing lower and I can sing higher and I push myself to do that more often. And as far as the record, I feel like my vocal was captured so well. It’s so raw, it’s like you can hear my breathing. And they are the most complex melodies I’ve ever written, which I’m excited about.

Love and romance provide the ultimate song content. Doesn’t it seem like women are easily pigeonholed into the crazy lady? Did you knowingly fight against that on this record?

Yeah, that sounds about right. A lot of it is being OK with being upset. Being OK with who you are. Being at peace with what’s happened. Being able to talk about it. Being open to accepting blame. You can reminisce about something without resenting or regretting it. I am in a really good space right now. The songs, even though some are a little sad, it’s all very secure, strong and confident. No regrets.

It’s worrisome that in the same breath that people talk about Tramp they mention the National. But this is all you here.

One thing that Aaron and I were very concsious of is we didn’t want it to sound like a National record. He was working with me because he thought my songs were strong and he was a fan. He got my vibe right away. And we didn’t produce more than we should have. We kept a lot of songs stripped down and we took songs where they felt like they were going. Aaron is responsible for helping me flesh out these ideas more than I would have been able to do by myself. And I’m eternally grateful for all the time he’s put in to help me orchestrate everything and expand my sound. If anyone’s wondering if he helped me write any of these songs: No, I wrote them, but he helped me realize them.

Sharon Van Etten performs Fri., Feb. 10, 8pm. Sold out. With Shearwater. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N Frankford Ave. johnnybrendas.com 

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