Sharon Van Etten Settles Into New Dynamic for 'Tramp'
Published: Monday, August 13, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 13, 2012 14:08
Sharon Van Etten is a bona fide road warrior. The soulful singer-songwriter from New Jersey has been touring and traveling for months without much stability. Even while working on her latest album, Tramp, Van Etten rolled with the punches without a home address. Now she’s touring through December and into January of next year without much rest.
Her vagabond ways resulted in a career-changing album that was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, who played a huge role in crafting the songs. Previously a lone wolf, Van Etten learned to collaborate on Tramp and now has a band to call her own. While the album deals with being displaced, it seems the next chapter in Van Etten’s story is all about constancy.
College Times: How’s the year treating you thus far?
Sharon Van Etten:It’s very crazy, and it makes me feel manic sometimes, but good. We’ve been touring hardcore since February and we’ve already been to Europe twice, or three times, and we’ve already toured the US two or three times. It’s a lot because I’m trying to make everybody happy and playing as much as possible and playing as good as we can. I’m not a natural born leader and I’m sharing a space with four other people and being put in stressful situations. I feel like I’m a lot more confident now than I was in the past. We have so much fun that it balances out.
Is it hard having to play night after night?
Every show differs. Usually it’s validating. It’s hard to travel and then work on top of that, but when you play for people that are into your music and they’re there and you’re connecting, all those stresses go away. I can be tired sometimes and disoriented and exhausted but having people there helps all the other hardships go away.
Does being honest in your songwriting come naturally?
When I write it’s usually because I’m going through a hard time and I’m not really good at communicating my emotions when I’m going through something and I’m in the middle of it. So, a melody comes to mind and I play guitar and I just sing stream of conscious over that and I hit record. And I let it record for like 10 minutes and I listen back to it and try to understand what it is what I was saying. That doesn’t usually turn into a song because I think sometimes there is such a thing as too personal and some people can’t really relate to it. It starts with me trying to get through my own troubles, but I feel like in the editing process, or censoring process or whatever you want to call it, I feel like [there is] a universal message or a lesson learned, an emotion expressed that will help other people. That’s when I try to turn it into a proper song and show it to people and see how they respond to it.
How was working with Aaron Dessner?
Aaron’s amazing. It’s the first time I worked one-on-one with a producer that helped me to flesh out the songs more than I had in the past. It was pretty barebones before, which is what I wanted. This is the first time I was really ready to let go and work on songs together with one other person. I had the songs written going in, but I didn’t have any idea what I wanted for instrumentation apart from that I knew that I wanted a big band for most of the songs. He was really integral in helping me learn to communicate what it was I wanted without knowing technical speak, y’know? He was really easy to be around. It was like working on something with your brother.
Would the album be completely different if you had another producer?
Definitely. The ideas that he brought up are ones that I wouldn’t have naturally thought of. When you work with somebody else it’s about what they will bring to the table. Going into it we both didn’t want to make a National record. I love his guitar style and his skill is so incredible. He was very conscious the whole time [of] trying not to turn it into that. He really just wanted to help me. He liked my songwriting and didn’t want to take anything away from that, which in the beginning is something that I really trusted. He just wanted to make my songs sound good.
You were also physically in lots of different places while writing, so how did that affect the album?
Between touring a lot and subletting and couch surfing you’re in so many different head spaces. I put all my stuff in storage and just had a notebook, a guitar and a bag of clothes. That kind of get-up-and-go lifestyle can be hard but it made all the songs sound really different. I wrote a song in Poland. I wrote a song in a random house I was crashing at. Being misplaced and living in so many different places helped the record be more versatile and more diverse. I don’t know if that’s obvious to other people, but to me, that’s how it feels.
Since then have you settled somewhere?
Yes, I found a really nice home in Denton Park. It’s like in the south of Brooklyn. It’s actually where Aaron’s garage is that we recorded in. I spent so much time here that I started feeling at home here so I moved in October.
Was it hard to shake off thetraveling lifestyle?
I guess the good thing is that I’m touring a lot so I have the best of both worlds. I have a home and I have a place to go.
Sharon Van Etten w/Tennis, Crescent Ballroom, August 15, 8 p.m., $15 to $17