I sat down with singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten and we had a nice little chat on the telly-phone. She’s a great lady playing at Castaways tonight with The Bowerbirds, bringing mournful silver melodies to the Bowerbirds’ minimal acoustic labyrinths. Van Etten’s songs leave your heart bare, singing unhurriedly into the softer parts of sound.
Even though she ignored my call at first, which I’ll probably never get over, it gave me time to run downstairs and grab some Raisinets, one of America’s most underrated foods. You throw some Raisinets into a bowl with peanuts or cashews? Takes you to the 4th dimension of taste.
Sharon Van Etten plays tonight at Castaways. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. You’d be fool to miss it.
Sun: Thanks for letting me grab these delicious Raisinets, I’m a happier man for it. How’s it going.
Sharon Van Etten: Pretty good, I just got into Baltimore. We played a show in D.C. last night and we’re heading up to Ithaca tomorrow, the Bowerbirds are playing New York tonight.
Sun: How’s the tour going so far?
S.V.E.: Really great, I love those guys. I got to meet them years ago in North Carolina when I was just starting, and so it’s nice to see them continuously. It’s the first time they’re playing Ithaca with a five piece band since I’ve known them, it’s cool to be a part of that.
Sun: You’ve also added some new noises to the Van Etten repertoire, right?
S.V.E.: Yeah, I have a drummer, a bass player and a singer who usually play with me now. This week I’m solo, however, they’ve all got other things going on. It’s kind of a bummer.
Sun: Must be nice to get back to your roots though, right?
S.V.E.: [laughs] It’s nice but now I feel like there’s something missing, I got so used to them.
Sun: Classic misdirection. How’d you all run into each other?
S.V.E.: Well, the singer [Cat Martino] has a solo career under her name. We played a show together a few years ago in New York and kept in touch, and when I needed a singer for a project I did for Weathervane Music Organization she came and sang on this song “Love More” that came out earlier this year. We worked really well together so I asked her to sing on the record, and it just progressed from there. Right now she’s touring as a singer for Sufjan Stevens on his tour, so …
Sun: Oh. That guy.
S.V.E.: Yeah, she couldn’t be there in Ithaca this weekend because she’s singing with him.
S.V.E.: Right? It’s like, c’mon, you could’ve picked me! [laughs]
Sun: So, tell us a little about your latest release, epic.
S.V.E.: Yeah, epic with a lower case “e.” I’m a little joker.
Sun: Yeah, ya crazy prankster!
S.V.E.: Yeahhhhh, yeah that’s my new one.
Sun: How’d it come about?
S.V.E.: Well, it was the same guy who recorded “Love More” with me, and I had such a great experience in the studio that I wanted to record more songs that had the same kind of energy on the record, so I brought my friends into the studio and we made some music that I found had a really strong collaborative spirit, and we came out with epic. It was a lot bigger — it came out a lot bigger than I thought it would, so I called it epic.
Sun: That’ll do it.
S.V.E.: It felt big for me, and it’s probably a big change for anyone who knew my earlier music, but … for someone who’s never heard me it’s probably not that big [laughs].
Sun: It’s an evolution, definitely. I love the new sound. What made you end up pushing for that bigger, more confident sound?
S.V.E.: I’ve been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac —
S.V.E.: I mean, I always listen to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, but I wanted it to reflect the satisfaction and certainty that I feel after where I’ve been in my life and the things that I’ve gone through. Fleetwood Mac is kind of the soundtrack for that kind of feeling, they totally have the energy I was going for.
Sun: It seems you had a pretty musical upbringing, but where did you make the transition into making it a career, what was the final push in that direction?
S.V.E.: Well, I worked at a venue called The Red Rose in Tennessee for a while, and I was schooled a lot in music by the bands that would play there. It’s where I learned the most about new music at the time. I didn’t know this kind of musical possibility existed before I moved to Tennessee. I had always played guitar and sang, but I never had a lot of confidence to do it in front of people, but when I moved to New Jersey with a whole nest of friends and family they were really supportive and encouraging so I started playing shows.
Sun: Jersey will do that to ya, it has that effect. A really magical place. So how much longer are you gonna be jumping around on tour?
S.V.E.: This week I’m gonna be around the Northeast playing Ithaca, Northhampton, Syracuse and then I’m going back to New York to play at Fordham. Then there’s two weeks off to start recording a new album, then I’m out for all of November touring with Jose Gonzalez’s new band Junip.
Sun: Glorious! Are you gonna be swinging back East for us?
S.V.E.: I think it’s a full U.S. tour so … hopefully somewhere near you [laughs].
Sun: Any words of wisdom before we snap communications?
S.V.E.: Glad you asked. I would highly recommend watching Ricky Gervais’ stand-up. I just saw it yesterday and he has an amazing bit about elephants. And sorry I missed your call earlier, thanks for picking up.
Sun: I will find a way to forgive you someday, Sharon.
Original Author: Graham Corrigan