By Shayla Friesen
CALGARY — There’s nothing dubious about Sharon Van Etten’s magnetic, magical allure. Her voice’s airy, honeyed tones are amplified by pure emotion, such that her songs are often melancholy and reflective. There’s a certain coy sensuality that Van Etten is able to effortlessly portray through her music, spilling her guts with glittering grace.
“One flat tire and a broken string so far!” she glows through the phone. As I chat with her on a sunny afternoon, she’s aboard the tour bus, en route to Denver. Her latest tour is in support of her latest self-produced record Are We There, released by Jagjagwuar records.
“(Self-producing) was something I needed to do for myself. The best part is getting to hang out with my friends, and also working together, but working together is also another reason to hang out when everyone is so busy, you know?”
This time around, Van Etten took the bulk of the reins. With the help of producer Stewart Lehrman, Van Etten was able to create a comfortable, yet focused environment in the studio.
“One of the things I took away is you have to be comfortable with the people you’re working with, especially when you’re in that kind of space where you can be really vulnerable, so that you can really be yourself, and really let go and try stuff you wouldn’t normally try. That really meant a lot to me.”
The captivating songstress often sings about heartbreak and shadow-laden times, things that are genuine and close to her. People may stereotype her as a crooning, too sombre of a singer, but her songs are deeply rooted and authentic to her experiences.
“There was an ex who, actually, a long time ago now, basically told me that I wasn’t good enough, told me not to play live music. I was young and impressionable, and I was so in love with him, I believed him that I wasn’t good enough. In the end, once I decided to leave, everything started falling into place. It was like the universe telling me that everything was going to be OK.
“Every time I write, it’s coming from a real place. Right now it’s all very stream of consciousness, it’s all very personal.”
On her latest single, “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” Van Etten defiantly divulges, “I washed your dishes/but I shit in your bathroom.” She, simply and effectively, sums up a dreary domestic relationship that is doomed to drag on and on. “When you realize you’re not being yourself and you’re not making each other happy, you know and you slowly start cutting other people out of your life — it’s not healthy. It took me way too long, but it’s better now.”
Van Etten steadily and serendipitously continues to climb steeper ranges. She had once interned at Ba Da Bing Records in Brooklyn, working hard to learn the music industry inside out, before being discovered by her then boss Ben Goldberg. She’s played for “walls of sound” at coked out clubs, then hushed large crowds to less than a murmur, while bar staff stood motionless.
She has even had Aaron Dessner of the National and Bon Iver cover her song, “Love More” in years past. This eventually led to Dessner producing Sharon’s third album, Tramp.
“It was at a festival in Ohio that Aaron and Bryce put on every year, they ended up covering that song, which is why I ended up reaching out to them. At the time, I was working on Epic, the song came out before the album came out, and they were really busy working on their records, but, you know, they reached back out to me and said anytime that we wanted to work together or just hang out to stay in touch or whatever and it grew from there. Crazy coincidences you know?”
Catch Sharon Van Etten on July 8 at Republik (Calgary), on July 9 at the Starlite Room (Edmonton) and at the Winnipeg Folk Festival on July 12 and 13.AB, Alberta, Republik, Sharon Van Etten, Starlite Room, Winnipeg Folk Festival