A few days before “Are We There” release, Sharon Van Etten gave an interview to musikplease. She spoke about her artistic approach, influences, and more…
Musikplease : – Let’s rewind and talk about your 2012 album “Tramp”, which was recorded in certain unique circumstances. The album was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner and considering that times were hard for you then, the album was recorded at his place. Looking back, how was this rather difficult phase?
Sharon Van Etten : – This was a very hard time for me because I was still touring the album ‘epic’. I didn’t have a place to live and I spent all of my time off working on the record. I was exhausted.
MP : – The media focused on certain guest appearances, such as Zach Condon’s, from Beirut. Did you actively pursue these collaborators, or was meeting them dumb luck? Keeping on this line of inquiry, will “Are We There” feature other recording artists?
Sharon Van Etten : – I worked with Zach Condon when I worked at the record label, BaDaBing. We became friends. We bonded over having anxiety issues in life and in performing. The song that he sung on was about having a panic attack. I thought it made perfect sense. Of course he is an amazing singer and his ability to harmonize is very special. For ‘Are We There’ I wanted to focus on my band. We have been touring for over two years together now and we have a great rapport. We trust each other, understand each other, and we respect each other – which is exactly what one needs in the studio.
MP : – You have also contributed to the Broadwalk Empire OST. Did you enjoy the experience and would you be open to recording for TV shows again in the future?
Sharon Van Etten : -I had an amazing time. I walked into Avatar Studios in New York and there was a full orchestra waiting for me to sing with them. Stewart Lerman was an absolute light – a joy to work with. He was very positive and encouraging, had great suggestions… and the day went by so fast.
MP : – “Are We There” is co-produced by Stewart Lerman. You previously had a hand in producing your debut album “Because I Was In Love”: is it important for you to be involved in the production side of things?
Sharon Van Etten : -I think if I write the songs, I should be active in communicating what I want to whoever I am working with. All the songs are written before I go into the studio. Every person I’ve worked with on the past 3 albums has helped me choose which songs and helped me learn to communicate exactly what it was I wanted. I am still learning, but I am getting better.
MP : – Your fourth LP “Are We There” is released 5 years to the day (give or take) after your debut. Is this impressive output the sign of a particularly intense creative urgency?
Sharon Van Etten : -The first 3 albums are songs that I have written in the last ten years. I write all the time. I think these days an artist should put out a record every two years if they can. I know it feels like a lot, but for me, I just have that many songs and I put an album into motion when I feel like I have a group of songs that make sense together and a way to do it.
MP : – The first online extract, “Taking Chances”, seems less folky and not as raw compared to “Tramp”. The atmosphere has shifted somewhat and even feels electro-tinged. Do you feel the need to instrumentally layer your music in order to make it evolve?
Sharon Van Etten : -I just like trying to new things and I listen to new music all the time. I have been listening to a lot of Glass Candy and Air. I don’t want to keep writing the same songs or else why would I put out a new album?
MP : – You listen to Air ! Do you know others French artists ?
Sharon Van Etten : -I know the band Daltonians. Julie is such a sweetheart. Of course the old school Piaf & Serge.
MP : – Except electro, what other kinds of music do you like ?
Sharon Van Etten : – I’m into all kinds of music – punk rock, soul, grunge…
MP : – Who’s artists are you fan about, and who have influence you ?
Sharon Van Etten : – I am inspired by and am a huge fan of Torres, Doug Keith, Heather Woods Broderick, War on Drugs, Damien Jurado, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Orchestral Maneuvres in the Dark, Pylon, The Bats, The Clean, Karate, Cate Le Bon, Speck Mountain, Gate…
MP : – Your approach can be perceived as reminiscent of Elliott Smith’s. Was he a source of inspiration for you?
Sharon Van Etten : – I grew up listening to him. Absolutely. I think he is a much better lyricist than me and his lyrics are more backhanded. I don’t know how to do that naturally.
MP : – As always, your voice is gloriously, sometimes viscerally, intense. Does this emotional depth stem from the autobiographical nature of your lyrics?
Sharon Van Etten : – Singing and writing is my catharsis. It’s not something I try to do. It just happens. And I always write from a personal place. It’s very healing.
MP : – Taking into account the first two tracks present on your website, your videos are particularly polished. How important is the visual aesthetic to your music? Are you involved in the narrative / scriptwriting / direction of your videos?
Sharon Van Etten : – The two videos I have done were with friends and it wasn’t expensive. They had amazing ideas and are extremely talented people. I had nothing to do with it, other than agreeing.
MP : – Your visits to France are fleeting and limited to one date in Paris. You’ll be at the Café de le Dance on the 28 May, followed by several gigs in European capitals, before heading to the UK and then the US. Will we then have the pleasure of seeing you for further shows in France?
Sharon Van Etten : -We are working on more dates in France for hopefully later this year. Keep your fingers crossed.
MP : – A few days away from its official release, how do you feel about “Are We There”?
Sharon Van Etten : – I am extremely proud and extremely nervous.
Interview by Betty and Mike Ribes. Traduction : David MOURIQUAND