Q&A: Sharon Van Etten

TBI (C.E. Breslin): Thanks for taking some time to chat with us. You’ve got to be busy tying up loose ends before heading out for a couple weeks. You’ll head down South to play this stretch. A few dates in particular stand out this month. You’re set to play three nights in Durham, NC with a slew of insanely talented musicians, in an old church, doing shape note hymns. First, how’d you get to know all these guys (Megafaun, Bon Iver, Fight the Big Bull)?

Sharon Van Etten: I got to open up for Megafaun earlier this year. It was one of the most fun tours I have ever been on. They made me realize how much I miss the south. By the 2nd show they were like “we want to be your backing band!” They ended up being my backing band for 3 shows and learned 3 part harmonies for my songs. I wanted to cry – it was so amazing.

TBI: And how’d this project come together?

SVE: Those guys work really hard. We had a really good connection, and on top of that we share a love for harmonies, so when they said they were working on this project I wanted to be a part of it as soon as they asked me. Of course! They have such a natural ear for vocals and are amazing musicians. I feel so lucky. That’s all I can say.

TBI: It seems like these days Sacred Harp singing and gospel music has begun to enter into the mainstream consciousness in an interesting way and in interesting places. What’s your personal experience (past and present) with church music?

SVE: I was in choir all of my life. My mother, my sisters and I sang harmonies with each other constantly. The only reason I WENT to church was to sing. I love that feeling of people all singing together. It is something so much bigger than I will ever be able to understand. A group of people getting together to feel better and make something beautiful – together.

TBI: Alan Lomax (who compiled Sounds of the South) has been widely championed in the folk community for his extensive work with world music and various historical and cultural expressions. How important is it for young artists these days to know these sounds?

SVE: I think it helps to know where music has come from to understand where it is going and how it influences everything around us. All music is an oral history, whether or not “it’s cool” or whether or not we like it. It is forever stamped in time as “that moment.” I love that.

TBI: When you’re writing, how much do you try to balance revisiting the past with blazing new musical trails?

SVE: I don’t know. I explore my heart, my head, and try to have realizations. Who knows the depths they explore? I know not what I do. Not usually until after the fact do I realize it was a musician that influenced me or a moment that created the lyric…

TBI: Tell us a bit about your album, Epic, set to come out October 5. If your previous album came “Because You Were in Love,” what would you say “caused” this album?

SVE: Being more confident in who I am, the choices I’ve made, and where I am today.

TBI: What have you been listening to of late?

SVE: Autmelodi, Fanuelle, The Shivers, Lower Dens, OMD, Low, Die! Die! Die!, Skogar, Meg Baird, She Keeps Bees,… to name a few.

TBI: Besides playing and listening to music, do you have any other hobbies or past times?

SVE: I love eating, cooking food (when I have time) sitting on the deck in quiet, learning how to relax. I also just started writing more electronic music. I started calling it my after hours music cause it isn’t as loud as guitar, and with headphones on, I am learning to program beats and synths… but it’s slow still!

TBI: Sweet vs. Savory
SVE: Sweet
TBI: Beatles vs. Stones
SVE: Stones
TBI: Coffee vs. Tea
SVE: Coffee
TBI: Sunrises vs. Sunsets
SVE: Sunset

Free Association:
TBI: “epic.”
SVE: groundbreaking
TBI: “hope.”
SVE: optimsim
TBI: “Elvis.”
SVE: the king
TBI: “secular gospel.”
SVE: consoling
TBI: “home.”
SVE: comforting

TBI: Thanks for your time Sharon. Enjoy the tour, I look forward to seeing you all at Hayti!

SVE: Thank you so much, Chris! I can’t wait. You have no idea.