"It’s very open, very honest, there’s no filter..." - hmv.com talks to Sharon Van Etten
New York native Sharon Van Etten is relative late bloomer, not releasing her first album until she was 28, but she's since made up for lost time with a string of critically acclaimed records that bridge the gap between harmony covered folk and reverb drenched rock. Her new record Are We There is out on Monday (May 26th) and we called her up to find all about the making of the album, co-producing for the first time and how the album was inspired by the challenge of keeping a relationship going while being out on tour.
Your new record Are We There is out next week, how are you feeling ahead of release? Excited or nervous?
“I’m definitely both of those things. I’ve just had my first week rehearsing with the band and all the songs are sounding really good. I’m excited to play them live. I want everyone to like the record, but it’s quite different from my last record, so I’m more curious to know what people think than anything.”
When did you finish the album off?
“It was finished tracking on Halloween and then all the mixing and mastering was done by late January. Making sure everything was just right took some time, but this is so special to me, I wanted to make sure.”
Was it a simple record to make? Or more complicated?
“I had all but one song written before I went into the studio, which was at the end of July, so during August, September and October I was in the studio every day. It was a real learning experience for me because it was my first time co-producing, so I was taking the lead and telling people what to do. It was a really nice experience, but it meant that I had to be a bit more open and vulnerable.”
You’ve said it’s a very different record from Tramp…
“Sonically it’s not as dense, there aren’t as many rock songs, it’s slower, more mid-tempo, not quite, it’s not a pop record, it’s a little to the left, a little odd, but I think it’s really strong.”
What was that your intention when you started out?
“I wanted to do something different, I loved the last record and working with Aaron (Desner, key member of The National), but I felt that having his name on it put a bit of a shadow on the actual songwriting when I came to talk to me about it. I wanted this to be my thing, I didn’t want to bury the songs with sonics, I didn’t want walls of sound, it was really important to me that every time came in you know what it is and you can hear it clearly.”
You worked with Stuart Lerman on the album, what did he bring to the process?
“He was great. Before we went into the studio, he sat down with me and we worked exactly what it was I wanted from the record.”
You co-produced the album, so was he there more to guide you?
“Initially he was just supposed to help me find a studio, but after he heard all the songs he had so much good advice. He was great to have and he was so much help during the mixing process and in tracking, we were a team, we did different parts, but I really loved working with him.”
“The whole theme of the record is career versus relationship. Last time out I was trying to tour and have a relationship and that was really difficult. It ended up being a contest where I felt like I couldn’t win.”
So does that mean the songs are either quite positive or quite negative?
“It’s not negativity, it’s more frustration. There’s lots of love on this record too, but it’s acknowledging the frustrations in relationships.”
How did it compare to writing the lyrics for Tramp?
“Yeah, all my other records have been me reflecting on the past, whereas this was something was currently going on. In a way that makes it a much more current record, it’s still going on, my other records were me putting my past to bed, this is still in my life, it feels very open and fresh, it’s the last year of my life, it’s very open, very honest, there’s no filter.”
Do these songs feel like snapshots of particular moments?
“Absolutely, I can tell you pretty much exactly where I was when I wrote every song, I won’t, but I could…”
What’s the plan for after the album comes out?
“We’re basically touring until September, then we have September off, then we’re booking tours now for the fall, so you’ll be hearing a lot from me. I want to tour as much as possible, I want to work very hard for this record.”
Finally, what records were you listening to in the making of the record?
“A lot of Sade and Glass Animals as well as people like PJ Harvey and Suicide, lots of great records.”
Sharon Van Etten’s new album Are We There will be released on Monday (May 26th) and is available for pre-order now in hmv stores.