When she was an intern at Ba Da Bing Records, Sharon Van Etten kept quiet about writing and recording her own material. Thankfully, her secret eventually came out and she soon released the epic Epic via a label that was already home. And that's when things started to really happen. She was on tour with Megafaun when they showed her footage of their ex-bandmate (remember that crazy cabin guy who was really obsessed with some chick named Emma up in Wisconsin? I think his name was Bon Iver, maybe? It escapes me) covering one of the songs from Epic along with members of the National. With her third album, Tramp (released Feb. 7), Sharon's definitely decided to play nice with the other kids on the block: Matt Barrick of the Walkmen, Jennifer Wasner of Wye Oak, and Zach Condon of Beirut all pitched in, along with heavyweight champ Andy Dessner of the National serving as the project's corpus callosum, i.e. producer, baby. We caught Sharon via phone from Charlotte sounding gracious, quiet, and quite a lady if we ever heard one. But goddamn, she sure does look at you long and hard from the album cover like a straight up G, doesn't she?
I saw the video you just posted on Facebook of that Iggy Pop cover.
Sharon Van Etten: [Laughs]
Do you like Stooges or Fun House better?
I think Fun House is really, really great.
I've listened to your new album four times and I can't find the word "tramp" anywhere in there, though I know it might be hidden in there. Why did you choose the title Tramp?
I chose it because, well, the original definition of tramp is to just be homeless or to be traveling. I was just staying with friends mostly when I was writing this record so I wanted that to be known. I didn't necessarily want to make a statement with the word but it's kind of me owning the word.
You also really wanted a very strong album cover. Your album cover also alludes to John Cale's album cover for Fear.
I kind of wanted the cover to be androgynous but strong. I didn't want it to be pretty, I just wanted it to be straight-forward. And I think artwork covers [resonate with] what you hear.
You were once in a college relationship that was very unhealthy and you've often said in your interviews that writing and music is very much like self-therapy for you. Do you think music has saved you?
I think so, I mean I would be a very different person if I didn't write or sing. I have no other outlet, and I feel like I wouldn't know how to communicate with people. I've had a hard time communicating my emotions to people since I was a child. My mom gave me a journal [when I was a child].
On one of the new tracks, "We Are Fine," you collaborated with Zach Condon of Beirut because you both deal with social anxiety and panic attacks. Which is weird because in all my times researching people I don't think I've ran into someone with so many interviews. You do interviews like crazy.
I couldn't even read all of them [both laugh]! So with you dealing with anxiety, it was so paradoxical to me that you do all these interviews. It obviously is kind of a part of your job, but how do you feel about all this? About doing press and interviews, and being on stage all the time? It's a very public life.
It's a very weird thing to do. It took a while to get used to and even then it's still weird and uncomfortable sometimes. But, I know that it's really important, and I want people to feel connected to my music and even me in a way. Why I play music is to connect with people. But the thing is, doing interviews is important. It's just that doing interviews is weird.
I've just realized that I possibly made this doubly uncomfortable. Sorry girl. [We both laugh.] In one interview, you said something that really struck me. You said, "I learned a lot about honesty in music," in regards to your internship at Ba Da Bing Records. What exactly did you learn?
I was lucky enough to start working at Ba Da Bing while I was working on my record. I'd invite bands over and just have coffee. Ben [Goldberg, founder of Ba Da Bing] is one of the most honest people I know, the most ethical. First and foremost, he's a friend to everyone he's worked with. And it was a really nice way to be introduced to New York. There's a lot of people that work in the industry that are jaded and don't really care so much about the person behind the music.
Serpents is your single off this record. Lyrically this is your most gruesome and wrenching work yet, and if I was Andy, I'd be mad at Jenn [both of Wye Oak] for giving you that guitar work instead of keeping it for one of their songs. What's it about for you?
When I wrote that song I really hadn't written much at that point. I sublet a studio for a couple of years and when nobody was home I'd play really, really loud, and at the time I was trying to get over a relationship. I was trying to learn my lessons. That's what most of my songs are about.
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