This ran in WE Mar. 15
The last time WE spoke with Sharon Van Etten was almost exactly a year ago. She had just transitioned from opener to headliner and was making the final rounds of her second album, Epic. Her venue? The Media Club. It was crowded, but not sold out. Fast forward to now: Van Etten’s third album, Tramp, has stunned critics and peers alike and her co-headlining show at the Biltmore, Mar. 24, is already sold out. WE spoke with Van Etten via email a few weeks before her show.
The title, Tramp, is provocative. Why that word with all its various connotations?
In my mind that was the only word that fit. I was doing a lot of travelling. I was displaced. I am a joker. I am a lover.
Tramp’s sound is more aggressive, the lyrics a little angrier in some places. How has your confidence grown over these three albums?
I am much more confident. I’m glad that translates.
Your writing has always felt somewhat confessional. How much of this album is written from your personal perspective versus crafting a narrative arc?
All of my writing up until now has been stream of consciousness. Even when I turn things around and try to relate, it somehow comes from a personal space. No matter how narrative a songwriter is, a lot is coming from personal experience.
Your choral background is more evident in the layering of the voices, particularly on “All I Can.”
I wrote that song in Japan. I toured there solo in December of 2010. I was writing deliriously at 4am or 5am, reflecting on the ridiculousness of the path I have chosen and how it has affected me and the people around me. Everything I have been through up until that point (good and bad) had gotten me to that very moment. Looking out over Tokyo, in a random hotel, unable to sleep, I wrote very freely.
How are you measuring your growth as an artist on this record?
I’m learning to collaborate with other people. I’m more open to other musicians’ ideas and less territorial with my songs.
There’s a great sort of droning quality to some of the vocals throughout. What was the creative decision behind that?
For my first two records, the mood was set by the emptiness of the space and the bleakness. I wanted to eliminate the starkness and replace it with clouds of darkness to create a mood. Also, in creating a minimal drone, there is more freedom to circle around the drone melodically. It frees up space.
Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs play Mar. 24 at Biltmore, 7pm. SOLD OUT.