Live & Direct with Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten joined Rosemary Welsch and WYEP members for a Live & Direct Session on Friday, June 20, 2014. Heather Woods Broderick, Van Etten’s musical partner, provided chilling harmonies and additional accompaniment on acoustic guitar and an electric Omnichord instrument. If you know Van Etten’s music, you’ll know that she writes music from a vulnerable place—and that was certainly reflected in her candid and rare Live & Direct interview with Rosemary.
The album art from her new release, Are We There features a black and white photograph of a woman yelling out of a car window; Rosemary was curious about the metaphorical meaning of the image and how it relates to the album’s content. Van Etten explained that she was taking a photography class at the time, and while visiting a friend in Tennessee, they each took turns yelling out of the car windows and taking pictures while driving on country roads. It was Van Etten’s first print that she made and she had given it to her on-and-off boyfriend of ten years. She had figured he had thrown it away, but she found it amongst other letters, post cards and mix CDs she had sent him. “It really summed up where we were,” Van Etten commented. The image was covered in dust and she knew that this would be the album cover because it reflected the current state of their relationship, which inspired many of the songs on the album. “I think that’s a little more than just metaphorical,” Rosemary joked. “That’s me!” Van Etten laughed.
Even though Van Etten writes songs about highly personal experiences and relationships, she hopes that her listeners can “connect to it themselves.” “It’s a little bit like open therapy listening to these songs,” Rosemary said. “It’s very daring.” Van Etten is skilled at creating beautifully haunting melodies paired with powerful and poetic lyrics that allow you to feel what she is feeling, but not feel bad for her. “If you meet me you know what I do and I write about my life, so I’m going to be true to that,” Van Etten commented.
Singing with Heather Woods Broderick helps Van Etten feel grounded while performing. Because Broderick is also a songwriter, she has the “sensibility of knowing when to lean in and hang back.” Van Etten was very complimentary of Broderick’s own music saying, “It’s some of the most beautiful music you’ll ever hear.” Her songs focus on the vocals and harmonies, and Heather serves as her support on stage if she’s ever having a weak or emotional moment on stage. “Heather grounds me. She’s my rock on stage.”
Van Etten described the rigorous and demanding lifestyle of a touring musician, and despite being on the move all the time, sleep deprived, and getting the inevitable cold, she enjoys the experience of touring. “I think a lot of people don’t get the work ethic you have to have,” Rosemary acknowledged. Before becoming a successful touring musician who has been recognized by writers such as Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker, Van Etten exhibited a strong work ethic in her youth—she took ballet, tap, jazz, clarinet, and violin lessons, played soccer, softball, and was a cheerleader, barista, worked at a state park, McDonalds, Subway, and participated in musicals. As a self-described “spaz,” she’s used to doing everything and that’s how she’s able to keep up with the intensive tour schedule, while still managing to have fun.
Lisa Fierstein, Music & Programming Intern
Sharon Van Etten performs at the WYEP Studios on June 20, 2014.
Everytime the Sun Comes Up