Sharon Van Etten
|Sharon Van Etten|
Sharon Van Etten in 2010
|Birth name||Sharon Van Etten|
February 26, 1981 |
Clinton, New Jersey, United States
|Origin||Brooklyn, New York, United States|
|Genres||Indie rock, folk, folk rock|
|Instruments||Vocal, guitar, piano, percussion, omnichord, harmonium|
|Years active||2009 - present|
|Labels||Jagjaguwar, Ba Da Bing, Language Of Stone|
|Associated acts||The Antlers, Shilpa Ray, The National, Beirut, The Walkmen, Wye Oak, Julianna Barwick, Shearwater|
After moving back home to New Jersey and working at Perryville Wine and Spirits, Van Etten saved up enough money to move to Brooklyn, New York in 2005, where she was encouraged by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio to pursue a career in music. Malone said she'd approached him at one of his shows and gave him a CD-R of her songs. Van Etten was friends with Malone's brother, Colin, in high school. Malone normally doesn't listen to fan submissions, but "he put Van Etten's album on and fell in love. 'She's been silencing rooms in drunken bars for a long time,' Malone says. 'Really very arresting. She just sends me.'" Malone ended up playing Van Etten on his Guest DJ set for NPR's All Songs Considered.
Van Etten released a number of hand-designed and self-released recordings prior to her debut studio recording. These were hand-painted designs she would sell on her website, as well as postcards, and sometimes t-shirts. She also worked as a publicist at Ba Da Bing Records in order to learn how the music industry worked, but didn't tell them that she was writing and performing music. She got the job via a friend, Alicia Savoy, who she went to college with in Tennessee. She started out as an intern and worked her way up to being a full-time publicist.
Van Etten said that Jeffrey Davison, a deejay on WFMU who has a show called "Shrunken Planet," was the first person to play one of her homemade CDs on his show. Van Etten has become close to Davison and his wife, who have her over for record listening evenings.
Because I Was In Love
In 2008, Van Etten had gone on tour opening for Meg Baird, a founding member and lead female vocalist for the Philadelphia folk rock band Espers. During the tour Van Etten met Baird's Espers band-mate Greg Weeks. Weeks and Van Etten co-produced and recorded Because I Was in Love at Hexham Head studio in Philadelphia. Van Etten kept "the album's arrangements minimal and direct, augmenting her voice and guitar with only the occasional splash of organ, brushed cymbals, or multi-tracked vocal harmonies." While Van Etten sang vocals and played acoustic guitar and tambourine, Weeks played electric guitar, organ, and wood blocks.
On September 21, 2010 she released her second album epic on Ba Da Bing Records. The record features Meg Baird, Cat Martino, and Jessica Larrabee on backing vocals. NPR described it as possessing "a fuller sound compared to the super-spare arrangements on her first two self-produced albums, but epic still feels incredibly intimate, with lots of room to breathe and unfold."
On the title of the record: "But the joke was, if someone was hearing me for the first time, they're not going to feel like it's a big deal, but to me it was a really big deal. So I called it epic but with a lowercase "e," to kind of make a joke about how it's really big but it's not that big. It's a big change for me, but if it's your first experience, you're not even gonna know. [Laughs.] I don't know, it's a joke that, I think, nobody thinks is funny, but I liked the fact that it's a lowercase 'e,' and that it got approved, and it's really this kind of tiny record in an epic way to me. And it kind of marks the change of me having a band, and I'm really excited about it. But it's all lowercase."
Her third studio album, Tramp, was released on February 7, 2012 on Jagjaguwar. Tramp was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, and recorded in his studio from October 2010 to July 2011. The album features guest appearances from Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Barrick, Zach Condon, and Jenn Wasner.
In regard to the album's guest appearances, Van Etten told American Songwriter magazine, "People may think 'They got this star-studded cast,' but what it boils down to is that they’re friends that wanted to participate on this record." "Tramp" debuted at No. 75 on the Billboard 200 charts.
The record has been described, compared to her prior records, as having "a professional polish, with layered vocal harmony, electric and acoustic guitars, organ, ukelele, and drums. Most songs follow the classic arc: quiet beginning with an instrument or two, a gradual increase in volume and complexity, followed by a peak, and a quiet denouement."
Are We There
May 2014 brought about the release of Van Etten's fourth record, Are We There on Jagjaguwar. Van Etten self-produced the record with Stewart Lerman. The record includes Torres' Mackenzie Scott, Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg, Lower Dens' Jana Hunter and Efterklang affiliate Peter Broderick. Van Etten said some of the instruments in the recording of the album were used by John Lennon and Patti Smith. The album was recorded at Hobo Sound Studios in Weehawken, New Jersey and at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
- 2011: In February–March 2011, Van Etten joined The National for 13 European tour dates and at the 2011 MusicNOW Festival in Cincinnati. In September 2011, Van Etten opened for The National again at the Hollywood Bowl (with Neko Case) and in December 2011, at the Beacon Theatre
- 2012: In May 2012, Van Etten played alongside The Walkmen, Beirut, St. Vincent, The Antlers, Atlas Sound, and others at the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
- 2013: In March/April 2013, Van Etten opened for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds's North American tour, sometimes singing guest backing vocals with Cave and his band
Van Etten's music is characterized by a heavy-use of harmonies. From the New York Times: "Not many rock musicians use harmony the way she does.... These harmonies do more than sweeten a melody. Van Etten doesn’t even really consider them harmonies. 'I just hear two notes at once — I just hear two melodies.' (On tour, she shares the singing with an especially attuned backup singer, Heather Woods Broderick.)"
NPR Music asserts: "Her songs are heartfelt without being overly earnest; her poetry is plainspoken but not overt, and her elegant voice is wrapped in enough rasp and sorrow to keep from sounding too pure or confident."
- 2007: "Much More Than That" / "Over Your Shoulder" by Sharon Van Etten (7") - Abaton Book Company, Lost Lathe Series (limited edition: 30 hand-numbered copies)
- September 10, 2010: "I'm Giving Up On You" / "You Didn't Really Do That" by Sharon Van Etten (7") - Polyvinyl Record Company – PRC-206 (limited edition: 500 copies on black vinyl)
- April 2013: "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" / "A Wake for the Minotaur" (7") by Shearon Van Ettenwater (Subpop) - a collaboration between Van Etten and Shearwater for Record Store Day 2013 (limited edition: 1,000 copies)
- April 2009: "Coming Home" written by Jeremy Joyce for the feature film, Woman's Prison (vocals and guitar)
- August 2009: "Thirteen" on Hospice by The Antlers (vocals)
- March 2011: "Think You Can Wait" by The National from the soundtrack to the film Win Win (backing vocals)
- April 2012: "Serpents" was featured in the season 2 finale of Lost Girl, "Flesh And Blood"
- December 2012: A cover of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do" was recorded with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks for the season 3 finale of Boardwalk Empire, "Margate Sands"
- December 2012: "Prisoners" with J Mascis on The Music is You: A Tribute to John Denver
- January 2013: Van Etten performed at John Cale's tribute to Nico, [ A Life Along the Borderline], at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
- July 2013: "Serpents" was featured in the season 4 trailer for The Walking Dead (TV series) at Comic-Con
- August 2013: Van Etten designed a limited edition charity t-shirt which was being sold through the Yellow Bird Project to raise money for Women In Need (WIN), a charity that provides safe housing for homeless women and their children in New York City
Sharon Van Etten was born in Clinton, New Jersey the daughter of a computer programmer father, Stephen Van Etten, and a history teacher mother, Janice Van Etten. Sharon Van Etten is the middle of five children, an older brother, two sisters Jessica and Laura, and a younger brother Pete.
Growing up her parents had a "big vinyl collection. We would always listen to it. We went to shows all the time of their favourite musicians and my brothers and sisters and I would pretend we were in a band together."
Van Etten grew up in Nutley, New Jersey, where she lived at the corner of Prospect and Vreeland Streets, attending Yantacaw Elementary School. She sang in choir and studied clarinet and violin and piano. Van Etten started singing in church choir. "My mom brought me to church every Sunday, and, I'm not a very religious person, but that was the one plus to going. I really liked the feeling of a lot of people singing together. The reverberations felt really amazing at a young age, and I didn't really understand it yet."
Her family later moved to Clinton, New Jersey, where she attended North Hunterdon High School. Van Etten said that although she sang in choir starting from 6th grade, she didn't begin to take it more seriously until high school. She taught herself how to play guitar: "I started writing songs, I guess, in high school when I was learning how to play guitar." Van Etten credits choir with teaching her how to sing harmonies. In 6th grade she was part of choir called The Mini Singers. Van Etten said that "it was a bunch of kids singing pop songs. I really, really liked that. It was the first time I learned how to sing harmonies." Van Etten was part of the high school choir group, The Madrigals, who performed a lot of classical pieces. Van Etten credits this training with how she learned how to write harmony.
She moved to Tennessee to attend Middle Tennessee State University and studied recording, but dropped out of college after a year. Van Etten ending up working at the Red Rose, a coffee and record shop and music venue in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for about five years. Van Etten said she was writing songs then, but did not perform publicly. Van Etten said the boyfriend she was with at the time wasn't very supportive of her so she had to hide the fact that she wrote songs because he didn't think she was good enough to perform in front of people. After six years of being told that "her music was terrible," Van Etten left the abusive relationship in the middle of the night and moved back to New Jersey to live with her parents. With their support, she said, "they took me under their wing and let me get my act back together."
Van Etten has many tattoos: "three black armbands in memory of relatives who have died, an African violet symbolising her maternal grandmother, a fairy, a guitar and a number of others."
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