Sharon Van Etten

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Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten in 2010
Background information
Birth name Sharon Van Etten
Born (1981-02-26) February 26, 1981 (age 34)[1]
Clinton, New Jersey, United States
Origin Brooklyn, New York, United States
Genres Indie rock, folk, folk rock
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
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

Sharon Van Etten (born February 26, 1981) is an American singer-songwriter[2][3] from Brooklyn, New York.[4][5][6][7]

Early life[edit]

Sharon Van Etten was born in Clinton, New Jersey[8] the daughter of a history teacher, Janice Van Etten, and a computer programmer, Stephen Van Etten.[9][10] Sharon Van Etten is the middle of five children, an older brother, two sisters Jessica and Laura, and a younger brother Pete.[10]

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."[10]

Van Etten grew up in Nutley, New Jersey,[4] where she lived at the corner of Prospect and Vreeland streets, attending Yantacaw Elementary School.[11] She sang in choir and studied clarinet and violin and piano.[11] 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."[12]

Her family later moved to Clinton, New Jersey, where she attended North Hunterdon High School.[13] 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.[1] She taught herself how to play guitar: "I started writing songs, I guess, in high school when I was learning how to play guitar."[12] Van Etten credits choir with teaching her how to sing harmonies.[14] In 6th grade she was part of a 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."[12] 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.[12]

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, for about five years.[5][15] Van Etten said she was writing songs then, but did not perform publicly.[11][16] 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.[10] 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."[14][17]


After moving back home to New Jersey and working at Perryville Wine and Spirits,[11] Van Etten saved up enough money to move to Brooklyn in 2005,[18] where she was encouraged by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio to pursue a career in music.[19] 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.[5] 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.'"[20] Malone ended up playing Van Etten on his Guest DJ set for NPR's All Songs Considered.[21][22]

Van Etten released a number of hand-designed and self-released recordings prior to her debut studio recording.[23][24] These were hand-painted designs she would sell on her website, as well as postcards, and sometimes t-shirts.[15] 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.[25] 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.[15][26]

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.[15]

Because I Was in Love[edit]

Sharon Van Etten
(Newport Folk Festival 2012)

Van Etten's official debut, Because I Was in Love, was released on May 26, 2009, on Language of Stone, and was manufactured and distributed by Drag City.

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."[23] While Van Etten sang vocals and played acoustic guitar and tambourine, Weeks played electric guitar, organ, and wood blocks.[27]


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.[22] 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."[22]

epic features the song "Love More," which is characterized by its use of harmonium and guitarist and arranger, Jeffrey Kish on guitar with the Space Echo.[14][28]

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."[12]


Sharon Van Etten (January 6, 2013)

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.[29] The album features guest appearances from Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Barrick, Zach Condon, and Jenn Wasner.[30]

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."[29] 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."[31]

Are We There[edit]

May 2014 brought about the release of Van Etten's fourth record, Are We There on Jagjaguwar.[32] 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.[33] The album was recorded at Hobo Sound Studios in Weehawken, New Jersey, and at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.[34]


Musical style[edit]

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)."[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Van Etten's songs were described by the music website Pitchfork Media as having "echoes of folk tradition."[23]

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."[22]




  • 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)[37]
  • 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)[38]
  • 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)[39][40][41]
  • January 2015: "I Don't Want to Let You Down" by Sharon Van Etten (Digital) - Jagjaguwar [42]

Other contributions[edit]

  • 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)[25]
  • 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"[43]
  • December 2012: "Prisoners" with J Mascis on The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver[44][45]
  • January 2013: Van Etten performed at John Cale's tribute to Nico, [ A Life Along the Borderline], at the Brooklyn Academy of Music[46]
  • July 2013: "Serpents" was featured in the season 4 trailer for The Walking Dead at Comic-Con[47]
  • 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[48]
  • November 2014: "Every Time the Sun Comes Up" was used in the Season 3 Elementary Episode "The Five Orange Pipz"[49]

Personal life[edit]

Van Etten lives in Brooklyn, New York.[7]

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."[10]

Before becoming a musician, she was training to be a sommelier, working as a manager at a New York City wine store for three years.[10]


  1. ^ a b Davison, Jeffrey (February 11, 2012). "Live Session with Sharon Van Etten and Heather Woods Broderick" (in-studio). WFMU: Shrunken Planet with Jeffrey Davison: Playlist from February 11, 2012. WFMU. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Ferguson, Wm. (February 2, 2012). "The Rough Harmonies of Sharon Van Etten". New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Leahey, Andrew. "Sharon Van Etten: Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Dollar, Steve (February 3, 2012). "She's Gonna Make It After All". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Chiu, David. "Sharon Van Etten Is Not Hiding Anymore". Microphone Memory Emotion. Retrieved 22 February 2014. September 25, 2009 
  6. ^ Amaya, Jessica (January 10, 2011). "Sharon Van Etten headlined Bowery Ballroom (pics, video, live recording, setlist), touring through April (dates)". Brooklyn Vegan. Spin Music, a division of SpinMedia. Retrieved 22 February 2014. Headlining, not to mention selling out, the approx-600-capacity Bowery Ballroom is a milestone in an artist's career. It means even more when it happens to a beloved, local and talented artist who has worked her way up and truly deserves it. 
  7. ^ a b Bonney, Grace (May 2012). "At Home: with Sharon Van Etten". Design Sponge. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Sharon Van Etten". NPR. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "Janice Van Etten". Voorhees Social Studies Department. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Diu, Nisha Lilia (May 13, 2012). "Sharon van Etten: folk heroine". Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d Proctor, Owen (July 9, 2012). "Nutley native Sharon Van Etten releases third album, gets national attention". The Nutley Sun. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Tinkham, Chris (November 17, 2010). "Sharon Van Etten". Under the Radar. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  13. ^ Regis (North Hunterdon High School Yearbook): 44. 1999.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ a b c McTear, Brian (January 26, 2010). "Sharon Van Etten" (video). Shaking Through. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c d Nardwuar (July 2, 2012). "Nardwuar vs. Sharon Van Etten & Lemmy of Motorhead !" (audio). Nardwuar The Human Serviette Show. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  16. ^ Haruch, Steve (20 January 2011). "How Sharon Van Etten went from Murfreesboro coffee slinger to one of the country's most original voices". Nashville Scene. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  17. ^ Hyden, Steven (January 18, 2010). "Sharon Van Etten's crazy ex-boyfriend can suck it". AV Club. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  18. ^ The Fly (November 21, 2012). "The Top 50 Albums Of 2012: #1 Sharon Van Etten". The Fly. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  19. ^ Smith, Dane (18 January 2011). "Confidence a plenty". Mountain Xpress. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  20. ^ Hilton, Robin (November 14, 2010). "Sharon Van Etten: Tiny Desk Concert". NPR. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  21. ^ "All Things Considered: Guest DJ Kyp Malone". NPR. November 2, 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c d Hilton, Robin (September 15, 2010). "First Listen: Sharon Van Etten, 'Epic'". NPR. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  23. ^ a b c Murphy, Matthew (June 22, 2009). "Sharon Van Etten: Because I Was in Love". Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  24. ^ Cian Traynor (March 20, 2012). "Blindsided By Love: Sharon Van Etten Interviewed". The Quietus. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Mertes, Micah (31 March 2011). "Sharon Van Etten, a voice to be reckoned with". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  26. ^ "Ba Da Bing Records - About". Ba Da Bing Records. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  27. ^ "Sharon Van Etten: Because I Was In Love". Language of Stone. May 26, 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  28. ^ Weingarten, Christopher (August 17, 2010). "Q&A: Sharon Van Etten Talks the Genesis of "Love More," Recording Her New Epic, and Her Most Memorable NYC Show". Village Voice. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  29. ^ a b Blau, Max (March 9, 2012). "Sharon Van Etten: Tramps Like Us". American Songwriter. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  30. ^ Guendelsberger, Emily (November 9, 2011). "Sharon Van Etten announces new album, tour dates, eerie resemblance to Carrie-Ann Moss". AV Club (Philadelphia). Onion Inc. Archived from the original on April 16, 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  31. ^ Meatto, Keith (February 7, 2012). "Going National: A Review of Sharon Van Etten, Tramp". Frontier Psychiatrist. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  32. ^ "Up to Date Preview of Are We There?". F Yeah! Sharon Van Ettan: Fan Blog for Sharon Van Etten. October 22, 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  33. ^ "Sharon Van Etten to release new album 'Are We There?' in May". NME. January 17, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  34. ^ Roffmanon, Michael (February 20, 2014). "Sharon Van Etten announces new album Are We There". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  35. ^ "The National: Tour / History 2001-2013". American Mary. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  36. ^ "Sharon Van Etten - Tours". Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  37. ^ "Sharon Van Etten – Much More Than That". Discogs. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  38. ^ "Sharon Van Etten – I'm Giving Up on You". Discogs. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  39. ^ "Record Store Day Essential // Shearon Van Ettenwater Split 7". Jagjaguwar. March 26, 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  40. ^ Pelly, Jenn (March 21, 2013). "Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater Releasing Collaborative Sub Pop 7" Single for Record Store Day". Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  41. ^ Modell, Josh (Mar 13, 2012). "Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater cover "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" (A.V. Undercover Season 3)" (video). AV Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  42. ^ "Sharon Van Etten – I Don't Want To Let You Down". Discogs. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  43. ^ "Music from Episode 36 of Boardwalk Empire on HBO". HBO. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  44. ^ ""The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver" Out Now!". ATO Records. December 12, 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  45. ^ Roffman, Michael (March 6, 2013). "Listen to J Mascis and Sharon Van Etten cover John Denver's "Prisoners"". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  46. ^ "Life Along the Borderline: A Tribute to Nico", BAM. Accessed 4 August 2014.
  47. ^ "Comic-Con Trailer: The Walking Dead Season 4". AMC Networks. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  48. ^ Van Etten, Sharon (August 12, 2013). "New SVE T-shirt is now Live – Proceeds to Charity". Sharon Van Etten. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  49. ^ McNutt, Myles (6 November 2014). "Elementary: "The Five Orange Pipz"". AV Club. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 

External links[edit]