Be specific: Sharon Van Etten on being specific
By David Malitz
Sharon Van Etten separated herself from the singer-songwriter pack on her debut album, “Because I Was In Love,” thanks to her crystal-clear voice, engaging lyrics and ear for melody. She completely breaks away with her new album, “epic,”which finds her backed by a full band, which make her confessional songs all the more dynamic. She performs at DC9 Wednesday night and talked to Click Track about playing with a band how specific she gets with her lyrics.
You named your new album “epic” - that’s a kind of gutsy move, don’t you think?
It was half a joke. Because the epic is lowercase. The whole idea is that it’s big for me but if other people listen to it as a first “Sharon experience” they probably wouldn’t think it was big. But I like having a joke somewhere in an album. So that was my joke.
Did you enjoy the experience of playing with a band?
I’m still figuring it out. That was my first time ever trying to work with a band. The solo stuff is a way to connect with people immediately. To be conversational. I’ve only played with a band so far twice. But it’s really liberating. I feel more confident when I play with them. So I know that’s kind of a switch compared to playing solo because it’s so soul-bearing. There’s no one up there that has your back.
That seems a bit terrifying. Is it?
I still freak out a little. (Laughs.) I’m getting better about not being obvious about it. I hope! But it’s something really hard to get over.
Do you have a specific songwriting process?
It’s very steam of conscious. Usually late night I just feel like playing guitar. I’m not very good at expressing myself to other people, on a personal level, until I go by myself and play guitar and think it out. Usually I just start with playing guitar, think of the melody, hit record and just do that. I’ll listen back and come up with lyrics after that. Whenever I feel some intense emotion about whatever - it usually has the general love, relationship topic, you know.
Do you ever have songs that get too personal or where you change lyrics around?
I definitely have songs I’ll never play for anyone. I write them and say, “I needed to write that. I don’t know if that will ever see the light of day.” There have been lines that I’ve wanted to say that I realized that to make it more relatable to other people you can’t be so specific. So I try to make it more general so it’s a lot more understandable to people.
So you purposefully go for things that are more general?
If I wasn’t sharing it with people then I would not have a problem keeping it really personal, because that’s what a journal is for. But there’s this responsibility that people want to know you and understand you and be there with you. And I like being confessional but at the same time to help people and sometimes being specific doesn’t do the trick. It comes across as negative. I don’t want to be negative.
September 8, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories: Be specific | Tags: Sharon Van Etten
Save & Share: Previous: In concert: Lady Gaga at Verizon Center
Next: Be specific: Big Boi helps you plan your week