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Be specific: Sharon Van Etten on being specific

sharon van ettenSharon Van Etten was not alone for the making of her excellent new album, "epic." (Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR)

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.

Sharon Van Etten: Live at Black Cat from All Our Noise on Vimeo.

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.

By David Malitz  |  September 8, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Sharon Van Etten  
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