After turning heads with the understatedly powerful, Epic, back in 2010, Sharon Van Etten once again has the attention of the music world—the smarter, cooler corners of it, anyway. Her most recent effort, Tramp, comes out on February 7, and it features guest appearances by such esteemed artists as Zach Condon and Julianna Barwick, plus production work and much more from The National’s Aaron Dessner. Also among the album’s guests is Wye Oak singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner, who talked to Ms. Van Etten for this feature, covering everything from how best to handle the constant scrutiny of the Internet to the struggle to find one’s own voice as a singer. They also made plans to have dinner in Greenpoint, but they didn’t invite us, which is a drag.
Jenn Wasner: First thing I wanted to ask you about, my dear, darling lady, was what your experience with the Fallon show was like. Because that was a first for us this year too, and it was incredible and pleasant and enjoyable, and also just the most terrifying experience of my life. So I’m curious to hear how that went for you.
Sharon Van Etten: Yeah, it was totally nuts and nerve-wracking and thrilling and all of those things. Everyone that worked there, though, was so sweet and really helped me to not be so freaked out. They’re so chill and they don’t push you to do stuff, and they’re not super entertainment types that you’d think they would be on that kind of show, where they’re like, “Get it right! I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, blah blah blah…” They’re like, “How are you doing? Anything you need, let us know. Take your time. If you don’t get it right the first time, you can do it another time.” I had to do it a second time. I ended up getting stage fright, and I forgot the first line, and then I mouthed the word “fuck” really loud, and then at the very end I got so flustered that I hit my head on the mic.
I feel like they do such a good job putting you at ease throughout the whole day that you’re almost unprepared for how actually intimidating it is once you get out there. I feel like where you are with your record is a funny spot because you’ve finished it, and obviously that means you spent a ton of time with it, and yet you have very little public or critical response yet. So, I think of it as this little time capsule moment that you’re in. I’m curious… before all that shit goes down, and you start really hitting it and the record comes out, are you in a good place with the record?
It’s kinda funny because the main thing I was nervous about was teaching the songs to my new band and seeing how we could reinterpret them live. I’m really proud of the record, but I’m not used to arrangements like we did on this record. So trying to figure out a way to do it live and to give the songs the amount of dynamics that you get when you have all these instruments and all that time and all those tracks, and you’re like, “Alright, cool, how do we do 20 parts with four people?”
I hear you, girl.
Then you go through those days when you start second-guessing. For me, I second-guessed, like, “Oh, maybe I did over-produce this song. Maybe I didn’t need all this stuff.” But for this record, for the first time ever, I decided to let go of the idea that it was going to sound the same live, and just learn to have fun with the band and stop taking myself too seriously and just enjoy it more, because whatever people experience at a show is gonna be much different than them listening to the record. So on that level, that’s how I feel about the record right now. But this in-between time of not knowing what other people might think of it, I’m enjoying it right now, before the chaos hits. You get good and bad reviews, you have great and shitty shows… I’m having fun just being home and having a kind of normal life, being sheltered before I’m gone forever.