Voice of an Angel
Over the past decade, the haunting, love-sick voices of Beth Orton, Regina Spektor, and Chan Marshall have helped pave the way for a new crop of talented female singer-songwriters: Lissie, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and Alela Diane. One of the most promising artists in this category is Brooklyn-via-New Jersey’s Sharon Van Etten. The beautiful harmonies and heartfelt lyrics of her 2009 debut album Because I Was In Love landed her on many critics’ year-end best-of lists. On her forthcoming album, Epic, Van Etten is joined by a full band and expands her sound with the accompaniment of electric guitar, piano, lap steel, drums, and backing vocals from Meg Baird (Espers) and Jessica Larrabee (She Keeps Bees). Epic will top lists once again, and Van Etten, a unique talent, will be making music for years to come.
I caught up with Sharon earlier this summer to discuss touring, Tennessee, and her new album.
R&G: Hey Sharon, how are things with you?
Sharon: Good, thanks.
R&G: I recently received an email from you regarding Zoom. What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Ba Da Bing?
Sharon: I do mostly publicity and so write a lot of emails, whether a record is coming out or a band is coming through or is going on tour. I’m still learning the whole process as I’ve only been officially full-time for the last year and I’m learning as I go. I try to write people and hope that they already like the band, and if they don’t know the band, I introduce it to them. I’ve had to learn about what’s too intrusive to say and what’s annoying and how to phrase emails.
R&G: Last year you toured with the Great Lake Swimmers, Rain Machine, Megafaun, Bowerbirds, and Antlers. What did you take from the shows while touring with those musicians?
Sharon: One of the things I gathered was their level of professionalism. The bands that I’ve gotten to open up for, they’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have. They’re really organized, they’re really poised, and they’re really patient. When bands tour that often, at some point, the shit is going to hit the fan. Something’s going to go wrong. Someone doesn’t show up. Equipment fails. Whatever. But they’ve gotten to the point where you do what you can and it’s not always perfect and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have the best show or if someone’ talking or whatever. They really helped me a feel more confident in that things just happen and you just do your job.
R&G: You lived in Tennessee for five years. Can you tell me a little bit about the time that you spent in the South?
Sharon: I had just graduated high school and I was really idealistic about the world. I thought that I could go to college and actually start taking classes in music and not worry about general education classes anymore. I also wanted to go far away from home, but I found a school that was tied for number one with Berklee for recording and it was really cheap to go there. That became the one thing that I could talk to my parents about, saying, “This is a responsible decision. I get to pursue music, but it’s also a back-up plan for a real job.” So I went down there and hated it. I dropped out of school and ended up getting a job at an all-ages venue called The Red Rose.