SHARON VAN ET­TEN

New Jer­sey singer-song­writer ditches the gui­tar for elec­tron­ics.

Q (UK) - - Contents - RACHEL AROESTI

A sneak peek at the singer-song­writer/ mother/ac­tor’s forth­com­ing fifth al­bum.

The cover of Sharon Van Et­ten’s fifth al­bum fea­tures two chil­dren in a toy-strewn bed­room: a lit­tle boy plays serenely among the mess, while his sis­ter has con­certina’d her­self into a small plas­tic box, wear­ing noth­ing more than a tiara and an over­sized neck­lace. The pic­ture – and chil­dren – be­longs to the mu­si­cian’s friend, di­rec­tor Kather­ine Dieck­mann, who showed it to a newly preg­nant Van Et­ten in 2016 when she was pan­ick­ing about her abil­ity to com­bine par­ent­hood and her pro­fes­sional life. The mes­sage was: it will be chaotic, but you’ll fig­ure it out. “She showed me that pho­to­graph and I felt re­ally at peace,” re­calls Van Et­ten. “I felt like ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be OK.” In the mean­time, the 37- year-old mu­si­cian has been liv­ing the re­al­ity be­hind that photo – bal­anc­ing the over­whelm­ingly hec­tic ex­pe­ri­ence that is 21st- cen­tury moth­er­hood with a seem­ingly end­less slate of cre­ative projects. Since re­leas­ing her last al­bum, 2014’ s Are We There, the New Jer­sey na­tive has col­lab­o­rated with ev­ery­one from Marissa Nadler to ac­tor Michael Cera to New York disco crew Her­cules & Love Af­fair, acted in creepy Net­flix drama The OA, writ­ten film scores (in­clud­ing one for Dieck­mann), per­formed on the new-era Twin Peaks, and, in her lim­ited down-time, man­aged to pro­duce a brand new record. Van Et­ten has called the al­bum Re­mind Me To­mor­row – a ref­er­ence to the com­puter up­date no­ti­fi­ca­tion she re­alised she’d been dis­miss­ing ev­ery day for years, and an ac­knowl­edge­ment that her jam-packed new life­style meant she re­ally didn’t have time to sweat the small stuff. As well as cred­it­ing moth­er­hood with a steep rise in ef­fi­ciency, Van Et­ten be­gan to use her mu­sic to parse the fraught, but oddly hope­ful, ex­pe­ri­ence of bring­ing new life into Trump’s Amer­ica. Re­mind Me To­mor­row’s lyrics are in­formed by the re­al­i­sa­tion that “you’re sup­posed to help your child feel safe, no mat­ter what,” says Van Et­ten. “You’re pep-talk­ing your­self to be as pos­i­tive as you can for some­one be­cause that’s your job.” The re­sult is a record that is at once omi­nous and up­beat, with Van Et­ten’s heav­enly vo­cal har­monies and misty-eyed folk-rock stylings jux­ta­posed against buzzing drones, fran­tic break­beats and the gen­tle jab­ber of vin­tage synths. What’s not present is the gui­tar sound that has cush­ioned her out­put to date. “You only have so many op­tions [ with the gui­tar] and I felt like I kept writ­ing the same song over and over again,” she ex­plains. “I didn’t want to make the same record, so I wrote a lot of songs on syn­the­sizer.” To help nav­i­gate this tran­si­tion, Van Et­ten turned to St. Vin­cent col­lab­o­ra­tor John Con­gle­ton, whose “eyes lit up” when she cited Sui­cide, Por­tishead and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ 2016 al­bum Skele­ton Tree as ref­er­ence points for her new sound. One of the pro­ducer’s tac­tics was to rope in the spe­cial­ists. “I didn’t know you could just call a mod­u­lar synth guy!” laughs Van Et­ten. “He was like, ‘This is the wild card’, and he was amaz­ing, es­pe­cially with those types of in­stru­ments. They’re re­ally un­pre­dictable, and you don’t get the same thing twice.” That wonk­i­ness was im­por­tant to Van Et­ten. De­spite mi­grat­ing from gui­tar to synth and drone tech­nol­ogy, she was keen to make sure ev­ery­thing still sounded hu­man. Holed up in Sar­gent Recorders, a stu­dio in LA’s Filipino district owned by Black Keys tour­ing bassist Gus Seyf­fert, the pair worked on har­ness­ing the feel­ing of elec­tronic mu­sic but main­tain­ing the tex­ture of tra­di­tional in­stru­men­ta­tion – and en­sur­ing that ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the choppy beats, was playable live. De­spite this stylis­tic evo­lu­tion, Van Et­ten

says her core mo­ti­va­tion hasn’t changed: she con­tin­ues to make mu­sic as a form of ther­apy. And she’s work­ing on ex­pand­ing her client base. The singer-song­writer is cur­rently study­ing psy­chol­ogy at col­lege, a de­ci­sion prompted by the fans who used to ap­proach her at gigs want­ing to dis­cuss their per­sonal prob­lems, and whom Van Et­ten felt too un­der­qual­i­fied to help. “There are peo­ple I’ve met that I was com­pelled to in­vite for cof­fee and ad­vise, al­though I know that I’m not cer­ti­fied and haven’t had the best ex­pe­ri­ence in my life to give other peo­ple ad­vice,” she laughs. Con­sid­er­ing the way she’s cur­rently jug­gling ev­ery­thing, from ed­u­ca­tion to mu­sic to act­ing to moth­er­hood, a place at the Van Et­ten school of life ac­tu­ally seems like a very tempt­ing prospect in­deed.

“You only have so many op­tions on gui­tar and I felt like I kept writ­ing the same song over and over again.”

She’s changed her tune: Sharon Van Et­ten, Sar­gent Recorders, LA, 2018.

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