Sharon Van Etten on Meeting Musicians in Bars, Dating Guys in Bands, and Going Platinum
Up On The Sun: You teamed up with The Antlers for a track on Hospice, and you also toured with Junip. How did all those collaborations get worked out?
Sharon Van Etten: I heard an Antlers song about four years ago. I just wrote Peter on MySpace when MySpace was cool. I told him I really liked his music and asked him what upcoming shows he had. He invited me out to a show they were playing in New York, and I went to see them play. They had a really amazing live show. We traded CDs and I invited them to my next show. They came to my show and pretty much then, Peter [said], "I want you to sing on the record." We were friends after that, and we recorded. They're amazing, and they're just beautiful people to know. It was kind of random with Junip. My friend's band did some things [with Junip] a couple years ago.
UOTS: Your latest album, Epic, came out in September. How did your single, "One Day," come about? What was it about and what did It mean to you?
SVE: Mostly it was about my family and being the black sheep of my family. I'm from a big family; I'm one of five kids. It started off being about my family and my sister and my parents, and no matter how different we are, we all have an unconditional love. As I finished writing it, I realized that it also paralleled a relationship I was in. [It was] about still being able to love someone without being with them.
UOTS: You've worked with Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio. How has he been an influence on your career?
SVE: He had my back before I really knew anyone and before I started playing in New York. I moved back to New Jersey and was living in my parent's basement, and I was doing home recordings out of the basement. I would always commute to New York to go to shows or to play [at] small bars and stuff. I went to go see Celebration at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan and Kyp was opening up. I didn't know who he was. But when I saw his name, I looked at him and I realized he was the brother of my friend from high school. I went to high school with his brother Collin, who was the first person to really encourage me to make music. So I introduced myself to Kyp very briefly. There were a lot of people hounding him for attention. I just wanted to go over and say, "Hi, I know you don't really know me. I went to high school with your brother."
He had a really great set. I had no idea that he was playing music. I walked away and I let him deal with his fans. Then I went to sit down at the bar and he sat down next to me, and we started talking. [He was] telling me about he still has family in Jersey, and he goes back very often so we should hang out when [I'm] in town. I gave him one of my CDs and he really liked it. From that day on he did shows and introduced me to other people in New York. He took me under his wing.
UOTS: With the style of music that you make, you tend to play smaller clubs when you're in New York City. You played at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago last summer. How was that different for you?
SVE: It was one of the most terrifying shows I've ever played in my life. [I was the] first act [on the] first day. Nobody really knows who you are, and you're playing solo in front of thousands of people. I had the feeling that people wanted a full band and people wanted to rock out. I was just standing up there, me and my guitar. It was pretty intense. It was really flattering to play first in a showcase of new music.
UOTS: Based on your experience, would you say it is true or false that a girl should never date a guy in a band?
SVE: False, although you should be careful. You have to prepare yourself for them being gone a lot and for them to be really busy when they are home. You just have to be sensitive to that. Also, there are the inevitable groupies. If you're dating a guy in a band, you're going to have to deal with [a lot]. There are some good and there are some bad sides to it.
UOTS: Nobody really records albums that go platinum anymore because of the popularity of digital downloading. Artists don't get to celebrate their accomplishments of record sales or download sales because everything's digital, and those accomplishments aren't acknowledged the same way anymore. What are your thoughts on that?
SVE: As far as downloads go, I think they're discovering new ways to make it work for artists. I think the blog world is changing that with giveaways. There's a lot more disposable music out there. Going platinum and wanting people to want that kind of recognition, that's not the kind of music I play. I'm really okay with that. As far as keeping track of record sales, it's truly important to tour and meet your fans and sell records to them. The internet is really amazing and it helps people find you more easily, but as far as digital downloads, they can only help you. There's not much money in sales. All of the money is going to be in touring and publishing. That's just the way of the music world right now.