Singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten is just coming off of a four-year hiatus, but she definitely wasn’t taking it easy in that time. Since her last album, she’s enrolled in university, had a child, starred on The OA, been featured in David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks, made the score for Katherine Dieckmann’s feature film Strange Weather, and just now released her new album last week which will be followed by an extensive tour through Europe and North America.

I had the immense pleasure of getting to know what makes her tick in this DTK-exclusive interview, from her emotional journey, her future therapy career, her songwriting, her experience on the big screen, and, of course, her blossoming family life.

 

 

She originally left music in order to go back to school for psychology, after being inspired to do so by her own fans. “I’d go to the merch table after almost every show and talk with my fans, and they’d tell me stories about how they connected to my music and why it changed their lives, and sometimes their stories would be so intensely emotional that I kind of wished I had their phone number to call them up and follow up with how they were doing,” she says with genuine care. She went on to realize that these stories were better fit for a therapist, so she decided to become one herself.

However, she ended up having to postpone her psychology degree when she was cast on The OA. Her time on the show was not really the break she envisioned from performing, though. “Acting has been one of my biggest creative challenges because it’s different than learning a song and performing live. Performing and writing, for me, it’s my life, it’s my material. I have to conjure real emotions and I have to control them on stage; it’s a very cathartic experience. In the acting world, I’m drawing on a real emotion to pretend to be somebody else.” Similarly, performing on Twin Peaks was a new experience for the musician. “The whole process was very dreamlike because it was all very last-minute… I was nervous as hell, but I pretended like I was just performing at a venue.” What she really wanted to do on this hiatus was pursue psychology, but Sharon hopes to be able to focus some real energy on acting in the near future.

 

“A big part of what I’m trying to say to my fans is that I’m a real person and I’ve been through shit, and I know you have too, that we have a lot more in common than you realize.”

 

 

Again, her school plans changed when she got pregnant, having her baby at the beginning of 2017. “I went off the road to go back to school, and I ended up becoming a mother and an actress.” Somehow during this time, she still managed to go to school part-time and write enough songs for a new album. “[My partner and I] know how important this time is for us as a family, but we also know that if we don’t both pursue our passions and our work, then we’re not going to be as good as role models that we want to be.” She sums up her experience with child-raising by saying “it’s life-changing. Everything that they tell you is true, but there’s no way to really know it until it happens.”

Having that intense love for her child has also changed the way Van Etten approached music-writing and being in touch with her emotions. “[It] made me write about love in such a different way… These feelings of love are so much deeper and multidimensional. You look at a combination of your love when you look at a child, and you think about the context of the world and current events, wanting your child to be safe and wanting to be a positive influence, while still battling demons, but obviously it’s from a much different perspective now.” She continues by recounting, “There’s some songs [I wrote when] he’d be sleeping, and I’d be scribbling down all the things I want to say to him… I’m living for something way bigger than myself, and I want him to know that and to feel that, and it’s way bigger than my past heartaches, which are a big part of who I am and how I’ve grown, but this is something else entirely.”

 

Sharon seems to be continually inspired by the cyclical nature of life. In particular, her new single, Comeback Kid, is described as “a journey of me coming back home. When anyone goes back home, there’s so many versions of yourself that you face. That sense of returning home is not necessarily looking back on your past but reflecting on who you are and how all those versions of yourself of who you used to be are also still who you are now. I’ll always be my parents’ daughter; I’ll always be the middle child (laughs).” She wants to embrace and acknowledge the child still in her, even while embarking on the journey of raising her own child. “I think sometimes we shy away from who we used to be, and I think sometimes we struggle with knowing that’s still part of who we are.”

Van Etten acknowledges the power that comes from being able to honour the past versions of herself and bring that to the public. “I think there’s a strength in vulnerability that people don’t talk about very often. I think people can confuse that for weakness and insecurity. It takes a lot of confidence and sense of self and awareness to be able to talk about who you are and what you’ve been through and how it’s affected you and helped you connect with people more… I think a big part of what I’m trying to say to my fans is that I’m a real person and I’ve been through shit, and I know you have too, that we have a lot more in common than you realize.”

 

“There’s a strength in vulnerability that people don’t talk about very often. I think people can confuse that for weakness and insecurity.”

 

Sharon’s music helps her connect to her fans and her past selves, but most importantly, it helps her stay grounded and mentally well. “It’s a form of therapy for me and a huge outlet. If I didn’t sing, or write songs, I’d probably be in therapy more often (laughs). I just had all these feelings that I didn’t know how to express… I’d put pen to paper, or I would just start singing and feel better. I [later] got a therapist who helped me understand what music meant to me.”

“I’m excited for my fans to see another side of me,” claims Sharon about her new album. “These songs are much more upbeat, a little more aggressive, and more compulsive than my last record… I’m excited to see the world again and to learn how to perform in a new way.” Moreover, she worked closely with a producer on the creative direction for this album, telling us that “it was scary as hell… but it definitely helped me feel like I had grown a lot to give others the freedom to do what they’re really good at and give me the freedom to just sing, which is what I do best.”

Clearly, she’s in a much happier place than in her young 20s when she stayed with her parents while getting her life back on track. She leaves us with some poignant advice on how to achieve this balance: “If you’re ever around someone and feel like you’re censoring yourself or can’t see yourself, ask yourself why that is. I feel like that has held me back in my life, where I wanted to please that person or change that person. Just surrounding myself with people who wanted to understand me and help me, and I could just be unhinged and be myself and not walk on eggshells [was the best thing for me] because I feel like life is too short to not do the things you want to do and be who you are. I think a lot of doubt and insecurity in my life came from surrounding myself with people who didn’t want to really know me.”

 

Photo Credits: Ryan Pfluger


Don’t miss Sharon’s show on Mon. Feb. 11 in Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall.

Buy her new album here.

The OA Part II premieres 3/22 on Netflix

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