With her 2009 debut album, Because I Was in Love, New Jersey–native Sharon Van Etten captured the attention of audiences, critics and musicians, who were drawn to her intimate musical portraits etched with introspective lyrics and varied arrangements. Since Van Etten's acclaimed 2010 release Epic, she's played the Pitchfork Music Festival, performed at the Hollywood Bowl with Neko Case, appeared live on the BBC and was recently named a "must-see act" by Rolling Stone. Her latest album, 2012's Tramp, was recorded during a 14-month period of scattered sessions, where the only constant was the garage studio and input of producer Aaron Dessner of the National. Here, the Rock Hall catches up with the singer/songwriter, who shares insights about life on the road, why she loves playing in New York City and what people can expect of her live performances. Sharon Van Etten will headline a free concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 22, 2012, part of the Summer in the City concert series.
Rock Hall: How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard it before?
Sharon Van Etten: My style of writing is a musical diary of sorts. Whether it be about myself or my friends or my family, it's always personal. I try to write on a universal level so everyone can relate to my experiences. I focus on melodies…. When people want me to describe it, I just say: "kind of rock, kind of folk... can be loud, can be quiet."
RH: What’s it like being on the road?
SVE: It's a lot of fun, but it can be very disorienting to wake up in a different city every day. It's hard to get exercise, it's hard to eat right, and it's hard to find down time, but all that being said, I love my band and we have so much fun traveling with each other. It's like a summer camp on the road. We all like meeting new people and trying new things and going on adventures, so it makes for a fun time, every time.
RH: Do you have a favorite city where you like to perform? If so, why?
SVE: I love playing my home base, New York. Bowery Ballroom is my favorite venue to play ever. It's also a nice homecoming to say hello and show my neighbors how I have been doing, what I have been working on, and just reminding them that I miss them. Everyone that works with and for Bowery are so sweet and are still passionate about music, too. That, and my parents love going there.
RH: What can your fans expect when they come to your show?
SVE: We have been touring since February. We are tighter than we have ever been and we are still having a lot of fun. The songs sound just as good – if not better – than the record. Even though we are a bit more stripped down than the record, it makes for a more straight-up rock show.
WATCH: Official music video for Sharon Van Etten's "Leonard" (from Tramp)