Sharon Van Etten: “When you experience trauma, it doesn’t go away”

As a younger girl, at any time when Sharon Van Etten was racked with anxiousness she would take a pair of scissors to her hair and minimize. Her mates would be capable of inform how dangerous she was feeling by how brief it was, and the way uneven. “It’d often end up looking manic, because I just needed something immediately, and I was trying to do something that wasn’t unhealthy,” she mentioned. “I’d be up late at night cutting my hair like, ‘This is the best I can do.’”

For a lot of her music profession since then, Van Etten has worn her hair lengthy. Her darkish, wavy mane with a messy fringe grew to become heridentity, for a minute”. However after we met at an east London resort in mid-March her hair was sharply cropped, paying homage to how she wore it on the very begin of her profession, round 2009. This time the brand new type wasn’t a mirrored image of her desperation. Her good friend Barb had minimize it for her. “I’m at the age now where I don’t cut it myself. I do have the patience to wait and make it a conscious decision.” However the brand new type is symbolic, she mentioned, “of moving forward and starting new. I wanted to shed some weight.”

Within the autumn of 2019, Van Etten moved together with her companion, Zeke Hutchins (who can also be her former drummer and supervisor), and their younger son from New York Metropolis to Los Angeles. She had first moved to New York, having grown up in New Jersey, 15 years beforehand, earlier than her music profession had taken off, and at first she usually slept in her automotive or on mates’ sofas. As she approached 40 she started to search out town ever extra “confined and rushed”. 

Now 41 and settled in LA, she has learnt that she loves “nesting”, she mentioned. “I love cooking, even tidying.” Better of all, in her new dwelling metropolis she had the area to construct a studio in her storage, which grew to become a lifeline through the Covid-19 pandemic. The comfort of such an area lent her songwriting an immediacy that’s audible in most of the lyrics on her sixth document, We’ve Been Going About This All Incorrect, launched on Jagjaguwar on 6 Could. “You come home to me,” she sings, staccato and time and again, on the hypnotic “Home to Me”. On “Headspace”, which swells with stormy synths, her repeated phrase is one other command: “Baby, don’t turn your back to me.”

The pandemic delivered to the floor a previous anxiousness that Van Etten thought she had learnt to regulate. It additionally caused new fears: “For the city, for the state, for the country, for the world. It quickly dominoed. In some ways I feel more anxious than ever.”

Whereas Van Etten’s earlier albums have been involved with love and romance, on We’ve Been Going About This All Incorrect she inhabits our age of uncertainty. The album title comes from a line within the Nineties comedy movie The Sandlot, which grew to become one of many household’s comforts through the lockdowns. For Van Etten it captured the sensation of defeat within the face of disaster after disaster. It made her take into account the points of life we might strategy otherwise, she mentioned, reeling off an inventory: how we deal with each other, how we take care of the environmental disaster (Californian wildfires burned close by as she wrote the document), how we deal with racial injustice, homelessness — earlier than she put her palms up in despair. “There are so many things that we have to reassess. Not that I have any answers, but everything is f***ed right now.” She put her palms to her mouth, as if shocked by her personal language. “Sorry!”

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Van Etten has a robust contralto singing voice, which is, on her most up-to-date songs, backed by daring and expansive instrumentation. However she is softly spoken in dialog, and deeply introspective. She is studying — once more, or nonetheless — learn how to really feel accountable for the second. “When I look back I get depressed,” she mentioned. “When I look forward I get anxious. So I have to concentrate on the moment, and what I am in control of. Those are things that I’ve learnt through years of therapy.” She gave somewhat snigger, realizing it appeared like a cliché however was no much less true for it. “And I know now that when I find myself spiralling in either direction, I have to practise mindfulness and remember the here and now, which is in my control.”

Van Etten left her New Jersey dwelling when she was 18, to review at Center Tennessee State College, however dropped out after a few phrases and fell into an abusive relationship with a rock musician. On the time she believed it was love.

“I can’t believe I let myself do that, or that I let him do that. I let him tell me I couldn’t play music. I let him tell me who I could hang out with. Just because I thought he was everything: he was smarter than me, and more talented than me. It’s embarrassing, but that was the reality of the time. His love was everything. It took me a long time to realise: you’re an addict. You’re abusive. I’m scared of you. Even though I did fall, and the love was real, it got dark and became unsafe. He went on tour and I ran away. He didn’t know I was gone for like a month.”

In Tennessee, Van Etten sought skilled assist for her anxiousness, however wasn’t taken severely. “I used to be a cutter, so I had scars. Tattoos and scars and a shaved head and I’m coming in asking for help. Because of how I looked, they just thought I was there for drugs.”

After 5 years away, Van Etten returned to her household dwelling in New Jersey. Her dad and mom agreed that she might dwell with them as long as she returned to college, bought a job and began remedy for the primary time. It was the important thing to understanding that the connection she had left had been abusive. She learnt to “de-programme” all she had believed to be true about love. “When you experience trauma, it doesn’t go away. You learn how to live with it. You learn how to move forward while it’s still a shadow in your life. When I fled I had to find myself again.”

It’s becoming that an artist whose followers discover such sanctuary in her songs now desires to coach to be a therapist. Her intention is to have a licence to practise one-on-one speaking remedy by the point she is 50. “Those that have a hard time talking and expressing themselves are the people I want to learn to help, and learn how to understand,” she mentioned. She is concerned with taking a job based mostly in a faculty or school the place she will help younger individuals across the time they first depart dwelling, when they’re looking for their place on the planet with out fairly realizing who they’re. “For me, that was the first time I got lost, the first of many.”

On the finish of our dialog Van Etten supplied to ship me a playlist she had compiled to share together with her band once they have been recording the album, that includes songs by Public Picture, Scott Walker, the Durutti Column and These Immortal Souls. Her electronic mail signature was a quote attributed to Patti Smith: “We go through life. We shed our skins. We become ourselves.”

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