The last time Sharon Van Etten was in Asheville, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter was on the cusp of indie stardom. Major publications were taking notice, fellow musicians were clamoring to collaborate and Van Etten was finally recognizing her own talent. For those already in the know, her intimate set at Broadway’s was a rare treat; but even those who stumbled in by accident could sense that something was special about the show.
Tonight, Van Etten returns to the mountains, but now the cat’s out of the bag. The smoky-voiced singer will headline The Grey Eagle this time around. Her new album, Tramp, was released in February, and the record, like 2010’s Epic, puts further distance from the sparse, confessional folk that first earned the singer acclaim. Self-empowered rock ‘n’ roll is the new norm, and it suits Van Etten well.
The album was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner and features guest appearances from a host of indie heavyweights, including Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Julianna Barwick, The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick and Beirut’s Zach Condon.
More on Van Etten from a 2011 Xpress feature:
“In the two years since the release of her sparse, haunting debut, Because I was in Love, Sharon Van Etten has become an indie favorite, touring incessantly, collaborating with a host of other up-and-coming artists and earning as much praise for her stunning live performances as for the two records she’s released in as many years.
Her latest, Epic, stands in stark contrast to the understated acoustic landscape of its predecessor. The record is powerful and aggressive by Van Etten standards, with thick backing vocals, meandering steel guitar, pounding drums and rich arrangements throughout its seven tracks. They’re still songs of heartbreak, but the perspective has changed. On Epic, she is reflective rather than regretful, accepting and uncompromising. It’s a remarkable evolution in only two years, but one that mirrors Van Etten’s own personal growth.
‘They’re definitely songs that I felt were my most confident and looking back on where I was for Because I Was in Love,’ she says. ‘I feel like Epic is moving on from there. This is a group of songs that is supposed to, hopefully, convey how much more confident I am and more secure I am.’
That confidence hasn’t come easy though. Van Etten admits to ‘social anxiety issues’ and says she’s more comfortable performing than mingling with fans. After all these years of writing, it’s strange to suddenly be recognized for it.
‘Touring around and meeting people, I think I’m getting better at talking to people,’ she says. ‘But I’m still freaked out at the whole thing. I didn’t think anyone would care about my stuff. I was just doing it for myself. So it’s a little overwhelming, and I get really shy because of it. I don’t feel more special than anyone else.
‘But it means a lot when people come up to me and tell me how much it’s helped them through hard times,’ she adds. ‘I’m trying to learn how to engage them offstage as well. I feel really confident onstage because they’re songs that I wrote and I feel them every single time I perform them. It’s just the talking part that I’m trying to get better at.’
These days, Van Etten has some help on the road. Epic has ushered in a new era, one that includes a full touring band to recreate the energy and power of her new songs. But that, too, has taken some getting used to. Van Etten won’t hesitate to tell you, she’s not a ‘natural leader.’
‘I’m not very good at taking charge or telling people what to do,’ says the singer, ‘which is why I was always kind of scared to have a band. But my bass player and my drummer are really amazing, and they naturally play what I feel like is supposed to be there without me having to tell them. After being scared for years about having a band, they make it much more fun. The songs feel a lot more cathartic now.’”
Van Etten headlines The Grey Eagle on Saturday, April 21. Flock of Dimes opens. 9 p.m. $12.