If listening to Sharon Van Etten’s slow-burning ballads feels like reading her diary, well, it’s because you sort of are. Since her first album, in 2008, the singer-songwriter has been spinning her heartaches into musical poetry—but don’t mistake her for a moody and melancholy songstress; the self-described goofball loves cracking jokes with her bandmates and trolling Instagram for cute animal photos as much as she does writing songs. In between trips to New Zealand and Mexico City, she sat down with us in her downtown New York neighborhood. Here, how she stays happy and stylish while traveling, in her own words.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I started writing songs when I was really young. My mom gave me a journal because I was so shy, and I wrote about things I didn’t know how to express. Now, I still write more free-form journal-entry-type songs. My approach is just to let it flow and find some closure. A song can always be refined later, but I have to write when I’m in the right headspace.
Sharon plays her Suzuki Omnichord, an electronic synthesizer favored by musicians like Joni Mitchell and Brian Eno.
On the road, it’s hard to tap into that mental space, but the right clothing can make me feel more confident, especially onstage at big venues or festivals, where I don’t feel as connected to the crowd. I like wearing things that are comfortable and not too feminine. I’ve become really picky, especially about shirts since my guitar strap tugs against them. To keep it easy, I always pack the same thing: two pairs of jeans, two T-shirts, one sweater and pajamas. I have to save space for shoes—I am always hunting for good leather oxfords and boots with sturdy heels so I can move around onstage.
Touring might seem all about travel and glamour, but there’s really a lot of downtime. I only have two rules for our band. Rule 1: Look out for each other. Rule 2: Don’t be a jerk. We’re always laughing. It makes even routine aspects of touring, like sound checks, fun. Before each show, the band reconnects. We pick a mantra for the night, chant it three times and off we go.
30 MORE SECONDS WITH SHARON VAN ETTEN
Headliners at your dream music festival:
Patti Smith, Kim Gordon and Bettie Serveert
Three new musical acts to check out now:
Leon Bridges, Torres and Weyes Blood
If you could be any musician’s muse, you’d pick:
Bob Dylan. He can paint a picture so well. There’s a darkness and a sense of humor.
A secret password to get into your concerts would be:
P.S. We’re giving away the chance to go on a musical tour of your own. Enter our sweeps here for a chance to win a trip for two to Los Angeles with a stay at our favorite boutique hotel, Palihouse West Hollywood, and tickets to see singer-songwriter Kelela perform in a Madewell Sessions show.* Plus, the winner also receives a $1,000 Madewell gift card and one year of Spotify Premium for you and a friend. (June 15th is the last day to enter, but why wait? The show must go on.)
*No purchase necessary. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Open to legal residents of the 50 United States (including D.C.), 18 years and older. Void where prohibited. Sweepstakes ends June 15, 2015. To enter and for Official Rules, prize descriptions and odds disclosure, visit madewell.com/sessionssweeps.
Photography by Angi Welsch.