Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten


Fri, February 24, 2012

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Music Hall of Williamsburg

Brooklyn, NY

$18 advance / $20 day of show

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This event is 18 and over

Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
For all the attention that was paid to her 2012 break-through Tramp, Sharon Van Etten
is an artist with a manifest hunger to turn another corner. Writing from free-flowing
emotional honesty and vulnerability creates a bond with the listener that few
contemporary musicians can match. Compelled by a restless spirit, Van Etten is
continuously challenging herself. Now, the result is Are We There, a self-produced
album of exceptional intimacy, sublime generosity and immense breadth.
While most musicians are quite happy to leave the production end of things to someone
else, with Are We There, Van Etten knew it was time to make a record entirely on her
terms. The saying goes “fortune favors the bold” and yet this boldness had to be
tempered. For this, Van Etten found a kindred spirit in veteran music producer Stewart
Lerman whose expertise gave her the freedom to make Are We There the way she
imagined. Originally working together on Boardwalk Empire, they gently moved into
new roles, rallying around the idea of collaborating in Lerman’s studio in New Jersey.
It is clear from Are We There’s opening chords, we are witnessing a new awareness, a
sign of Van Etten in full stride, writing, producing and performing from a place that
seems almost mythical, were it not so touchable and real. Always direct, and never
shying away from even the most personally painful narratives, Van Ettten’s songwriting
continues to evolve. Many of the songs deal with seemingly impossible decisions,
anticipation, and then resolution. She sings of the nature of desire, memory, of being lost,
emptiness, of promises and loyalty, fear and change, of healing and the true self, violence
and sanctuary, waiting, of silence. The artist who speaks in such a voice is urging us to do
something, to take hold and to go deeper.
Fellow Travelers wasn't supposed to be a full-length record, so I'm a little surprised to admit that it's my favorite Shearwater album so far. Somehow it slipped under the door.

It was meant to be a small thing, maybe a home-recorded EP, to release between Animal Joy and the next full-length (for which we're in the studio right now). But it took on a life of its own. Re-imagining and renovating songs by the bands we've toured with was like leafing through a scrapbook, and brought back the highs and lows of a decade of touring, from dives in Oklahoma and squats in Slovenia to the Fillmore West, the Bataclan, and the MGM Grand (ask me about that one sometime).

Audiences never see most of touring life, and it's the hidden moments that came to mind while we were recording. I thought of Chris Martin, pacing nervously in the bowels of the LA Forum, before the first show of a tour for an album on which EMI had staked its existence; of Brian Campbell, Clinic's indomitable bassist, muttering "I hate these f_____ things" before donning a grimy surgical mask for the thousandth time; of David Thomas Broughton wandering into an audience in Brussels mid-song, knocking things over and falling down, then slipping us a half-smile offstage; of Xiu Xiu hiding stuffed animals and candy in the stacks of a university library for their devoted fans to find; of Sharon Van Etten playing us the rough demos for the album that would put her on the map while she drove our van through the snowy Idaho mountains.

Touring is an expression of faith – in yourself, in your friends, in the hope that the world has a place for you. In that spirit, I invited all the bands we covered to play on Fellow Travelers, with the caveat that you couldn't play on your own song. Almost everyone rose to the bait: Chris from the Baptist Generals turned Clinic's "Tomorrow" into a bewildered, stomping incantation, while Clinic, in turn, infected the Generals' "Fucked Up Life" with drum machines, radio signals, and their trademark combo organ. I added recordings I made of birds and waves in the Falklands to David Thomas Broughton's "Ambiguity," and he sent us a tape he made of sparrows, bulbuls, and the clanking shovels of highway workers in Pyongyang, North Korea (long story), which we spliced into our rock-anthem version of Xiu Xiu's "I Luv the Valley OH!!" And Jenn from Wye Oak, who, like us, had also toured with Lou B, added vocals to "Natural One," our most straight-up reading of the bunch, since I couldn't think of a better way to honor a perfectly-constructed song.

Leon Trotsky, who gave the words "fellow travelers" their political aura, once wrote that "a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work." Maybe that's why these songs seem like they belong together, to me. Listening back, I get a feeling of common effort, of common purpose, among all of our different musical paths; we've all tried to defy or transform reality in small ways with our music, and to prove it with our performing lives. Playing these songs felt like riding a wave.

— JM, NYC, March 2013
Venue Information:
Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 North 6th St
Brooklyn, NY, 11211