Sharon Van Etten– KOKO, London (June 5, 2014)
A review by Erica Andreozzi
I remember as if it were yesterday. August 10, 2012. Not just the day I passed my thesis defense, but the day I got to see AND MEET one of my favorite female artists OF ALL TIME: Sharon Van Etten. Having started listening to her a year prior through an Irish buddy I met in Barcelona, I was immediately HOOKED by Epic and even later by the fierce grasp of their newer arrival, Tramp. A devout fan of the National since 2010, I was enamored by the thought of Aaron Dressner and Sharon sitting down together, mixing up some musical madness together in some Brooklyn studio. She speaks very highly of Aaron, and says it was he that taught her how to “communicate in the studio” and be “open to collaboration” (e.g. working with Beirut‘s Zach Condon and Wye Oak‘s Jenn Wassner) without “shying away from production.” “I feel like Aaron gave me a lot of tools and confidence to communicate with my band and it made me want to try something different sonically. I wanted to give the songs more space and not bury them in instrumentation. I really wanted to focus on the band and the space and the melodies.” You could definitely sense the extra dimension in Tramp, and even more so in her newest album, ‘Are We There‘ (released June 2014). For this album, Sharon rounded up a two more band members, Darren Jessee (of Ben Folds Five and Hotel Lights) and Brad Cook (from Megafaun), both joining alumni Heather Woods Broderick and Doug Keith. I remember Doug very well because I was standing RIGHT IN FRONT of him (arms reach away) at that Rickshaw Stop gig and was serenaded by his EPIC bowing of the guitar intro to ‘I’m Wrong’ (one of my favorites from their collection). CHILLS up and down my spine every time I hear that song, and the “tell my I’m worth all the miles you put on your car…” line always draws a tear. ‘I’m Wrong‘ and ‘Joke or a Lie,’ back-to-back ON REPEAT was instant therapy for me during the weeks leading up to my PhD defense, and am not sure I would have made it (in one piece) without these songs. That strong dependency on Sharon’s music was something I could not be more eager to share with her that night (after I passed)…AND I DID (hence the picture above). Normally I would have been nervous to approach her, but her down-to-earth spirit and bubbly, comedic banter throughout the set just instantly diffused those nerves and suddenly I felt like she was a good friend who I had known for years. I was shocked to find that someone who sings such devastating, heart-breaking songs could be so happy-go-lucky and utterly HILARIOUS…(so hilarious that I actually asked her if she was “a comedian before this,” to which she replied, ” I liked doing gags, like saran wrap on the toilet seat.”)…She also mentioned eating waaaaay too much chocolate cake that day, and when I mentioned that to her 6 months later at their December gig in London (The Forum), SHE REMEMBERED ME…literally pointed to me in a crowd of 1500 people and was like “HEY YOU!”…(I was DYING). It just goes to show you that no matter how big or famous some artists get, they will still remain the GENUINELY AWESOME PERSON that got them there in the first place. “I don’t want to be big,” Sharon said in a recent interview with Gigwise. “I don’t want to be bigger. I think that with the way I write and perform, I like where I am. I’m kind of scared to get any bigger because I just don’t think that’s the reason I do this. I soon as I don’t know who I’m connecting with or why then I want to stop and do something different. I’m not even like a festival kind of band – who wants to stop partying to come and listen to me? It doesn’t make sense to me, but I feel lucky to be here. I don’t have any ‘moves’.” She wants to still feel the impact (on a personal level) with her fans, and I very much admire her for that. Sharon is developing a fan base for all the right reasons, and we can only continue to LOVE MORE (pun intended) the many sides of this dynamic, lovable lady. ❤ And this lovable lady is proving that her music can only get better with time, and her evolution as an artist is something we can only look forward to. Having added 2 new members to her touring WOLF PACK, some might be concerned that they additional instruments would drown out her sound on the new album, ‘Are We There,’ but they don’t. When asked about maintaining the intimacy and purity of her music while involving more people, Sharon replies: “The songs still originate from my bedroom, for the most part, and start from a really intimate place. I feel as long as the melody is supported and not covered you can hear that intimacy.” When discussing the inspiration for ‘Are We There,’ she says, “The whole album was written over the past two years while on the road, touring Tramp. And the songs are all about the struggle of trying to have a home life, relationship – and also trying to work and the frustration that comes with trying to balance it all when it is virtually impossible…In the end, I had to choose my work over having a relationship because the person I was with couldn’t handle it. It was someone that I loved very deeply, but it just plays on people’s insecurities when you’re in a place that they’re not. And that’s kinda what that song is about, what the whole record’s about.” I’m not a famous musician or anything (obviously), but I can definitely emphasize with that nomadic type lifestyle, and I can see how difficult it would be to maintain a healthy relationship (esp. with someone outside the business who might not understand). But what I (and most others) love about Sharon is how fearless she is in facing her subconscious and unleashing many of the deep-seated affliction that most people would rather suppress. “I have a hard time not wearing my heart on my sleeve and answering people honestly. You know, my friends warn me that I should be more guarded ‘cause sometimes I am too honest and open, but it’s also just who I am. I don’t like to hold back. Especially with who I am and what I do, it’s all me, everything’s my name, it’s what I do, it’s how I feel, it’s what I think. Over the last two years, I’m beginning to think that what I do is kind of self-centered, you know? And I’ve been contemplating doing something else after a couple of years, ‘cause it’s all me. It’s almost like, why do people care about me?…I love who I work with, and I’m lucky, and I know that people would kill to be in the position that I’m in, but it’s fucking with my head a little bit. It’s all about me and my life and my hardships or whatever you want to call it, and I don’t know who I’m helping, I don’t know what I’m doing…I feel pretty selfish to be doing what I’m doing and not knowing who it’s affecting or who it’s helping.” But I wish I could tell her (shout it out) that she is HELPING ME!! Without Sharon’s recent album release and gig at KOKO, I am not sure I could have made it through last week without having complete meltdown. The one song that became my instant ailment (still is) was ‘Afraid of Nothing.’ It’s actually the title track to my recent playlist: https://beatsthatsetmypulse.wordpress.com/afraid-of-nothing/ The minute I hear those intro piano chords to this song, my fear/troubles/frustrations instantly dissipate off my chest, and suddenly I feel a thousand times lighter. This was the first song of Sharon’s set at KOKO, and I couldn’t help but choke up (at the first song, lame I know). I would have loved getting this on video, but the photographers were obstructing my view. These lyrics = therapy: “I can’t wait…Til we’re afraid…Of nothing. I can’t wait…Til we hide….From nothing…Nothing.” Next up in the set was ‘Taking Chances,’ one of my other favorites from the new album. The beat is so hypnotic and catchy, and the lyrics just flow behind like a perfect cascade: “When you love all of you, they know all of you..Be alone and take, and you break for your sake…Even I’ve taken my chances….Even I’ve taken my chances on you.” Then it was ‘Tarifa‘, a song that didn’t’ capture my initial interest the first time through, but now that I listen more and more I’ really drawn to it: “Tell me when…Tell me when is this over?…Chewed you out…Chew me out when I’m stupid.” After the first 3 songs (photographers booted, thank you), Sharon apologizes to the the audience, saying that she is a bit sick and will have to carry her tissues on stage..(she later jokes about about making a business with personalized tissues). Then she cracks a few jokes with her keyboardist/back up singer, Heather, who claimed at the red tambourine wasn’t “her color.” She soon interrupts the set with an oldie (but goodie), ‘Don’t Do It,’ and the crowd goes wild for the tune that we all know and love: “Look me in the eyes, say you can’t do it, but you will if you want to…I wish I could make you right.” (fierce ending…wish I could give her a hug!) Next was another oldie, a song (‘Give Out‘) she introduces as the reason why she “moved to the city“: “What’s with the eyes…In the back of the room?…The only ones shining…The only ones I’d met in years…“I’m biting my lip…As confidence is speaking to me.” (this continues to be one of my favorites of her older stuff) Just before she hits us with a new one, she giggles as she and Doug discuss how much they are enjoying the show during their “meeting minutes.” (haha) Then someone in the crowd yells, “We love you Sharon!,” to which she replies (looking out with her hand over her forehead, ” DAD? Is that you?” Everyone laughs as she then explains how it’s not uncommon for her parents to randomly show up and surprise her at gigs in different cities, as they have in the past for both Dublin and Paris. (But then she says they would not be here because they are at home getting ready for her sister’s wedding). Next up was another new one, ‘Nothing will change,’ and I for sure felt the gravity in these lyrics; “It had been a while and I thought that you’d forgot about me I never could have forgotten you. (def have been there…) The next song (‘Break Me‘) seems to be a continueation of ‘Give out’, and I can’t help but draw a parallel between the two. She says, “This is a song about therapy, cause I need it.” (LOVE THE OMNICHORD IN THIS ONE) “He can make me..Move into a city on my knees…He can take in everything…Hoping he let’s me in..I, I let you in.” She then played one more old one (‘Serpents‘) before finishing off her collection of new gems, including ‘You Know Me Well‘: “Everyone is crazy with their own life…Lies in existential you ever want to find your way out…Turn into yourself again and reach on out….To become your true self…You know me well….You show me hell when I’m looking…And here you are…Looking.” “I’m just not that broken any more,” Sharon says in a recent interview. “I feel like I’ve been hurt and I’m still hurt, but for different reasons. I know who I am more, I know what I want, I don’t take as much shit, I know what I don’t want, I know what I will not tolerate, I know when I’m making someone else happy and vice versa…I still get hurt and get sad, I’m still a romantic at heart, but I think that one thing about growing up is that you know what you want more.” (YES.) Following this is the song, “Your Love is Killing Me,” which has drawn the attention of many and is “the heaviest thing she’s ever written.” In response to everyone’s concern and consideration, Sharon responds: “I am doing fine. It’s just this is what I do.” I call it “The Beast” because it is relentless.” She freaking lets all hell lose on this one. Emotional implosion. Her voice is on the verge of SHATTERING at the very end as if her heart were all the sudden in her throat.
“We’ve been through better days And you’ve tasted all my pain
Break my legs so I won’t walk to you Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you Burn my skin so I can’t feel you Stab my eyes so I can’t see You like it when I let you walk over me You tell me that you like it Your love is killing me
There he let it go, his temper, standing there See her with his gun and he, steals love so he can feel alive (This line SLAYS ME) Everyone’s knees knockin’ at the fear of love Taste blood Everybody needs to feel.”
Following “The Beast” is a song (‘Every time The Sun Comes up‘) that Sharon introduces as “literal in every way,” and one that her band tricked her with: “People say I’m a one-hit wonder But what happens when I have two? I washed your dishes, but I shitted in your bathroom..’ (hahah) She follows with another hit from the new album, ‘I Love You But I’m Lost“: “Come in here and be yourself again I love you but I’m not somebody who take shots See me after I recoil I’m better than I know There’s room to grow .. Let’s turn it into something we can change I love you but I’m lost Between the pain and cost I hold myself alive.” After thanking TONS of people, including her old drummer (now manager), Zeke, Sharon says that she can either play a song or tell a story (for the encore). Riding on gut and intuition, Sharon dismisses (as nice as possible) the many song suggestions from the audience and instead says, “But I sorta had a plan, guys…‘ before she dazzles us with her last track on the album, “I Know.” “And then you push me out I know, I know And then you disappear because you can’t fight fear I know, I know ..I all ever wanted as YOU.” (she warned us that it was going to be a sad one) “Every time I write, it is for therapeutic purposes. I write when I am going through a really hard time. I hit record and sing stream of conscious. I usually let it out for about ten or twenty minutes and then wait a day or two then listen back a day or two later so I have some perspective on what I was going through. Nine times out of ten I don’t share those “songs” with anyone because they are too personal. The ones I choose to share are the ideas that are more relatable and universal so I don’t alienate the listener – and hopefully they can connect with it on their own personal level.” YES, yes they do! We love you, “SHIZZLE.” (what she called herself on the set) xxx And to leave YOU on a personal level, here are a few interesting comments I read about Sharon in a recent interview: CP- What do you hope for? SVE—I hope to one day find balance in my life. (my biggest struggle too!) CP—What motivates you to make music? SVE—Healing myself, helping others heal, and helping others feel not so alone. CP—What makes you smile? SVE—A dad with their kid, a stranger helping someone, someone else smiling (it’s contagious!) CP—When are you most at peace? SVE—At the beach. CP—What are you most scared of? SVE—Never settling down. (ME TOO)
Recent interviews with Sharon: http://www.gigwise.com/news/91564/sharon-van-etten-im-not-broken-any-more http://thelabmagazine.com/2014/06/02/sharon-van-etten/ http://www.vulture.com/2014/05/fred-armisen-interviews-sharon-van-etten-new-album-are-we-there.html
Really nice speaking with you at SVE/KOKO.
Cool blog – I’ll definitely be checking back for recommendations.
Remember to take a look at Barbican Library if you get the chance.
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