Sharon Van Etten plans working vacation around folk fest

Posted by Mike Bell on 25 July 2013

When Sharon Van Etten released her gorgeous third album Tramp, there was a conversation and there was lamentation that she wouldn’t be making the city part of her touring plans any time in the near future.

Well, a year later — a very full and something of a breakthrough year later for the Brooklyn-based artist — and that’s about to be rectified with her appearance at the folk fest, where she’ll perform a concert on Saturday night as well as a pair of workshops throughout the weekend.

And while we’re finally able to enjoy being a part of her last album as it nears the end of its touring lifespan, we’ll also be able to lay claim to being a large part of her next one.

After the fest wraps, Van Etten and her band will hit local studio Audities for a few days in order to get some initial high-quality demos and ideas recorded which she’ll then take with her to begin work in earnest.

“We had three days and it was like, ‘Do we take a mini vacation, do we go camping in Calgary? Or just work in Calgary?’ We had a couple of options there but we decided to go to the studio and work on stuff on the three days we had between Calgary and Salt Lake City,” she says, noting her drummer was given Audities as a recommendation partially because of the “intense” collection of keyboards and gear it has available for use.

“I’m excited about it. It will be our first time in the studio as a band.”

The singer-songwriter says fans who catch her at the fest will get a preview thanks to a couple of completed compositions which she’ll sprinkle amid her set that will, hopefully, be heavy on Tramp tracks.

That disc, which took a deserving spot on many 2012 year-end lists, is a beautiful and brooding collection of tense and tender, entirely personal prose rock.

It was produced by Aaron Dessner from The National and helped propel Van Etten into the upper echelons of the alt world, the female counterpart to someone like, say, fellow fest attendee Kurt Vile, whom she’ll renew acquaintances with during a Sunday side-stage collaboration.

Hopefully it will be as magical and as memorable as the last time they were together, which was a month ago in New York for an all-star tribute to Big Star, that also included Mike Mills from R.E.M., Pete Yorn, Ken Stringfellow from The Posies, Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue and the only living member of the band being celebrated, Jody Stephens.

“That was so much fun but really intimidating to perform songs that I’ve been listening to for a long time and try to do them justice,” Van Etten says.

The musician, again deservedly, is finding those opportunities being presented to her more frequently as a result of Tramp’s acclaim — opportunities she never would have dreamed of and are difficult to decline, even as she’s already begun thinking ahead.

That includes a recent tour where she not only opened for Nick Cave, but was also asked to sing backup on a couple of the alt rock icon’s tracks, eventually, by the end of the run, sharing the stage with him for 80 per cent of his performance.

“I don’t know, honestly,” she says, still with a sense of wonderment in her voice about how it came to pass. “It was during a time when I was planning being off because I had been touring for a solid year at that point. I guess without me knowing, my booking agent . . . put my name out there, just a shot in the dark, and they ended up making me an offer to be their support.

“It was one of those things where I felt like I couldn’t say no even though I was planning on being off and everything and I was exhausted.”

She admits to being less so now, with these last three shows — Calgary, Salt Lake City and then in Oregon on Aug. 2 — being the last of her live obligations for the near future.

Van Etten says she’s looking forward to that time off, which will provide her the stability and a calm mind to create and “feel like a whole person” again, while also giving her some space to reflect on all of the wonderful things that have happened to her since Tramp’s release.

That’s something she still had a difficult time processing let alone putting into words.

“I was pretty pleased with how things went this last year, I mean, it’s, um,” she pauses. “I’m underplaying it a little bit. I feel so lucky to have been able to do all of the things that I’ve done in the last year and to have grown with my audience.

“I feel very blessed, for sure.”

Sharon Van Etten performs Saturday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.