at home withinterviews

at home with: sharon van etten

by Grace Bonney

Brooklyn musician Sharon Van Etten’s Ditmas Park apartment is filled with the spirit of friends. An illustration by her friend Rebekah Kolp sits framed on her record shelf next to a Buddhist bell — a gift from her friend Judd — while a photo from Esao Andrews, another pal, hangs on a wall.

This aesthetic of the thoughtful and familiar is also echoed on Tramp, her third studio album, where the singer songwriter finds herself surrounded by friends once again. The National’s Aaron Dessner produced the album, which includes appearances by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Julianna Barwick, Beirut’s Zach Condon, and Bryce Dessner. They all accent Van Etten’s strikingly smoky and plaintive vocals, echoing against a backdrop of ukuleles, keyboards, organs, and haunting string arrangements.

Back in town on a short break from a demanding tour, Van Etten was kind enough to welcome D*S into her home to share with us just exactly what makes her apartment a refuge and her own personal creative space. — Lisa Przystup

All photos by Jen Causey

The full interview and more photos from Sharon’s Brooklyn home continue after the jump . . .

1. What do you love most your home (or coming home)?

It’s cozy. It’s the top floor of a house and I get great light. I like to sit on my couch and listen to records. It’s the first time I’ve felt at home in a long time. It’s the perfect size for one person and I have everything I need.

2. Please tell us about the room in which you were photographed. What are some of the most meaningful pieces in here and why?

It’s my everything room, although it appears to be a living room. It’s where I listen to music, write, record, watch movies, catch up on emails, eat . . .

I have an illustration by my friend Rebekah Kolp that I have in a frame on my record shelf and a Buddhist bell that my friend Judd gave me to center myself, and my all in one record player that doesn’t take up too much space (although I would like to upgrade at some point), and my music collection which is surrounding me — and of course, my guitars, which I do most of my writing on when I am home.

3. What are your favorite local spots to shop, eat, or just be inspired?

The Farm on Adderly, which is on Cortelyou Rd. Really fresh food and edgy combinations of flavors and really unique wine selection. The owner and the staff are so friendly and knowledgeable. Sycamore is a great local bar with a wide selection of bourbons and beer. By day, the bar doubles as a flower shop. Also, Cafe Madeleine has really great espresso. Just walking around the neighborhood is nice though because it is full of Victorian homes and families and tree-lined streets. It really helps me to clear my head after the chaos of running in the city.

4. The best part about your neighborhood is _________.

It isn’t “cool”. It’s a normal neighborhood. Reminds me of where I grew up in NJ.

5. Who are some of your favorite musical influences, past and present?

Neil Young, Patti Smith, John Cale, PJ Harvey, Portishead, Lower Dens, Meg Baird, The Men, Marisa Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Nick Cave . . .

6. What was your first musical memory?

Singing with my mom and my sisters to Leslie Gore.

7. What was your most significant recent musical memory or experience?

Sitting in my living room with my boyfriend in the afternoon listening to Lee Hazlewood “The LHI Years.”

8. What was the first song you ever learned to play?

Blackbird by the Beatles

9. What are you reading/watching/listening to/loving right now?

I am reading Please Kill Me, the uncensored oral history of punk. I am LOVING Lower Dens and Marisa Anderson at the moment. Two very talented women. I also just watched We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynn Ramsay. Amazing movie about a woman’s son with deep, emotional problems.

10. What do you hope people feel when (or takeaway from) listening to your music?

I hope it helps people to not feel so alone.

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  • Beautiful piece, and she comes across so well.

    (Also, I know for a fact her music seriously helps people to not feel so alone) xx

  • She seems like such a cool, down-to-earth person, in this interview & in concert (I got to see her on in NYC on her current tour; a lot of her family members were there, which led to a bit of back-and-forth joking). I like her decor and accent pieces. And it’s fitting that, as a writer, she’s got an old Royal manual typewriter.

  • She is so lovely. Style, music, her demeanor…. everything. And I can’t tell if I’m in love with that sofa because it’s so incredible, or if it’s just because Van Etten is sitting on it.

  • i had a very significant musical experience seeing her perform at the basement in nashville a few years ago. the whole room was completely silent and in awe, which i have never seen happen. i am so happy that she is really getting noticed, and i loved this piece.

  • Love her! I was so excited to see this post. I love the last answer, “I hope it helps people to not feel so alone.” Her music definitely makes me feel “not so alone” in this chaotic world.

  • I first saw Sharon at Philly Folk Fest a couple years ago, and her intensity on a beautiful sunny day was so striking. I saw her again at a venue in philly and she was so modestly sitting right there at the bar, and no one there for the show even noticed haha. Sharon i sing your songs in the shower and your words keep me company, thanks for being a ‘real’ person in the music world.