In Opening Track, we take an early look at a forthcoming record that we’re excited about. Today, we check in with Sharon Van Etten, who will release her third record, Tramp, Feb. 7 on Jagjaguwar.
Why we’re excited: Sharon Van Etten’s first two albums felt like a gradual coming-out party for the Brooklyn singer-songwriter. Her 2009 debut, Because I Was In Love, was a stripped-down collection of songs about personal heartbreak; it established her as an artist to watch. Van Etten’s 2010 release Epic not only stepped up her songwriting, it also fleshed out the production with a full-band sound that retained the intimate intensity of the first record while reaching out to a wider audience. For Tramp, Van Etten teamed up with producer Aaron Dessner from The National, who recruited a battery of guest stars—including Beirut’s Zach Condon, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, and Julianna Barwick—to produce what’s shaping up to be the breakthrough foretold by Love.
Here is the song “Save Yourself,” from Epic.
What we’ve heard: Van Etten credits Dessner with giving her the confidence to move beyond the simple guitar-and-voice arrangements she started with early in her career. Dessner also gave input on Van Etten’s songwriting. “He helped me learn what was too wordy, and what needed to be there,” she recently told The A.V. Club. “It helped me stick up for myself when I really felt that something needed to be there. It kind of forced me to really know what I believed in. I haven’t been able to have a relationship with someone in that capacity where we can butt heads a little bit.”
While Dessner gives Tramp the fullest sound yet for a Van Etten album, he also knew when to pull back. For the tense, tightly strummed “Give Out,” which was left off of Epic, he pared back the instrumentation to give the song an appropriate starkness. “It was the first song that we both agreed needed to be minimal,” she said. “Which was really nice, because before we started working together, a lot of my friends and even I was worried that it would turn into this huge National kind of record. He heard it and instinctively said, ‘This doesn’t need to be taken anywhere very far.’”
Tramp was recorded at Dessner’s home studio in Brooklyn, when Van Etten was without a permanent residence, living on the road while touring constantly and crashing with friends when home in New York. Not having her own personal space ended up influencing the songs on Tramp, the title of which references her vagabond lifestyle at the time. The album’s first song, a clanging folk-rock strummer reminiscent of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea era PJ Harvey named “Warsaw,” was written on “a MIDI keyboard so I wouldn’t disturb other people. Because you have very little space—you’re in the van, or you’re in one small room together.”
Have a listen: One of the most National-like songs on Tramp, “Serpents,” is also the first single. Check it out below.