Sharon Van Etten Explains the Open-Ended Nature of 'Are We There'

Sharon Van Etten Explains the Open-Ended Nature of 'Are We There'
Sharon Van Etten is still trying to figure out where she wants to be in life, as an artist and as a person. This, in part, is why her new album Are We There is missing a very important punctuation mark.

"It really is open-ended," Van Etten tells Exclaim! "I ask myself that question all the time, for my work, for my love, even for my friends. It's just really good to check in with yourself and it's a play on words, about touring and about travelling, being in transition."

Part of being in transition, though, means being in the middle of the action, unable to fully reflect. This is new for Van Etten, whose first three albums distanced the songwriter far enough from her subject matter of past heartbreaks to gain perspective. But with Van Etten drawing from more current struggles, namely the tricky balance between her career and relationship, Are We There — out May 27 on Jagjaguwar — results in something Van Etten describes as "pretty raw and probably the heaviest record I've written yet."

She explains, "This one's much more introspective and it's so fresh and honest. I don't have the hindsight to really process everything."

Uncertainty reigns over Van Etten's lyrics as she weighs out her priorities in life over 11 new songs that carry a heavier emphasis on piano and organs than her previous albums of guitar-driven melodies.

"I worked really hard to be where I am and now that I'm finally in a place where things are going well after 10 years," Van Etten says. "But now I'm not sure if I want it; I'm wondering if there's something that I should be thinking about instead of myself and my work."

One thing that Van Etten is confident about is her music and production. Taking charge and producing this album on her own (with an assist from St. Vincent/Regina Spektor producer Stewart Lerman), Van Etten took everything she learned in the past and applied it to the more complex, bright and poised product. She's admittedly more secured in her skills now, but this wasn't necessarily the case after her last album, 2012's Tramp.

"After touring Tramp and having interviews and conversations with people, it kept coming back to the National," Van Etten sighs, referring to the National's Aaron Dessner, who produced her last album. Interviews began revolving around Dessner's involvement, which led to a sense of insecurity.

"It messed with my experience of it. I loved working with Aaron, and I'm really proud of that record," she continues, assuring she has no ill feelings about the subject now. "But at the end of the day, I thought maybe the songs were overshadowed by the cast of characters on Tramp, so I wanted to prove it to myself that it was the songs and not just the people that made the record what it was."

Are We There's recording process was a positive experience for Van Etten, providing the reassurance she needed, and not only is she carrying a new sense of pride now, but she's ready to tackle even more with the next record.

"I feel like there's a parallel between albums and going to school where you're like, 'Oh cool, I made it to the next grade' in a way," she says, relating each record to another advancement. "I really had a positive experience this time and I liked having a set band that I'm comfortable with, and I'll probably do something similar next time, but I want to try something different as well."

Read more from our recent interview with Van Etten here.

Check out Van Etten's upcoming tour dates below.

Tour dates:

05/08 Northampton, MA - Iron Horse Music Hall
05/09 Hudson, NY - Helsinki Hudson
05/10 Providence, RI - Columbus Theatre
05/11 Hamden, CT - Ballroom at the Outer Space
05/25 Brussels, BE - Botanique Grand Salon (Nuits Botanique)
05/28 Paris, FR - Café de la Danse
05/30 Barcelona, ES - Primavera Sound
06/91 Koln, DE - Studio 672
06/02 Berlin, DE - Privatclub
06/03 Amsterdam, NL - Bitterzoet
06/05 London, UK - KOKO
06/11 Boston, MA - Sinclair
06/12 Brooklyn, NY - Northside Festival
06/13 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
06/14 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
06/17 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
06/18 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
06/19 Millvale, PA - Mr. Small's
06/20 Cleveland, OH - Beachland Ballroom
06/21 Nashville, TN - Exit In
06/24 Denver, CO - Bluebird Theater
06/25 Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge
06/28 Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theatre
06/29 San Francisco, CA - The Independent
06/30 San Francisco, CA - The Independent
07/02 Portland, OR - Doug Fir
07/03 Portland, OR - Doug Fir
07/05 George, WA - Sasquatch! Festival
07/06 Vancouver, BC - Rickshaw Theatre
07/08 Calgary, AB - Republik
07/09 Edmonton, AB - Starlite Room
07/14 Fargo, ND - Aquarium
07/16 Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
07/17 Madison, WI - University of Wisconsin
07/18 Chicago, IL - Pitchfork Music Festival
08/14-18 Beacons, UK - Green Man Festival