"Goofy” was never a word I expected to use in describing Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten; yet here she is, laughing off a catastrophe involving a lot of melted butter in her tour van and claiming, “I’m actually a really happy, goofy person in real life. Sometimes people forget that part: I’m singing these songs from the perspective of a particular moment, but in reality I’m this goofball.”

Her live performances bear out her claim: in between the weighty, melancholic songs for which she has been justly lauded, Van Etten peppers her set with hilarious tour stories and even winning impersonations (her Tom Cruise, as it turns out, is spot on). “I’m not this dark, brooding goth or anything.” After any time in her company, this becomes very clear.

While this lightness of touch does come as a surprise, it’s undeniable that her latest release, Tramp, saw a broadening in both emotional and sonic palettes. The transition from the introspective, hushed folk of her debut album Because I Was In Love to the full, varied arrangements on Tramp was, she says, a natural progression. “I really think my personal life has paralleled my career a lot: starting out with an ex who really wasn’t supportive of my music, and going into relationships in which people were much more supportive than I was used to. It’s been both a progression as a person and in music: my confidence level has improved since I started writing, but also in terms of my life, the content I’m writing about isn’t so sad anymore. I’m allowing myself to feel other emotions that I wasn’t really doing before.”

This increased confidence is everywhere in evidence in her latest work, with part of her aim being “to show that I can write about all these other things, I can play these other instruments, I have more than one emotion.” This narrative of personal and musical development even extends to her live set: “we try to do a kind of autobiographical set, where we play old songs in amongst the new to create a more interesting dynamic.”The larger band she now plays with have also opened up different avenues for emotional expression: her recent increase in volume has been part of “allowing myself to be more aggressive. I started with more of a whisper and now I’m not afraid to shout, just to be loud. It’s a different form of catharsis.”

This increase in variety and confidence was aided by a rotating cast of collaborators: The National’s Aaron Dessner produced the record, whilst she enlisted friends including Julianna Barwick and Beirut’s Zach Condon to lend their voices to various tracks. Though she still writes “from a very closed environment,” Van Etten now leaves her songs “a lot more open, rather than having something in mind when I go into the studio.

“What I learned from writing on this last record with Aaron is that, when you leave people to their own devices because you respect what they do, and let them run wild on the songs and show their own strengths, it will help the songs become new.” Diversity is one of Tramp’s primary strengths, one that isn’t solely down to Van Etten’s collaborators. The title alludes to the fact that she essentially had no fixed home for the year during which it was recorded; working with Dessner meant the clashing of “crazy schedules,” and the “only constant” became “going back to the studio. That was our home.”

As a result, “each song was written in a different little world.” Songwriting, then, seems to be a natural part of her life, an outpouring from the “little world” inhabited at particular moments. Indeed, she was unaware of a move away from the more insularly personal lyrics of previous records: “I’m not the kind of person who sits down and writes a record yet; I write as I go and then I find songs that make sense together.”

One connective thread is writing as a therapeutic exercise: “I write when I’m going through a really hard time, because I don’t know how to understand it yet.”Her focus is not simply confessional, though; it’s more hopeful than that, driven by progression and learning from experience rather than wallowing. With time and repeated live performances, she says, comes growth: “I didn’t know at the time that the songs weren’t just about me, but I write all the time about friends, family about other things outside romance.

“I definitely reanalyse the situation every time I sing the song, and I’m in a different mindset every time I perform them. I’m still learning from songs that I wrote years ago, still getting to understand what they mean and how they affect me. It took me a couple of years to realise one of my older songs is about my parents – I’m just not always aware at the time.”

Music, then, can be a way of “writing about a negative situation and getting out of it. It’s important to feel sadness and acknowledge it, but also to move on from there.” This resolution can be heard on songs like ‘Love More’, from her second album Epic: through the lyrics, suffering from an unstable and mentally abusive relationship becomes a means toward increased strength and positivity.

Another element of the past she continues to acknowledge and learn from is her DIY beginnings as an artist: though the days of self-recorded CDs with hand-written lyrics may be long gone, it’s important to Van Etten to remember “how organically things really happened for me. I don’t want to lose sight of that. Things are starting to get a little crazier than I had anticipated, and so it’s really grounding to remind yourself that it all started because people cared about your music and who you were.”

What might have seemed like insularity becomes communal in Van Etten’s hands; the personal becomes a means not only of connection but also of growth and movement beyond the isolated self. “It was all about connecting with people, having a conversation and creating intimacy. No matter how I write or where I am, I have to remember that.”

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