A lot has changed in Sharon Van Etten's life since she put out her last album, Are We There, in 2014. In the past five years, she's gotten into acting, gone back to school to get a degree in mental-health counseling, worked on film scores and became a mom.
But through it all, she eventually found herself coming back to her first love: music. Van Etten has a new album out called Remind Me Tomorrow, and it's unlike anything she's done before. Though she was largely seen as an acoustic singer-songwriter early in her career, her new album is full of pulsing synths, big beats and lots of strange, dark textures made with the help of producer John Congleton. The result is a stunning achievement for Van Etten. Remind Me Tomorrow is her most ambitious, adventurous and, I think, best album to date.
For this edition of All Songs Considered, Sharon Van Etten and I listen to her whole new album together, front to back. Along the way, she reflects on motherhood, shares stories about the new songs and explains why she decided to blow up nearly everything fans have loved about her music.
You can hear the full interview using the audio button at the top of the page and read edited highlights below.
"[It's about] forgiving myself, forgiving others, acknowledging that when you love someone — when you fall in love — you really fall in love. And I don't deny those feelings of the past and present, but sometimes you have to move on. It doesn't mean the love wasn't real. And I feel like those are hard things to come to terms with, but also, I think moving on is so important.
"I think as you get older, you don't want to hold any grudges. You don't want to feel negativity. You don't want to carry that with you for the rest of your life. And it helps when you're in a better place to have the kind of reflection and to be able to live in the present. And on my past records, I wrote a lot about my past loves and the pain that I was in and overcoming it, which I think was important for me at the time. But this is also important."
"There [are] a lot of wonderful things happening in my life, and sometimes I feel guilty telling people where I'm at, because I know that I'm just having this kind of a spell. And I don't want to jinx it by talking to people sometimes. But I also have to acknowledge that there is this other side of happiness where you feel guilty living in a world that is actually really dark in other places. [And] you start thinking beyond the immediacy of the falling-in-love part and having-a-family part. You think about the future and what that means and the anxiety and the fear that brings, watching each other get old. As much as that's beautiful, I don't want to think about that yet, you know? As my grays are starting to appear and the wrinkles are getting longer and deeper. ... Life is too short. You know, live in the now and try to appreciate every moment, even when it's scary."
"In 2015, I had the conversation with my band that I was gonna take a break. I didn't know what that meant and I left it open-ended. I wanted to challenge myself in other ways, to be creative, and I also wanted to enjoy living in New York. I had worked so hard to have a career that I was hardly home, so I didn't want to keep writing songs about partners that couldn't handle me being gone all the time. I mean, I thought maybe that music can just be something for me. I would have been fine with that. But somehow, in between [acting, going back to school and having a baby], I still found it in me, that I had the drive in me still."
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.