As she prepares to release her sixth studio album, what would you ask one of the boldest voices in contemporary songwriting?
Over the last 12 years, Sharon Van Etten has become one of the boldest voices in contemporary songwriting, tackling issues such as domestic abuse, liberation and the messiness of making a modern family in her esteemed records. Her sound has blossomed from skeletal sadness to rugged indie rock and hair-raising distortion, while her collaborators and peers have included the likes of the National, Bon Iver and Angel Olsen (who joined her on one of last year’s best songs, the magnificent Like I Used To). She’s also won acclaim as an actor for her roles in The OA, Twin Peaks and the film Never Rarely Sometimes Always – and simultaneously started training to become a psychologist. Whew.
As befits an artist of her stature, she’s more than earned the right to do things her way – and so for her sixth album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, Van Etten has decided to release no advance singles (this year’s Porta and Used to It don’t feature on the record). “I wanted to approach this release differently, to engage my fans in an intentional way, in an effort to present the album as a whole body of work,” she has said. “These 10 songs are designed to be listened to in order, at once, so that a much larger story of hope, loss, longing and resilience can be told.”
Spoiler alert: it’s another classic Van Etten record. It’s the first album made in her new home studio in California, and a change in weather from 2019’s abrasive Remind Me Tomorrow, one that advances the epic, hopeful side of her songwriting. Here she considers the meanings of safety and protection as the world is ending – as an artist, a mother, a partner and a citizen – and considers her, and our, responsibilities to change what can often seem like an apocalyptic course of history.
You can ask Van Etten about any of this and more besides – growing up in New Jersey, her tributes to John Denver, Nico and Yoko Ono, her past life as a sommelier – when she takes your questions on 2 May. Post your questions in the comments by 10am that day and her answers will be published in Film & Music on 6 May.