10 things we learned from musician Sharon van Etten

Slow down, prioritise and practise the ‘slow build’…

It’s an exciting time in the world of Sharon van Etten. Her music career is flush with critical acclaim after the 2019 release of her fifth studio album ‘Remind me Tomorrow’ and the singer has also had a dynamic couple of years juggling an acting career in Netflix’s ‘The OA’, creating scores for films including ‘Strange Weather’ with Holly Hunter, becoming a mother AND going back to school to learn psychology — setting herself the goal of becoming a psychologist by the age of 50.

Sharon’s background is grassroots and the singer/actress has had to learn how to constantly adjust and prioritise in life. We talked to her about songwriting, how she manages to switch contexts and how she practises what she calls the ‘slow build’.

Singing is a deeply personal experience

“I think music is so personal, especially the way I write” Sharon told us. “I always had this intense connection with singing, it’s emotional for me just to sing regardless of what it’s about. I’m on the verge of tears all the time because of how it feels.”

Finding the balance whilst on tour is tough

With so many different personalities to balance as well as taking care of herself (if she doesn’t, she won’t be on top of her game and the group won’t have a good show) Sharon is open about the struggles of being on tour. “I’m 38 years old, a new mum, tired all the time and trying to shake it off like I’m a rockstar every night!” she chuckled.

The way she’s learned to manage all the different personalities of the people around her is by checking in with everyone as often as possible. “You’re constantly making sure everyone has everything they need and that they’re heard” she explained, “but you also give them space and you give them attention, it’s a balance.”

The power of listening is key to making it work

“I think the first thing is the power of listening” Sharon said when we asked how she managed to juggle people’s different expectations whilst on tour. “As a person just being heard is so helpful i.e. when the other person says: “I acknowledge that, I’m seeing it”, then you give people the space to talk about it they want.”

When performing she sees how her music connects with people…

“I remember seeing somebody crying and then I remember looking up and seeing that the bartender didn’t even want to make a drink, it was then that I realised everyone was there for me” Sharon said, as she recalled the moment she specifically realised that everyone in the room was there to listen to her and that they were all connected because of her music.

…and it’s this connection which motivated her to decision to go back to school and learn psychology

Sharon describes herself as an introspective child who kept a lot in and wrote instead of talking. It wasn’t until her early twenties when she started seeing a therapist that she started to realise why this was. “It took me a long time to talk to people about my emotions and it was only through writing and singing I could communicate because I wasn’t able to talk to people” she recalls. “And now, through my music and my songs, so many people reach out to me to say they’ve connected and I just really want to help them because I think they think I have it sussed and I don’t!”

Sharon is quick to point out that she’s just on her path, but that if she can, she’d like to help other people in situations similar to hers learn how to communicate. As she points out though, “I can only do that if I know for sure I’m doing the right thing for the individual — and I need certification for that”, hence her decision to go back to school and study psychology.

With so many things going on, it’s going to take her a while…

“It’s going to take me a long time to get my psychology degree” Sharon admits, “so I’ve set myself the goal of getting it by the age of 50”. She’s not scared about not getting there though: “I’m a Pisces, I’m a dreamer” she tells us, “but I’m someone that if I set myself goals I generally achieve them.”

‘Remind me tomorrow’ (the title of her new album) is how she’s learned to prioritise and switch between her different careers.

“As I get older I learn how to prioritise my time better and Google calendar has been very helpful because I just block time off” she told us. “I can just hit ‘remind me tomorrow’ to make sure I’m on top of the next day. That’s how I manage my life!”

Staying in the present is also key to managing her different contexts

“If you think too much about the past you get depressed, and if you think too far ahead you get anxiety, the times you find yourself at peace are because you’re being in the moment.”

Sharon advises acknowledging the times we’re connecting to something in the moment and to just let it happen when we do. “Don’t think about what it means or where you’re going to go” she advises, “because you can constantly over-analyze things to a point where you question them”.

If you learn how to stop over-analyzing, you’ll also trust yourself more

“Don’t second guess yourself!” Sharon told us, “if you ever find you’re not being yourself around other people then those aren’t people you should be around.”

The ‘slow build’ is how Sharon navigates life’s paths

“I’ve always been a fan of the slow build, whether it be with my career, or my songs, or life” Sharon explained. This means taking the time to do things properly, enjoying them as they happen and following the opportunities that arise as a result. We all have a path that we want to follow, but as Sharon points out: “ Make sure you’re on the path that you want to be on — even if there are a few different paths.”

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Photo: Ryan Pfluger

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