Movin’ on up

Sharon Van Etten returns with newfound optimism on “Epic.”

by Sally Hedberg


WHAT: Sharon Van Etten with Little Scream and Star Dweller

WHEN: 7 p.m., April 6

WHERE: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Ave. S

COST: $10/$12


Coming from the ambiguous and prevalent genre of female-fronted neo-folk, thereâÄôs a lot of music floating around out there thatâÄôs mediocre.

The tiresome formula of girl with a guitar (acoustic of course), plus the aftermath of a failed relationship does not a buzz artist make. Then again, Brooklyn native Sharon Van Etten has proved herself a musical rarity from the beginning.

Surfacing just two years ago with her heartbreaking debut, âÄúBecause I Was In Love,âÄù the dreamy-voiced folkster is back in the game, reaffirming her aptitude with a plugged-in guitar, a backing band and a brand new record, âÄúEpic,âÄú with a supporting tour that will stop at the Cedar on Wednesday.

For Van Etten, who formerly played as a completely solo artist, touring and performing with a band is something sheâÄôs had to get used to.

âÄúI feel like IâÄôm constantly learning how to do it because IâÄôm so used to being on my own schedule and writing by myself,âÄù Van Etten said. âÄúItâÄôs been a nice challenge for me. ThereâÄôs a bunch of guys IâÄôve got hanging around now.âÄù

The musical effects of her new band members mark a positive change. âÄúBecause I Was In LoveâÄù was clearly a record that dealt with some serious heartbreak âÄî really, the girl needed a hug. Somber tracks like âÄúFor YouâÄù and âÄúI Wish I KnewâÄù are a testament.

âÄúEpicâÄù serves as the newly optimistic look-how-far-IâÄôve-come-in-two-years response to her dark time. And having a drummer changes everything. Her message is given so much more strength by the upbeat quality of her backing band.

SheâÄôs always been a hugely introspective artist, and just because sheâÄôs not über choked-up about some guy doesnâÄôt mean that âÄúEpicâÄù is any less meaningful. The thumping riffs and emotive vocal punch of songs like âÄúPeace SignsâÄù introduce an utterly reshaped Van Etten: one defined by confidence, not sorrow.

âÄúItâÄôs definitely a more positive and less broken record, and thatâÄôs the kind of space that I was coming from,âÄù Van Etten said. âÄúI was coming to terms with what I had gone through already, stepping away from it and addressing it in a positive light.âÄù

In doing this, sheâÄôs produced an album that is a step up from her debut, and that really does set her above her similar-minded peers. The National and Bon Iver even covered her poignant track, âÄúLove MoreâÄù live last spring. Though, playing her specific brand of music, people tend to archetype her because of the way she conveys emotion.

âÄúThe honesty of my writing is a strength and a weakness,âÄù Van Etten said. âÄúI think that a girl playing guitar is just an easy target to be called a âÄòsinger/songwriter.âÄô I hope I grow in my songwriting and itâÄôs harder to classify my songs, but people are going to constantly look for a label anyway, because thatâÄôs just how we work as human beings.âÄù

ItâÄôs evident that Van Etten doesnâÄôt take these categorizations too seriously. With an insane touring schedule that stretches through summer and already another record in the works with the NationalâÄôs Aaron Dessner, she doesnâÄôt have time to.

âÄúI know that this is not time to really slow down,âÄù Van Etten said. âÄúIâÄôll know when itâÄôs time to slow down, and IâÄôll work hard enough to be able to enjoy relaxing, but itâÄôs gonna be a while.âÄù

As an indie-artist attempting to stake her place in a competitive, constantly changing industry, she could definitely have worse problems.