Photo: Michael Schmelling

Ask A Singer

Ask A Singer: Sharon Van Etten Answers Your Life Questions

Life advice from the ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’ singer.

Sharon Van Etten’s new record We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, out now, is about taking control. Recorded over the past two years in her home studio in Los Angeles, Van Etten, who also produced most of the record, put the world’s feelings of helplessness into her music, reclaiming all that was possible and, ultimately, creating one of her finest works to date.

Van Etten has undergone a number of life transitions over the past few years, including giving birth to her first child in 2017 and moving from New York to Los Angeles in 2019. When it came to her sixth studio album, Van Etten released the record in full, without any promotional singles or traditional rollout. At 41, she’s done the work to know what feels right, while still being open to new ideas and emotions.

Here, the wise singer answers your life questions, exclusively for NYLON.

ANY ADVICE ON FEELING ‘STUCK’ IN LIFE?

Ask yourself what you're passionate about. Make a list of all the things you've always wanted to do. Movies you've wanted to see. Books you've wanted to read. Call a friend who you haven't talked to in a long time.

HOW DO YOU GET PAST WRITER’S BLOCK?

I try to read or watch a movie to get inspired. Think about other people's perspectives. Maybe I am just bored by my life. Maybe I am not supposed to be writing. Give myself a break from trying to make something and enjoy someone else's creation. Live a little to write about something more important.

HOW DO YOU NUTURE YOUR CREATIVE SPIRIT ALONGSIDE MOTHERHOOD, ESPECIALLY IN TODAY’S CLIMATE?

I try to utilize every window I have to work, write, reflect, and take joy in the little moments. And as a parent, they are little moments that one must be at peace with. Take deep breaths and know the moments of stress and isolation will pass.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS TO LISTEN TO WHEN YOU’RE STRESSED?

Winged Victory for the Sullen, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Nillson, Leon Russell, Aldous Harding.

HOW DO YOU WRITE SONGS WITHOUT MAKING THEM SOUND CHEESY?

I write from an emotionally raw space, so they are usually very intense. I tend to try and balance it out and stretch them with some levity... However, I have written some songs that are cheesy. That just happens. But I either (a) own the cheese, or (b) don't share the cheese with anyone. It's ok. Keep writing.

HOW DOES ONE BALANCE THEIR OWN CREATIVE NEEDS AND OTHER’S EXPECTATIONS?

First, always make what you want to make on your own. If you work with others that have needs, then meet them halfway especially if you love them.... However, fans are fans because they love what you make. If along the way they are not always on board it's the individual's decision on whether they cater to the fans more or not. My personal style is to keep making things and keep moving on to making more things. You can't always make everyone happy. I'd rather stand behind the work that I know I believe in then try and cater to others.

WHAT DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO TRUST YOUR GUT AND BECOME A MUSICIAN?

The support of my friends and family to give me the confidence to perform out, even when hard. That, even when trying other jobs, music was the forefront of my passion. And continues to be.

HOW DO I REGAIN MY SENSE OF SELF AFTER INTENSE YEARS OF MOTHERHOOD?

Motherhood isn't over, and it never will be. Before I became a mother, I was nurturing my sense of self and trying to understand what that was. That search never ends.

HOW DO I NOT BE HOPELESS ABOUT HUMANITY?

I see it as my job as a mother to stay optimistic, even in hard times. I try to be the best person I can be and my partner and I will continue to teach and allow our son to be the best he can be. I look in his eyes and I see hope.

HOW DO I START MOVING ON FROM A PAST LOVE?

Know there is something more out there. You can love more than one person. Take time for yourself, love yourself, accept love from others.

ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE DEALING WITH ANXIETY?

Remember the moment will pass. Breathe. Close your eyes. Call somebody. Write. Run. Know it gets better. Be gentle with yourself.

DOES LIFE EVER START MAKING SENSE AS YOU’RE GETTING OLDER OR IS IT ALWAYS THIS UNCERTAIN?

There are moments it makes sense. There are moments I have no idea. We have to find peace in that. Nothing is predictable. Ride the moments of joy and breathe through moments of pain and confusion. Rise above the darkness and only share in the light. Getting older for me is trying to be okay with uncertainty.