Sharon Van Etten peels back layers at GRAMMY Museum

Sharon Van Etten

For the second straight album, expect Sharon Van Etten to wind up on a lot of year-end best-of lists.

Five years after the release of her critically acclaimed third full-length record Are We There, Van Etten finally put the follow-up Remind Me Tomorrow out. A lot had changed in those five years for the singer. She unexpectedly scored an acting gig in hit Netflix drama The OA, scored a film, and also became a new mother. The GRAMMY Museum hosted an edition of their series The Drop with Van Etten, with an interview conducted by Scott Goldman kicking things off.

Van Etten peeled back the inspiration behind her latest record as well as the process, which was different than any album she’d put out before. She left the record’s production to John Congleton, which took some of the pressure off the singer — though it was a process to leave it all in the hands of another. The live shows that Van Etten has played since touring in support of the record have her more as a frontwoman than ever before — a complete change for a musician who has always had an instrument on stage. After seeing her Sunday open for Bon Iver in the massive room The Forum, I can attest that Sharon Van Etten has Big Frontperson Energy.

Van Etten told the audience that whenever she sings album standout “Seventeen”, she seeks out a person in the crowd she will make total eye contact with during the song’s big moment. “I know what you’re gonna be / I know that you’re gonna be / You’re crumbling up just to see / Afraid that you’ll be just like me,” Van Etten sings and then shouts in that song’s crescendo. It’s a goosebumps inducing moment and it was refreshing to hear a singer welcome that connection with her audience (just watch that moment in her Glastonbury set from this year).

Some of the discussion with Goldman addressed how she’s become close with a number of fans of her work, as well as how she’s tried to move away from making the same record again and again. If that’s what she set out to do, she accomplished that feat big time on Remind Me Tomorrow. She also explained the album title came from the fact that she hadn’t updated her computer in years, something most of us can relate to.

The sold-out show was then treated to a a half-dozen songs from the new record, in a stripped-down acoustic performance. It was great hearing these songs get a little bit of a different spin on them, highlighting the amazing harmonies of Van Etten and backup singer Heather Woods Broderick — an amazing musician in her own right. “Comeback Kid” — a song with some Nine Inch Nails vibes in its studio and full band version — took on a more lounge vibe.

These versions of “You Shadow” and “Hands” focused the attention on the catchy melancholy hooks of each chorus. She closed the set with “Seventeen”, and it felt as though she was making direct eye contact with everyone in the crowd during the song’s high point.

I first saw Sharon Van Etten when I stumbled into her set at Outside Lands seven years ago. A singer-songwriter back then, it’s been incredible to watch her growth as a musician, each album a forward progression from the previous one. If “Seventeen” is about trying to tell the younger version of herself what she’ll become, there should be a ton of pride taken in the well-rounded and thoughtful musician and person she’s seemed to become.

Photos by Justin Higuchi