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Van Etten quietly building up both fans and acclaim

Courtesy of Kristi Smith

e. Many artists need to hold down a second job to make ends meet when they aren’t touring. For singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten, who is playing at the Wexner Center on Friday, that job was with her record label, Ba Da Bing Records.

Van Etten began as an intern with the New York City label in 2007. Label owner Ben Goldberg promoted her after a few months, and told the Village Voice that she was a great employee, if a little shy. So shy in fact, that she failed to tell him what her career goals were.

“I was too shy to tell them I made music,” she said with a laugh.

Van Etten’s tentative nature stemmed partly from her days in Tennessee before moving to New York. Van Etten’s then-boyfriend, whom she said was a touring musician himself, didn’t put much stock in her writing. Because of his complaints that the music made their relationship too public, she would play small shows, and only when he was on tour. Six years later, Van Etten said she thinks she’s breaking out of her shell, especially on her newest album, “epic.”

“I felt the songs were a lot more confident,” she said of the album, on which she included a band and electric instrumentation, unlike on her debut “Because I Was in Love.” “I got a bunch of friends together, and we put the album together.”

Wexner Center director of performing arts Chuck Helm called it her “breakout record” and said she was “one of the most talented artists to emerge in the last year.” He said her style of music has been in vogue at a national level and at the Wexner Center.

“There have been a lot of singer/songwriters performing at the Wexner Center in recent years,” he said, listing examples with which he compared Van Etten, “Bon Iver, Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes.”    

Van Etten said her move to New York from Tennesee was interesting, but it has had its biggest effect on her approach to music.

“Living in the city gave me confidence,” she said. “My songs are getting a lot more aggressive.”

Aggressive isn’t the only thing her songs are getting. Pitchfork, NPR and other prominent music media sites are giving Van Etten critical applause for her last two records.

With the accolades come more glamorous gigs as well. Van Etten’s Friday show at the Wexner Center will be her second stop in Columbus. The first was what Van Etten calls one of the “craziest shows” she has ever played.

Van Etten was playing at a bar in the area (she couldn’t recall the name of the venue), but she remembered an elderly patron who had a passion for the “Spiderman” theme song.

“There was an older guy, I think he had mental problems. He was a token, an old regular at the bar,” she said. “Every set he would come up and start singing the theme song and everybody would join in.”

Another perk to gaining fans is that Van Etten no longer has to work her second job at Ba Da Bing; she can focus solely on her role as a recording artist.


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