Sharon Van Etten – a Heart-Bleeding Four

Sharon Van Etten is a heart-bleeding indie musician. I think she’s a great example of a Four.

sharon van etten against a red fenceShe’s open and candid about herself:

“I have a hard time not wearing my heart on my sleeve and answering people honestly. You know, my friends warn me that I should be more guarded, cuz sometimes I am too honest and open, but it’s also just who I am. I don’t like to hold back. Especially with who I am and what I do, it’s all me, everything’s my name, it’s what I do, it’s how I feel, it’s what I think.”

Fours are willing to plumb the depths of their emotions. In fact, that’s the only way to be.

“I was a 90s kid, so I was into alternative and grunge and emo and math rock, you know, so when someone calls me emo in a derogatory sense I’m just like, hell yeah I’m emo – I’m an emotional person, dammit! Why don’t you acknowledge the sad side of yourself too? You pretend you’re confident and happy all the time – you’re a liar! No – we all go through shit. Cry! Let yourself cry, let yourself hurt, let yourself talk about it. Let people know every side of yourself; nobody’s perfect. Even a successful person has their own dark side, you know? It’s OK! Someone calls me emo… I’m fine with that.”

Sharon Van Etten - guitar, microphoneFours process their experience through artistic creation.

“My music is very therapeutic to me, so if I’m going through something I just sing. I’ve always struggled with communicating my emotions to people, so whenever I’m trying to work something out, I write.”

Their artwork is very often directly, nakedly autobiographical:

“This album [the recently released Are We There] is everything that’s going on with me right now; everything that’s happened in the last year or two. It’s everything that I’ve experienced; from my career becoming more full-time and the effects of it on my day-to-day life; and I’m still going through it!”

The creation and the performance of art is cathartic for Fours. There’s nothing like that emotional purgation – it’s the whole reason for doing it:

sharon-van-etten-photo“It’s very cathartic. Even if it was cathartic to write it, recording it is too in that it’s realized, then performing it is cathartic because it’s re-realized and everyone’s connecting to it which helps me feel validated in what I’m doing.”

In fact, if the emotion in your work isn’t going to be deep and real, why do it at all?

“Some songs I just can’t do any more, it’s not even remotely me – unless I feel it’s something I can I can play emotively still. I’ll only really play a song when there’s a chance that I might cry.”

One journalist watched her rehearse the song Your Love is Killing Me with her band, and was overwhelmed at the emotion and power she brought to it, seemingly out of nowhere. He had to excuse himself after the song to pull himself together. She understood and said “Imagine how I feel.” She calls the song “the Beast” and notes the band needs a break after they play it.

I recommend listening to this song on headphones, with the volume turned way up. See if you can pick yourself up off the floor when it’s through.

She tells the story of her mother calling her after hearing that song, saying “What’s going on with you? Are you alright? I thought you were doing fine.” Van Etten responded “I am doing fine. It’s just this is what I do.”

Although they’re in tune with their own sadness, it’s a mistake to think that all Fours live in a constant gloom. Healthy Fours have a great love of life, and can be very funny and joyous.

Sharon Van Etten“I’m a total goofball. I love comedy, I love jokes, I’m a total geek. If I didn’t have music, I’d be really sad, but because I do I can put that away.”

With regular psychological and emotional deep-sea diving, a healthy Four ends up working through a lot of her shit. Sadness isn’t feared, nor is it over-emphasized. It’s accepted and processed, bringing self-knowledge and growth.

“I’m just not that broken any more. I feel like I’ve been hurt and I’m still hurt, but for different reasons. I know who I am more, I know what I want, I don’t take as much shit, I know what I don’t want, I know what I will not tolerate, I know when I’m making someone else happy and vice versa. I still get hurt and get sad, I’m still a romantic at heart, but I think that one thing about growing up is that you know what you want more.”

In two interviews she expressed the possibility of giving up the profession of music in order to become a psycho-therapist – a common profession among Fours.

Sharon Van Etten in a hood“I’ve thought about taking time off and going back to school to pursue therapy and see if I’d be a good therapist, because in a way I feel like that’s what I’m doing for people, except that I’m not actually getting to talk to as many people as I’d like to.”

And if her career does turn in that direction, she says she’ll always write music for herself. Healthy Fours know that a creative practice doesn’t need to be validated by anyone. It’s simply there because it’s good to let that which is inside us come out. Especially if it can be crafted into a beautiful shape.

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