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Interview: Sharon Van Etten

I think this will be my last post before Christmas (unless I stumble upon anything terribly exciting), so I hope you enjoy this wonderful musician and all have happy holidays!

Sharon Van Etten

Recently while browsing through the crazy world of Youtube I actually found something good. Great even. I think it is safe to say that for every pearl you find on Youtube there are about ten dozen empty clams. The artist that I found is called Sharon Van Etten and she comes from Brooklyn, New York.

She has a really beautiful, stunning voice and plays lovely folk music. Among her influences she lists Vashti Bunyan, Neil Young, Diane Cluck and M Ward. She actually came over to the UK last January to play some shows with Meg Baird, including a show at the lovely lovely Luminaire. This was pre-me moving to London, but I’m still always made sad when I find out about all the wonderful shows I missed out on. But, fear not, Sharon tells me she had a great time in London and will hopefully be back early next year to promote her first official album.

This is another reason to add to the list of seemingly endless reasons why 2009 is going to be a great year. I’m so excited! She also has a CD of home recordings available on her myspace and some beautiful posters available from her website.

Sharon very very kindly took time out of her vacation to answer ten questions for this blog, here they are. Photo is by Eric Martin For MetroPop Magazine

What was your first musical instrument and where did you get it?

My first instrument was a violin.  I went to a public school in Nutley, NJ that highly encouraged music and the arts.  The school supplied instruments and had free lessons from 3rd grade on.  From 3rd grade through 6th grade I played violin, clairinet, and sang in the choir.

Do you download music or buy hard copies? Or both?

I do both.  My favorite albums I try to find on vinyl.  I have a lot of CD’s… but yes, I buy things from i-tunes time to time when I can’t find it in a store and I need a quick fix.

Favourite music venue to play and why?

Zebulon in Brooklyn because they were the first to encourage me, support, not judge me, invite me, be friendly to me, and in my surrounding community – the same with all of my friends.  They never charge and are open arms with any one that comes in.  That is very rare in that specific neighborhood.

Last book read:
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

Last movie watched:
Ingmar Bergman’s ‘ Thirst ‘

Current favourite thing on tv:

I don’t have tv, but I saw an episode of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ and it was HILARIOUS… but the British version of ‘The Office’ is still my favorite, I have it on DVD, and watch that all the time…

Best moment on tour?

I must say, driving around with a bunch of british folk, hearing the accents with a bit of road rage, listening to great music, seeing the countryside of the UK, getting see Meg Baird every night (not to sound like a dork) but the whole experience was pretty amazing.  We kidnapped a ghost that glowed in the dark and he was our mascot… then we had an excursion to Stonehedge, where meg held up a sign that said fake or real.  Laughs nonstop really…

If you could play anywhere in the world, where would it be?

That’s a tough one… I guess it would be kind of neat to sing in churches across europe.  Their architecture is all pretty amazing and the acoustics would be so perfect.  Prague, Italy, England, France… hmmm… I don’t know… that’s a good one.  I’ll have to think on that one more!

Favourite band/singer/album you discovered recently?

Hmmm… well locally, I have been listening to She Keeps Bees.  One of the most amazing singers I have a heard in a very long time.  Also,  Glass Ghost.

But one thing I can’t stop listening to that’s kind of old is Richard & Linda Thompson’s ‘Pour Down Like Silver’.  The song ‘Streets of Paradise’ has been my wake up song… giving me motivation in the morning.  I’m well known for being a night owl, so it’s hard for me to get up early – so this song does the trick.  So rad.  I’m a bit far behind in music from that era – so I thank my friend Michael Morley for introducing them to me!

If you could get any two musicians to collaborate with each other, who would they be and why?

Jess from She Keeps Bees and Shilpa Ray from Beat the Devil.  Two of the best singers I know.  Jess plays a dirty bluesy style guitar and Shilpa plays harmonium… I think it could work…

Thanks a bunch to Sharon for answering the questions. Here is that video that entranced me so much when I saw it:

Sharon also sent me a photo of the ghost they kidnapped that became the tour mascot. The picture was taken by the photographer Cat Stevens. Sharon says: “we were sitting around a table with a teacup, pub glass, teabag with a cigarette put out in it, and the ghost we stole – and we said “this about sums up our trip in the UK”

Beautiful music, wonderful voice, and she kidnaps glow in the dark ghosts. What a great find! Keep an eye out for her full length next year and some UK tour dates.

Here are some links:

Website. //Myspace. // The Times featured her song I Wish I Knew as their track of the day recently.

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Artist Feature #1: Jacob Borshard

I decided to start up a new thing on my blog where I write about bands/singers I like and then ask them to answer 10 short, easy questions to accompany the post.

So here is the first of (hopefully) many!


Jacob Borshard is a musician and artist currently based in Austin, Texas. He makes fun folk pop songs on his ukulele. He has 3 albums, Songs For A Small Stereo (2004), The Last Brontosaurus (2006) and the most recent A Glow In The Dark (2008). You can download all three via his website here. He also has a single which was put out on London based label WeePop! Records.

I love WeePop, they have a really lovely DIY ethic and hand package everything beautifully. Jacob released “Cocktail” with them a while ago now. It’s a 3″ cd and comes with a wonderful fold-out map (which is impossible to fold back up once you fold it out-grr!). It only costs £3 and is limited to 120 copies (I got 8/120 woo!) I really recommend getting a copy and supporting Jacob and WeePop.

Not only is Jacob a great musician, he’s also an artist! Anyone who knows me personally or has read the blog a few times will know I love to draw, and so Jacob’s artistic talents make me like him even more! Jacob designs his own album artwork and also does some great comics.

Here are the 10 questions Jacob kindly answered:

1. What was your first musical instrument and where did you get it?

My first ukulele came from the music store near my house in Plano, Texas.  I got it in 1994, and it cost 39.99.  I was fifteen and broke, and had to save up my allowance of three dollars a week.  Meanwhile, my parents bought my brother a thousand dollar violin!  So unfair.

2. Do you download music or buy hard copies? Or both?

I sold all my cds a couple years ago, not to go digital but to wipe the slate clean.  Since then I’ve gotten mp3s from friends and bought a few cds, but really I can’t get off the ground again one way or the other.  It’s a confusing new world.

3. Favourite music venue to play and why?

I like to play anywhere where there are a few dozen people and I can have their attention.  That’s a rare occurrence.

4. Last book read:

Big Ideas by Lynda Barry – one of her first comic collections.  I’ve been reading mostly comics recently.

5. Last movie watched:

The last movie I watched in a theater was a midnight showing of TRON.

6. Current favourite thing on tv:

The Simpsons

7. Best moment on tour?

I’ve never gone on tour.

8. Worst moment on tour?

There aren’t any.  I guess that’s the benefit of not going on tour.

9. Favourite band/singer/album you discovered recently?

I really like Randy Newman’s new album, ‘Harps and Angels’, even though the songs go around in my head like crazy.

10. If you could get any two musicians to collaborate with each other, who would they be and why?

Jonathan Richman and Phil Spector.  Maybe it would have to be recorded live in a prison bathroom or something.  I would simply love to hear it.

Be sure to check out his songs and art on his website.

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Beatbeat Whisper Interview

Californians Beatbeat Whisper very kindly let me interview them. I am a fan of the band so it was especially nice to have them answer my questions.

Can you introduce yourselves and the kind of music you make?

Beatbeat Whisper is Ayla Nereo and Davyd Nereo, we are two siblings who grew up in the hills of Northern California. We each write our own music, and Beatbeat Whisper is the crossover of our creations, plus the influence of sounds we grew up with (Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Green Day, Bob Dylan, Beethoven, etc). We also have individual projects on our own — Ayla Nereo has a slew of solo songs, and Davyd has a dancy-rock band called That Blasted Hound. The music we make together is a combination of our individual musicmaking styles, mapped onto our favorite instruments and woven with vocal harmonies.

You’ve toured across the States quite a lot, how has that been? Tour highlights? Favourite place to play?

Touring is a joyful thing, not just for the music we get to share, but also for the people we get to meet — so many friendly folks have opened their homes and lives to us. Visiting the ferris wheels of Coney Island in NY, walking through Baltimore when the leaves were turning colors, or through the green mountains of Washington… playing music from traincar stages to livingroom podcasts to outdoor candlelit gatherings… it feels really incredible to be able to connect with other artists, places, and communities around the world. We’re hoping to connect up with labels in England and beyond, so we can bring our music over the sea and play for you all there!

Wonder Continental was released this year. I was really excited to receive my copy in the mail, it was clearly lovingly put together and came with a nice thank you note. How long does it take for you to assemble each album? Is it something you enjoy, or does it get tedious?

We’ve really enjoyed making these albums.  We actually had an album-making party, inviting friends to eat dinner, dance, and assemble albums with us!  And writing notes is fun, it connects us a little to those who order the music. However, we are starting to work with a company to help us make more albums — we’re getting too busy to make them all. We’ll still have handmade ones at our shows, though, and we’ll continue to offer handmade ones to order online.

Do you think that a nicely packaged album offers a greater incentive to actually buy the physical album?

I think it shows care that reflects the care put into the music. For us, it’s a chance to put even more creativity into the album, to convey the messages in each song even further through artwork and imagery.  Plus it’s fun.

Can you tell us a bit about the recording process for Wonder Continental? Where did you record it? How long did it take?

We recorded this album all over the place! It was about three months of work spread out over a year and many locations… most of it was recorded in Ayla’s home in Oakland, and a few songs were recorded in an Oakland studio with our sound-engineer friend Jason. One song was recorded in a studio in Santa Cruz with a friend who had access to the space… and “Suddenly Apart Was Shared” was recorded in our family-home livingroom over a weekend (you can hear the clock in the background!).  We aren’t as concerned with a perfect-studio sound (though when the opportunity presents itself, it turns out very nicely). It feels more important to record each song as clearly as possible, and capture the essence of how the song first came to us.

I see you have a few radio shows lined up, what other plans do you have in the works?

We are currently planning a Western US tour for early Spring, and are in the process of filming two music videos (coming in January). Our main focus right now is seeking out like-minded independent labels and promoters, US and international, to help us share our music more widely than we can currently do on our own. We hope to find and collaborate with these kinds of folks in Europe (especially England!) so we can come tour over there very soon.


Thanks to Beatbeat Whisper for being so kind as to answer my questions! They are a fantastic band, I am excited to hopefully see them play over here sometime soon. Their 2008 release Wonder Continental is really lovely, you can buy a hand made copy at their website here, you can here more songs on their LastFm page or visit their myspace. They also have a 2007 self titled album which is also great, make sure you give it a listen.

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