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Sharon van Etten. Photo: Dusdin Condren
Sharon van Etten. Photo: Dusdin Condren
If you go
What: Sharon Van Etten
When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399
Cost: $12-$14

Sharon Van Etten‘s music is confession and therapy with no apologies.

She’s been dumping her emotions, poetically, into songs since her self-released 2009 album, Home Recordings. The songs introspectively cover love and heartbreak in the most first-person way, and Van Etten feels comfortable with that.

“That’s how I write, I’m not going to deny that,” she said. “It’s therapeutic. I basically hit record and listen back and try to understand what I’m saying. Then I try to edit it down in song format.”

She followed up Home Recordings with Because I Was In Love and the somewhat ironically short Epic. With each new release, it was clear she was writing more and more from a place of strength and anger than sadness or fragility, and the instrumentals followed suit.

This February, she released her fourth full-length album, Tramp. It fits right in with that pattern of building strength.

“I’ve been developing my sound, for sure, for a while,” she said. “My first record I recorded in my parents’ basement. I was coming out of that with my second record and wanted it to be a bit more trance and have a little more darkness to it, so I decided to write in a band format, but not too crazy. I feel like this record is a natural progression of me growing more confident in myself and my writing.”

Where her early work was sparse, mostly centered around her acoustic guitar and a soft voice, the songs on Tramp hit much harder. The darkness she was striving for is certainly there, with angry-sounding drums and moaning guitars, and her confidence comes through in the stronger vocals.

The imagery on the first single, “Serpents,” is dark just in the refrain, “Serpents in my mind,” but it’s also peppered with wounded but biting lines like “I had a thought you would take me seriously.”

There are still lighter moments, though they’re no less vulnerable. She strums through “We Are Fine” and pleads “Take my hand and help me not to shake / Say I’m all right, I’m all right.”

It’s a risk to lay emotions on the table to starkly, but Van Etten does so without sounding whiney or cliched. The reward is that fans can find a personal connection to her music.

“People do relate to it. I write for me but I write with the hope that it connects with people. I’m not doing my job if it doesn’t,” she said.

Van Etten is currently on tour, seeing those connections first hand. She’ll be on the road through the end of 2012, wrapping up in Australia.

From there, she can start to write again. While some artists get inspiration to write on tour, Van Etten said the introspective nature of her music makes it hard to write on the road. The quiet and solitude of home is far more conducive to writing.

“I’m gonna start writing and recording again, and just go home,” she said. “I’m gonna try to live and I’m gonna try to write. You have no alone time (on tour). You’re constantly around people, and you have no down time, it’s constantly go, go, go.”

The tour will bring her through the Fox Theatre this Sunday. Check it out for an emotionally gripping show.

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