From the Office to the Stage: Sharon Van Etten comes to Grand Rapids Feb. 15

If you don't know Sharon Van Etten by now, you should.

Van Etten's buzz has been growing ever since she released her first full-length album, Because I Was in Love, in 2009. The complex themes and emotional songwriting on the album kept her popping up on Pitchfork, an Internet music publication.

With 2010's EP, Epic -- her first wide release -- Van Etten showed the world that she not only had the singer/songwriter chops, but the confidence to deliver her new batch of songs.

That confidence has now spilled over into Tramp, Van Etten's third, and most intricate, album to date.

"There's a lot more drums and a lot more atmosphere," Van Etten said about Tramp. "There's more rawness to the vocals and arrangements, even though there are more arrangements than the last record."

During the recording process, Van Etten worked with Aaron Dessner, multi-instrumentalist for The National, which toured with Arcade Fire in 2011.

"At the time, I didn't have a home. So over the course of two years, I would just crash at my friends' house," she said of her 14 months spent recording. "The only constant was the studio with Aaron, so that really turned into my home."

During that time, Van Etten estimated having 10 sets of keys as she bounced from place to place. After a while, she admitted, futon living got to be exhausting, as she started to miss the comforts of having a permanent residence.

"I missed being able to cook, being able to walk around in my underwear, being able to sleep in a bed and not a couch or a futon. Just knowing that it's your space and not feeling like you're putting anybody out ... I was pretty exhausted around that point, but it was a lot of fun."

Though music has always been a part of Van Etten's life, she didn't start pursuing it as a career until she was in her mid-20s. Instead, she studied music production at Middle Tennessee University and held down a job as a publicist at indie label, Ba Da Bing. When Ben Goldstein, Ba Da Bing's founder, found out Van Etten was playing shows, he started working with her not only as a publicist, but also as a musician.

"I learned a lot about the backend things like manufacturing," Van Etten said of her publicist experience. "The most important lesson is that you only want to work with people you trust."

This statement not only applies to her Ba Da Bing family, but the new band members she's taking on tour with her to support Tramp.

"When I toured for Epic, it was just a three-piece band. When I toured for Because I Was In Love, I was solo," she said. "It's a very different thing. I'm not a natural leader, so I'm learning how to tell people what to do and go with opinions and listen to everybody."

With the tour, which comes to Grand Rapids Feb. 15, Van Etten promises jumping around, instrument changes, harmonies and more experimentation.

"Again, I'm a much more confident performer than I was before and I've been training my voice and I've quit smoking and I feel like my voice is stronger than it's ever been. I'm really excited about that. And because this is the beginning of the tour, we're going to have a lot of energy."

Photo: Dusdin Condron