Sharon Van Etten Talks with Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater) on the Talkhouse Podcast

On her transformation into a superhero, gibberish lyrics, and much more.

On this week’s Talkhouse Podcast we’ve paired up a couple of old friends and onetime tourmates, Sharon Van Etten and Jonathan Meiburg. This pairing was especially fun for me, since I had the pleasure of putting these two together in a different context many years ago, when I was editor of The A.V. Club: Sharon and Jonathan performed an amazing version of the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” for the site’s A.V. Undercover series. Seeing their faces together brought back that fun memory, and it was great seeing them reconnect.

Van Etten is a singer and songwriter who’s been making records for the past decade plus, growing and changing and taking chances in exactly the way you hope truly talented people will. Her amazing early records were quietly intense, very confessional affairs, but she burst from the seams with subsequent releases. In 2019, she released Remind Me Tomorrow, which brought in bigger sounds and colors and an entirely different kind of confidence to her songwriting and performance. She gives partial credit in this chat to producer John Congleton, who was recommended to Van Etten by none other than Jonathan Meiburg. Earlier this year, Van Etten released another incredible album called We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, which puts into intense songs some of the feelings we’ve all been feeling the past couple of years. You know what I’m talking about. Check out “Mistakes” from that new album, and check out Van Etten on the Wild Hearts tour over the next few months, with Angel Olsen and Julien Baker

Today’s other guest, Jonathan Meiburg, is best known in the music world as the driving force behind the band Shearwater, which he started way back in the late ‘90s as an offshoot of his previous band, Okkervil River. But under this name, Meiburg has created a vast and varied catalog that combines his writerly mind with sometimes-moody, sometimes-joyous music. Shearwater just released their first album in six years: It’s called The Great Awakening, and it’s what a lazy podcast host might refer to as a return to form—or at least more austere earlier vibes. Don’t let that six-year gap fool you, though: Meiburg has been plenty busy. He’s got another band called Loma with the members of Cross Record, and they’ve got a third album on the way. Oh, and Meiburg wrote and released an incredible book called A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey, which rolls up history, science, and travel into one really beautifully written piece. (Around Talkhouse HQ, we like to brag that Meiburg has written a bunch of pieces for us over the years.) As you’ll hear in this conversation, he’s already started working on another book. Check out “Empty Orchestra” from The Great Awakening.

As you’ll hear, Van Etten and Meiburg are old friends who toured together long ago, but hadn’t seen each other in person until very recently, when Van Etten’s tour took her to Hamburg, where Meiburg is currently living. They talk about writing songs—and specifically about how gibberish can become lyrics, which I always find interesting. Meiburg remarks on Van Etten’s transformation as a stage performer over the years, and they even chat about Sharon’s son—specifically his relationship to the movie Cool Runnings. Enjoy.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Sharon Van Etten and Jonathan Meiburg for chatting. If you liked what you heard, please do follow Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform. This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time.

(Photo Credit: left, Michael Schmelling; right, Jenna Moore; Edited by: Keenan Kush.)

Talkhouse curates musicians, actors, filmmakers, and others in their respective fields to speak one-on-one with their peers via the Talkhouse Podcast and Talkhouse Live events. The Talkhouse Podcast offers listeners a unique insight into the creative work of creators across all genres and generations. Subscribe now to stay in the loop on future episodes.