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What Sharon Van Etten Can’t Live Without

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist. Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair but the hair spray and the electric toothbrush. We asked musician Sharon Van Etten — who’s playing Central Park’s SummerStage this weekend with Angel Olsen and Julien Baker — about the pencil she uses to write song lyrics, her tourproof boots, and the brass pendant she gifted all of her best friends.

One of my favorite coffee shops in L.A. is called Little Ripper. I used to walk there everyday before I started touring again, and they always have really amazingly curated ceramics and candles and tinctures and things like that. And they also had this really beautiful thermos. I like that there’s two different parts to the lid, so you can take the top part off for sipping and then with the whole top off, it’s more like a cup. So you can enjoy the steam of a tea or coffee, and also clean it a lot easier. It’s just a beautiful design, and they have a wide variety of colors. Mine’s a brown-green sage. I’ve learned it’s good to have a water bottle and thermos when you’re touring, because you’re on the go so much and it really sucks to finally get your coffee in the van or whatever and it’s cold.

I just upgraded to this from a Jansport. It’s black canvas with leather accents, and on either side there’s a slot for a thermos or a water bottle. If you’re a new mama, you could easily have formula. Or if you’re going to the beach, a couple of beers or a wine bottle. There are front pockets for easy access to smaller items, there’s one main pocket for notebooks and headphones, and there’s a back pocket for your laptop. And it’s smaller than my Jansport, so I don’t feel like a freshman college student hitting everyone in the head.

This was recommended to me by my friend Stella Mozgowa from War Paint, who played drums on my last record, Remind Me Tomorrow. I bumped into her on the street somewhere, and I was about to play a show in Joshua Tree. She said you have to make sure to try the Joshua Tree Coffee — and it has to be the Breakfast Bliss because it’s the best coffee in the whole wide world. And I did. Oslo was my favorite when I lived in New York, but now that I’m in L.A., I’ve been drinking Joshua Tree Coffee, and it’s very enjoyable.

During my Craigslist era, my first apartment was a random one with two dudes I didn’t really know. Then one of the guys moved out and the other one let me do the interviews. So I’m fielding all these people, and my now-friend Sarah was the first to come. She was really sweet: She’s German, and she’s a baker. Everyone was so competitive and weird, but she just slid me a note and said “Thank you” and left. We ended up moving into a place together just the two of us. Her style is beautiful and minimal, museumlike pieces that are really elegant. I’m just not an elegant person. At the time I had nothing, just a toothbrush or whatever. And one day, I asked her what perfume she was wearing because it was so lovely, and she was really sweet and almost embarrassed to show me this bar of soap. Now, it’s just one of those memory things. I go right back to this time when I was still finding myself and had made my first adult friend in New York. I carry it everywhere with me. Sarah still lives in New York, and she’s a mama like me. And she just opened her first bar, Rita & Maria, in Bed-Stuy. I’m very excited for her.

I remember the first time I saw them on my friend Julie from Great Lake Swimmers, who I was on tour with. I had lace-up boots at the time, and she was able to just kick these off at the door and walk inside. They look really cool — they’re so simple and also so rugged — and the ease of taking them on and off is great when you’re traveling. As a mom, I find them to be the easiest thing to pull on when I’m chasing my kid out of the house. Or when you’re on the road and you’re going through security. They’re great for hiking or when you’re lugging gear around; your toes aren’t exposed. And they kind of go with everything. When we did an Australian tour in 2019, the brand gifted my band Blundstones. They’re a nice company, and I think they make a quality product. Not super-fancy, but they last forever. As a traveler and an active person, I love them, and I wear them everyday.

My friend Johnny Irion, who has a band called US Elevators, turned me onto Blackwing. He gifted me a notebook and pencil when I first went on tour. He was the nanny to my kid when when we were out on the road. When you’re a writer, it’s nice to have a quality pencil and quality notebook because it has to feel good to write. It’s like exercising. If you don’t have the right sneaker, you’re going to hate it, and you’re not going to look forward to it. Even sharpening the pencil just feels so good. A lot of famous writers from the Beat era used Blackwings (also John Steinbeck), and now they’re trying to revamp them and connect with new artists. I was definitely writing my song “Darkish” when I was using this notebook. I remember I could hear the birds chirping in Brooklyn, and when I put my phone down to record the demo, the birds were picked up more on my iPhone than the words, so I had to dictate from the recording what I was saying. So I sat down and wrote the melody and the words in one sitting.

This is the bag I currently have, but they don’t make the specific model anymore. I’ve had it since 2012 or something. And you can tell. I was doing a TikTok of fake commercials for a while, carrying this bag. I’d look at the camera and say, “It’s over ten years old, can you tell?” and in the background you’d hear my partner go, “Yeah.” It’s waxed canvas and has a leather strap and a brass zipper and two front pockets and three smaller interior pockets. And I use it as an in-between-a-purse-and-a-tote kind of bag. A backpack is for a different kind of task, for bigger trips. This is for going to the park with my kid, running errands. This woman had a stand at a festival in Canada, and I bought it before I went onstage. It’s funny because I can hardly read the label inside anymore, but I had to write it down because I knew the company name would fade and I wanted to buy another one. I need new Blundstones and a new one of these. I wear things through — when I have it, I wait until it breaks.

The other thing I wear all the time is this necklace that’s a brass lock. Merewif makes really beautiful and sometimes funny designs. They’ve kind of turned into my friendship necklaces. I gave them to all the ladies — including my friend Sarah, who showed me the soap — that went on my bachelorette in February 2020. I was supposed to get married in May of 2020, and I am still yet to be married, but I still call him my husband sometimes. For everyone that’s still waiting that came to my bachelorette, I promise it wasn’t a ruse.

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What Sharon Van Etten Can’t Live Without