The last time Sharon Van Etten was in New Zealand she made one of our most popular broadcasters cry, live on national TV.

At the time, John Campbell wept about how much he loved Van Etten's music - "a stupidly large amount" - and how overwhelmed he was.

He said: "Music just sometimes keeps you afloat, doesn't it?"

This is the power that Van Etten's music has. A renowned storyteller and extraordinary songwriter, Van Etten has clocked up critical acclaim all over the world.


But soon after that headline-making appearance in New Zealand, she stopped. She was "done" with music.

Instead, she turned her hand to anything and everything else.

In the past four years, the 37-year-old became a mother and began a degree in psychology, aiming to become a certified therapist by the time she's 50 - her "next career".

She also guest-starred in Netflix's hit series The OA, performed on David Lynch's revival of Twin Peaks, wrote her first score for Katherine Dieckmann's movie Strange Weather and wrote the music for Tig Notaro's show Tig.

Of all those accomplishments, the only thing she meant to do was go back to school.

"As soon as I decided to do that all these other things unfolded," she says. "It ended up being a really creative time for me, and to have all these things just present themselves, I felt really lucky."

Yet despite it all, Van Etten is back. She recently released her new album Remind Me Tomorrow to critical acclaim and is heading back out on tour, including a highly-anticipated return to New Zealand for a one-off show in June.

The thing is, as much as acting and working in film and TV was an "amazing experience", it isn't where her true passion lies.


"What inspired me - in hindsight - is that even with all those other things going on, I still felt driven to write music," she says.

"Even when I was taking a break, it was still something I had a passion for and that I needed for myself, so I think music is still number one."

The beauty of that break is it informed the way Van Etten returned to music, giving her latest album a whole new sound and vibe to what fans are used to.

She wrote it while writing the Strange Weather score - a guitar-driven reference to the Paris Texas soundtrack which ultimately led her to branch out.

"I would reach these moments of writer's block and in order to clear my palate I would put the guitar down and play anything else," she says.

She shared a practice space with actor and musician Michael Cera, who had a synth and an organ, and between those and her partner's drum kit, Van Etten's music went down a whole new path.

"I just sang and played differently and I wasn't thinking that was writing, I just had these ideas that cleared my head, but they turned into this other thing."

Lyrically, her writing changed just as subconsciously. She says she was writing things without really knowing what they were, but now knows it was "coming from a place of being in love and feeling stability and being in a really good place".

"I was writing around the time that I was pregnant and Trump got elected. Then I had my child and the songs morphed from love songs about my partner to love songs about my child and also to the complex emotions that I felt about what was going on in the world while also being in a very good place personally," she says.

It's through her writing and by sharing her thoughts and feelings "in a universal way" that Van Etten has "found power", so it's little wonder she's hitting the road again to do just that.

Van Etten's Auckland gig - this time featuring her full band - will showcase songs from the new album and she'll also revisit older hits with new instrumentation.

"I'm excited to come back, I loved it. It was really beautiful, I met a lot of amazing people and it was a good time," she says.

"I think the break was healthy for me. I'm in exactly the place that I want to be. I'm not about to be any kind of pop star, but I'm able to make ends meet and live as an artist in New York and have a family. It's pretty wild, getting to even just dabble in the things that I've done in the past couple of years so I feel very lucky. I know that I am."

Who: Sharon Van Etten
What: One show only at Auckland's Powerstation
When: June 5
Also: New album, Remind Me Tomorrow out now