As she has expanded her artistic endeavors and emotional registers, Van Etten also found a fresh musical palette. While her early, softly strummed guitar songs were often gorgeous despite their brokenness, “Remind Me Tomorrow,” an album of hope, intimacy and perseverance, has jagged edges and a brooding swagger, built around droning synths and a propulsive rhythm section of studio musicians.
“I just wanted to do something different,” she said. “And the band setup bored me so much: ‘This is where the bass comes in, this is where the drums kick in …’” She continued: “I love the slow build — that’s what I do. But I found that I was more drawn to the darkness and the driven synths and the syncopated beats.”
Much of Van Etten’s recent evolution can be traced back to Nick Cave. She cited the Australian rock singer’s drone-heavy “Skeleton Tree,” from 2016, along with avant-garde and electronic acts like Suicide and Portishead, while seeking her new sound. But Cave had a less direct impact, as well: It was on tour opening for him in 2013 that she and Hutchins became something more than collaborators.
“When we realized we fell in love, we were like, O.K., we have to go home and figure out our lives and then make this record and we’ll come back to this and see how we feel,” she said, referring to “Are We There,” her previous release, from 2014. “It was the most adult thing. And the most torturous thing we could’ve done to ourselves.”
On that same tour with Cave, Van Etten was noticed by a casting director who would later swoop in to disrupt her life further. Following many months on the road in support of “Are We There,” Van Etten began feeling detached from her music and exhausted by the constant grind of performing heartbreak professionally. But inspired by her immediately intimate rapport with often-wounded fans after shows, she decided to take a moment away from music to finish her bachelor’s degree with the hope of becoming a licensed mental health counselor.
As she and Hutchins settled into their new relationship, Van Etten enrolled at Brooklyn College, alive with the possibility of a new life chapter. Two weeks into her first semester, she got a call asking her to audition for “The OA.”