When Sharon Van Etten announced on Sept. 7 that she was selling a limited run of T-shirts created by a fan, it looked like a sweet gesture.
“A really sweet fan,” as Van Etten described it, designed a shirt that asked the question that’s been on the minds of many SVE fans: WHEN IS SHARON VAN ETTEN’S NEXT ALBUM?”
“A really sweet fan started making these shirts all DIY and it inspired me to share it with you all… So a limited run of these will be available for a very short time.
After all, a lot has happened since her last full album, “”Are We There,” was released by Jagjaguwar in 2014 — in particular her shift from touring musician to college student to actor to new mom.
Sure, she released an EP, “I Don’t Want to Let You Down,” in 2015, and has made guest appearances on a number of other artists’ recordings and at a number of shows and festivals since then, but she hasn’t been actively touring or performing full sets.
So the timing of this shirt, which Van Etten credited to Jack Schimmel and made available on her website, seemed just right. And it quickly sold out.
Among the comments on her Instagram were requests such as: “Okay, but when you do release a date can you please print a t shirt in response?”
The shirts shipped out this week. At first glance, they are exactly advertised. Standard Canvas brand back shirts with the question printed in bold white block letters on the front.
A Post-It note with a brief, personally addressed, handwritten note from Van Etten is stuck to the front of the shirt: “Thanks for wanting to know!”
Very nice, for sure.
The big surprise, though, is revealed only when the shirt is unfolded.
There’s printing on the back, something that’s not mentioned in Van Etten’s Instagram post or on the order page.
It’s a horizontal box, also printed in white, surrounding 8 digits in the same block typeface used on the front. Once the surprise of the unexpected graphic element fades, the realization sets in that the eight digits appear to comprise a date in the not too distant future. A date (01182019, or Jan. 18, 2019) that also happens to be a Friday — the traditional release day for albums.
It could be a ruse, of course, but it’s hard to see any reason why Van Etten would go to such lengths. It would be inconsistent with her genuinely sweet persona.
So, the next question for Van Etten: How are you going to top this when you decide to reveal the album title?