Her voice was likened to “slow, cool water” by The Guardian and Cobbled Streets is her brilliant new debut single which we have the pleasure in premiering on FRUK today (listen above). Her name is Bess Atwell and she’s releasing her debut album Hold Your Mind on July 1st via Bullnose Hoops Records which blends folk and singer-songwriter traditions with a pop sensibility.
Observations on identity, self-dismay and claustrophobic social media combine intimacy with rock hooks and gauzier, more expansive atmospheres recalling the work of First Aid Kit, Agnes Obel and Sharon Van Etton.
Produced by Michael Smith, the album was mostly recorded at Smith’s RnR Studio in London, with a five-piece band. But with initial sessions stalling, Smith and Atwell headed south to Lewes (Atwell’s hometown) and got back to basics, simplifying the sound and experimenting. Timeless in essence, the resulting 12 songs have a soft, ethereal quality with a dark edge.
Album opener, A Thousand Lovers, a pensive melody that considers an odder romantic tangent with equal care, becomes more expressive in its self-reflection, while Jesse, delightfully delicate and airy in tone and Resolution are deeply honest and introspective in nature.
Debut single Cobbled Streets, describes Atwell’s sometimes ambiguous relationship with small-town existence. “Because my family moved around quite a bit when I was a child, I desperately wanted to belong somewhere, and I’ve always sought out a close community, people that you see every day. That’s my idea of home, though I haven’t really found it yet. I feel comfortable and creative in a small community. At the same time, I’m so aware that there’s a world out there that I want to explore.”
The title track, Hold Your Mind, challenges a digital existence unique to Atwell’s time, “when nothing’s alive, but it’s all been immortalised.” Atwell says, “social media isn’t very accepting of being a mixture and a contradiction. It’s like you can’t really progress. That’s you, on the internet forever. And I hate that. There’s no space to breathe.”
Brought up in a creative family background, her love of music was discovered at an early age. “I remember listening to music when I was 7 or 8,” she says, “and asking my mum, ‘How does someone write a song? At 14, in the first month that I realised I could write, I wrote 10 songs, took a day at a studio and laid them all out acoustically. There were hard things going on with my family, that’s where the songs were coming from. And still, whenever something’s really difficult, my mind’s really, really busy. Then I write about it, and communicate it, and feel better.”
Atwell’s early musical influences include Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, taking inspiration from the latter in her songwriting process. “He had such beautiful melodies. It was melancholy, but sweet and beautiful, and felt really universal, and I became obsessed with wanting to write something that explained how I feel just as well. It wasn’t art, it was me just trying to replicate something I’m not, and it hindered me. I realised that I desire to express a universal feeling, as Bon Iver does, but that I could do so without sounding like him. That’s really what I learned from him. I write all the time now, because I’m not comparing myself to anybody else.”
Having formed a small following along the south coast with numerous intimate performances, she has no plans to leave her native Lewes. “Quiet, countryside places are where I see myself and my music,” she says. “Not the city, where it’s busy and things are happening right now. My songs are mostly about my own life or things close to me. So they need that moment of stepping away, and reflecting.” This sure sense of time and place pervades Hold Your Mind, a debut built on strong foundations by a subtly fresh new songwriter.