Ethereally voiced singer-songwriter Bess Atwell took the time to talk with us about her debut album Hold your Mind. Taking folk and pop down some darker paths, Hold Your Mind emerges as a brilliant record that feels truly unique, yet extremely relatable.
Hold Your Mind deals a lot with connection, to a partner, a parent, the world at large via social media, and even oneself. Was this an intentional theme?
Those themes are all just things that influence my creativity the most, so I would say it’s more natural than intentional. However, I strongly believe that an album shouldn’t be a collection of singles thrown together, but a piece of work as a whole. I intentionally chose songs that were conceptually in-keeping to put together for the record.
The title track looks at the deceptively isolating nature of social networking. You sound quite decided that it’s a bad thing, but do you think it’s a necessary evil for artists?
I don’t think social media is entirely a bad thing – it’s incredibly helpful in many ways – it’s just easy to let it take over from our real lives. I think you’d be very hard pushed as an artist nowadays to get your stuff out there without it though, yes.
You’d been writing this album for around three years, what has it been like to finalise and publish it?
I always fear that I won’t finish things I start so it’s more of a relief than anything else! In particular, for your first release, you have to have a lot of patience in the music business. That’s something I struggled with slightly. I’m proud of it and happy to finally have it out in the world.
Looking back, did you find any catharsis in transforming these, presumably autobiographical, issues into music and then being able to put them down?
Absolutely. That’s the main thing that encourages me to write. I feel very lucky to have a way to communicate that brings me joy. It’s always a silver lining. It’s very cathartic when you feel as though you’ve been able to perfectly illustrate an experience you’ve had, however it can be very frustrating when you can’t quite find the words to say what you want.
Do you think your attitudes towards them have changed at all from the process of turning them into song?
I think the process allows me to return back to myself and what’s really important. When you’re able to turn certain frustrations into art, and enjoy the process, it gives you much more power than your circumstance.
Continuing that theme of connection, what would be the ideal venue for you to play your music to someone who had never heard it before?
Something about outdoor stages seem to bring the magic of music into the real, outside world for me. So I’d have to say a festival stage or something like that.
The record feels very introspective and purposeful, not like anything just came together by accident. Is that the case? Have you got any ideas or themes in mind for album number 2?
The songs are all autobiographical so I suppose a personal battle created some continuity. I didn’t ever sit down to write an album though, I simply had enough songs and wanted to put them out into the world. I suspect a lot of album 2 is already written – I certainly have enough songs but am always writing too! I don’t have a specific theme in mind yet. I prefer to just see what happens as it’s created.Looking back, what was your favourite song to record?
‘Candid’. To be very honest, I’m not a huge fan of the recording process. I couldn’t wait to have the songs completed, and I was passionate about how they came across sonically, but the actual process I don’t find nearly as creative or fun as writing. I recorded ‘Candid’ in Sussex with my producer Michael Smith, after sessions sort of stalled in the studio in London. It was the last song I wrote for the album. I played Smith the demo in the car and that day we recorded it in my front room. I liked the immediacy of recording it because it was still new and exciting to me.
You’ve said that the penultimate track, ‘One Last Word’ is the end of the album’s prevalent themes and that the final track, ‘Punish You’, is the start of a new chapter. It also features your first piano outing; do you think that is something you will rely on more in the future?
The piano is still a completely foreign instrument to me. I really have no idea what I’m doing on it! I would love to learn how to play it properly, and have the confidence to play it live sometime.
Congratulations on getting your first headline show later this year, at Servant Jazz Quarters in October. That must feel like a huge milestone for you! Pretty redundant question I guess, but how are you feeling about it?
Thanks! I’m excited as it does feel like a big milestone. I’ve always been the bridesmaid, never the bride! I’m a little apprehensive, as it’s the first time people will be there just to hear my songs, but it’s what I want so I’m ready to go!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Bess!
Tickets are now available for Bess Atwell’s headline show at Servant Jazz Quarters on Tuesday 18th October.