Bess Atwell Talks Debut Album Hold Your Mind

Katey Stoetzel

Bess Atwell

I don’t know exactly what it is, but every time I listen to Bess Atwell sing, a calmness sweeps over me. Whether it’s her incredibly soothing and beautiful voice, her wonderful writing, or her innate ability to capture universal feelings and emotions in just a few lines of words, that calmness spreads and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m hearing something really, really great. And I’ve only heard three of her songs.

Atwell is a young singer/songwriter from Brighton, and we got the chance to speak to her about her debut album, Hold Your Mind, which premiered earlier this month, as well as about some of those universal feelings that are at the center of her songs. The album contains songs such as “Cobbled Streets,” “Resolution,” and “One Last Word.” Personally, though I love all three of them, “Resolution” is my favorite. In the interview below, Atwell talks more about “Resolution” and the process of turning “Cobbled Streets” into a music video, which can also be viewed below. The video has a very vintage feel to it, from the muted, pastel colors of the film to the use of old stock footage of a ‘70s beauty pageant. Atwell’s voice fits perfectly with this aesthetic, too, giving the video a rather playful, yet serious tone to it.

Also available to stream is a video of the acoustic version of “One Last Word,” which Atwell recorded in studio. Of the three songs, this one is a bit more slower and features only Atwell and her guitar for the duration of the video. It’s a beautiful song filled with strong emotion that is sure to grab your attention, but keep you calm in a way I’m learning only Bess Atwell can do.

If you could introduce yourself in any way possible—money not being a factor—how would you do so? (We love details!) 

I’d love to make up something elaborate, so I apologise for being boring here, but I think however it happened most organically. I’m pretty pleased with how things are pottering along slowly! Obviously seeing my face on a tube poster or a bus would be sweet. I’m a big believer in the idea that a slow rise to success will leave you with a stronger, longer standing career so i haven’t given it any thought!

Your family moved around quite a bit when you were younger. Where are you originally from? And how do you think the constant moving shaped your music?

I was born in London, but grew up in a village in Cambridgeshire. I started writing songs by the time my family had pretty much settled down, in a small village outside of Brighton. However, the yearning for belonging was still with me, and I found comfort in the consistency of creating, whether that be art or music. I’m not sure it had a profound impact on my music, but the idea of home features heavily in the tracks on the album so who knows!

How would you describe your music? How do you want people to react or feel when they listen to it?

There’s a lot of domestic imagery in the songs because I wanted to ground universal, yet intangible, human emotion to the mundane, physical world. I try not to focus on how I’d like people to react to the music when writing, but when the songs are done it would be wonderful to feel everyone can relate in some way and that they could help connect us a little. Celebrating the human condition rather than shying from it. 

Your debut album Hold Your Mind is out this month. What do you have to say about the process of writing and recording it?

There were a couple of years during my teens where I found myself almost incapable of writing anything coherent about the experiences I was having – specifically in regards to my family life. The oldest song on the album is one of the few I finished from this time; ‘Resolution’ which deals with that disjointed feeling.

It wasn’t until my first heartbreak at 19 that my emotions surfaced enough for me to start enjoying songwriting again, and finding comfort in it. During this time it felt as though the songs  were just coming to me, rather than me forcing them. So a lot of the songs on the album are from that experience, and came very easily. That experience broke my writer’s block and paved the way for me to write about different experiences too.

The recording of the album was a massive learning curve. It was weird for me to be, ultimately, in charge of a group of talented, trained musicians (the band I recorded with) and it took a while to embrace the responsibility for the sound of the album. We recorded most of the album in the studio in London, with the band, and those sessions were a lot of fun. My producer, Michael Smith, and I also had a few sessions out in the countryside where I live, when we simplified things and reconnected with the album sonically.

What are you most excited about with this release?

It sounds obvious, but people actually hearing the songs. I’m not really going into the release with any particular goal or expectation. I wrote these songs about my life, and the most I could ask for is that someone hears them and feels connected to my experiences too. I hope everyone can relate to the songs on some level.

Do you have a favorite track, or any anecdotes that go along with this debut album?

Funnily enough, I met my manager, Chris Carr, through one of my ex boyfriend’s mothers, just before we broke up. Chris is the one who gave me the opportunity to record this album, and half of the songs on the album are about this particular ex. Pretty good trade if you ask me!

My favourite track is ‘Jesse’.

Where did the idea for the “Cobbled Streets” video come from, and were you heavily involved with the creative process in it?

I made the video at home. I had a couple of meetings with a professional director/videographer and he was great but we didn’t come up with any ideas that seemed doable, or that I was excited about. I wanted the video to be simple, and I just thought it would be a lot of fun to make it myself. I’m a little bit of a control freak too so I enjoyed having the project to myself!
 
The song has a dated feel to it, so I wanted to incorporate that aspect into the video. I found stock footage of a 70s beauty pageant, it was funny and super ironic. The song is slightly playful, and touches on similarly superficial ideas so I thought it was a good fit. Plus I just liked the aesthetic of it.

What was your favorite part of creating “Cobbled Streets”?

I think my favourite part of creating most songs is the demoing process. When I finish writing a song, if I like it, I’ll demo it at home and send it to my producer. I remember having the time of my life demoing Cobbled Streets. I’d just discovered a new guitar preset on the recording software I use, and wrote lots of little bits over the rhythm guitar. I loved doing that, it really brought the chorus to life. I knew exactly how I wanted the song to sound – dated, playful, yet slightly sinister and I was nailing it at home. I played the demo to my dad that evening in the car to hear how it sounded. I’m most happy when I’m creating like that.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you subscribe to, or habits you’d like to develop when touring?

I’ve never actually been on tour, I’d love to go. The only ritual I subscribe to pre-show is a glass of wine! I rarely warm up or anything which would probably change if I were to go on tour and had to sing every night. I do run through my set in the morning though, just to make sure I haven’t forgotten how to play anything.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Going to be really generic here and say to be able to fly. How good would touring be!? Providing you didn’t need an amp…

What’s up next for you?

Hoping to nab a support tour this year, maybe a headline show, and beginning the recording of album no.2!

Hold Your Mind is available for preorder.

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