- Words Aimee Phillips
Bess Atwell's delicate, moving and contemplative music commands not just attention but total surrender. We get to know her better.
Welcome to Fresh Face, a new quick-fire interview series spotlighting the best rising talents in today’s youthful music scene. From biggest pet peeves to party tricks and death row meals, we’re stripping things back from the formal Q&A format. Think of it like speed dating, but with some of the freshest music makers worth discovering.
Brighton-based singer-songwriter, Bess Atwell, is undoubtedly one to watch. With crystalline, often ethereal vocals and sweeping, soft guitar-led melodies, Atwell is crafting timeless records that have the capability to resonate with anyone who listens.
Her second album, ‘Already, Always’, released via Lucy Rose’s Communion imprint, Real Kind Records on 28th September, is a shining example of Atwell’s ability to beautifully communicate universal feelings through her personal experiences. “What I really care about is people listening to this album and saying, ‘God, I feel like I know her,’” Atwell explains. “I wanted to illustrate, not just the romance in relationships, but that bit that comes afterwards”.
While it may seem that ‘Already, Always’ is a break-up record, and it does cover a period of separation between Atwell and her partner, it’s more about examination – both of the self and of the external and existential world. “How do you leave someone you love? / Do you do it in the night? / Do they wake up when the morning comes / To a surprise”, she questions on the opening verse of the album’s sixth track, “How Do You Leave”.
“I think there are a lot of love songs about being broken-hearted or being broken up with… but there’s a real heartbreak that comes with questioning things,” Atwell says. “You do so much introspection – you’re dealing with that turmoil. It’s easier to be broken up with. You know where you stand with your emotions. So that aspect is what most of the record is about, along with family stuff. It’s all about me!” she explains, laughing.
We got to know Bess Atwell better – from her dream celeb bestie to post-show pasta and more. Dive in!
For those that don’t know you, how would you summarise your musical journey so far?
I’ve been writing and playing since I entered my teens, but I attended a very academic school that didn’t exactly nurture that. I did a short stint at university in Cornwall, studying music, but I dropped out after coming to the conclusion that you can’t easily study your way into this industry! I got a manager and began gigging regularly – I had a residency at the (now sadly closed) 12 Bar Club in Soho. During that time I recorded and released an album. I was so young when I made it and I wanted a fresh start after parting ways with that management company, so I have since retracted the record. After that, I self released an EP and met my current team who helped me book better shows. One of those gigs was a European tour with City and Colour. I met Lucy (Rose) backstage after the London show and shortly after she signed me to Real Kind and helped me finish off the new album I was working on!
Which is better – dogs or cats?
Here’s the thing: dog people always say that cats are arseholes, and they would be absolutely correct. That’s why they’re so amazing. Other people’s cats are rubbish because they don’t love you, but when you have your own and you’re finally in the inner circle it’s the only validation you’ll ever need. It’s endless entertainment living with something that pretends to hate you but cries when you shut the bathroom door.
If you could be best friends with any celebrity, which would it be and why?
I love this question. I watched Feel Good recently and all I could think was how much I wanted to be best friends with Mae Martin. I also love watching Florence Pugh cooking live on Instagram and pretending we’re having a girls’ night in. I need more real-life friends.
The biggest misconception about being a musician?
That it’s glamorous. It’s probably one of the least glamorous things to do – unless you’re a mega pop star. Oh, and that it’s easy! I think people assume that if you have musical talent that the whole job must just be one effortless and joyful experience.
One thing you want to change about the music industry?
I mean, there are tonnes of things, but I don’t often hear people talking about how hard it can be for musicians to escape the sense that what we do is tied up with who we are. It’s a lot to expect of someone to do their job well and then also back that up with their sense of identity. Sometimes you can get home from a show and feel like you’ve exploited every ounce of yourself which can be draining and unsustainable. Of course there are the exceptions – artists who are accepted for being their quiet, introspective selves on and off stage – but I have found it hard to strike a balance with how much of myself to give. It would be great for there to be a little less expectation on people who write songs to be anything other than people who write songs.
What are you working on next?
I’ve already begun recording my next project! It’s been hard to find the time to keep working on it, but October is looking pretty clear so I’m hoping to make good headway then. I’m not sure what form the project will take right now but I know I have new songs that I’m excited to be heard!
What’s your party trick?
I can touch my nose with my tongue and I can move my ears without touching them! I’m very proud of those.
Which song defines teenage Bess?
For very early teenage Bess it has to be a Taylor Swift song. Maybe “White Horse” from her ‘Fearless’ record. My sister and I used to sync our iPods to that record and cycle along the backroads of our village after school. Once we passed a white horse while that song was playing and I almost fell off my bike in excitement!
That’s such a difficult question! Maybe “A Long Way Past The Past” from the newest Fleet Foxes record [‘Shore’].
And which song defines Bess now?
Finish the sentence: I feel happiest when…
I get home to my cat and a bowl of pasta after a show.