The singer-songwriter talks new single “Co-op” and self-directing the music video.
With us getting a taster of spring the past weekend, singer-songwriter Bess Atwell is keeping the momentum going with her dreamy new single “Co-op”. Like the first blooms of spring, Atwell’s latest single unfolds with serene ripples of guitar strings surrounded by her lush calming vocals, leading us to a track that has us reminiscent of Lana Del Rey and Phoebe Bridgers. Similar to her previous offerings, the track maintains the same fresh and unique sound she has displayed throughout her career. Accompanied by a self-directed video, the singer puts the emotional context of the track at the forefront, directly referencing the lyrics with bold imagery and contrasting props.
Opening up on the single, the singer revealed, “It’s an illustration of mine and my partner’s life together. The relationship seemed to provide me with some sort of permission to recuperate from family trauma, as if realising for the first time that there was a life outside of that chaos lulled me into an emotional slumber. Through the song, I grapple with the desire for, and fear of, comfort. I used references to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway to depict a vivid nostalgia and an affinity for trivialities that serve to calm when darker thoughts set it.”
Releasing the single under her new home at Lucy Rose’s Real Kind Records, the singer is ready to take her sound into a new era, and we caught up with her talking the signing, developing her music and what we can expect in the future from the singer.
Check out the interview below…
Hi Bess – how have you been during this uncertain time? How has it impacted your music and creativity?
All in all, I’ve been okay. When I can’t change things I go to a relatively calm place, which is as much a surprise to me as it is to those who know me. It’s definitely forced me to confront some ugly parts of myself though, like my chronic impatience… which is particularly tricky when you’re trying to put a record out!
I write from my own experiences mostly, which is tough when most days look the same. When the first lockdown happened I was living with my parents to save on rent while I was meant to be on tour. I’m incredibly privileged that I got to save money when so many were struggling financially, but on a personal note it was a challenge that ended up fuelling my writing.
Where are you from and how does it influence you sonically? Who were your musical heroes?
We moved around a fair bit when I was a child. I was born in London and grew up in Cambridgeshire and Sussex. When I began playing music I was living in a small village in Sussex and going to school in Brighton, where I live now. Growing up in fairly rural areas, I’ve been very influenced by the beauty of the English countryside and have always wanted to capture that in my music and art. I think that’s why I was so enamoured when a friend took me to see a Johnny Flynn show circa 2010. I was in my early teens, and had just started playing music. I had never really been exposed to music like that before, but simultaneously it sounded so familiar. His music sounds, to me, like the places I grew up, which was a potent motivator as somebody who was preoccupied with nostalgia. The discovery of Johnny Flynn led me to many personal heroes such as Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Joni Mitchell, Dry The Riverwho, and later onto Beach House, The National and Sharon Van Etten, to name just a few. At the core, I have a pop heart, though. I love great pop songs and artists such as Lana Del Rey, The Beach Boys, and Maggie Rogers.
How would you describe your genre?
Congratulations on your new song “Co-op” which explores your life with your partner – what was it inspired by in particular?
Thanks! The song started off as a bit of a private joke. We lived together in a tiny boxy room within a shared house for a year. It was meant to be temporary while I found somewhere to live but we got quite comfortable. The house was above a pizza shop and directly opposite a Co-op. It was a time of refuge and routine. Not feeling particularly comforted and safe with my own family, and in the midst of dealing with an anxiety disorder, I attached a sense of security to that house and that relationship. The song is both a celebration and criticism of that time. We had a running joke that we couldn’t go to the shop without getting whatever song was playing stuck in our heads. One night, I walked through the door humming and he did the usual “did you even go to the Co-op if you don’t come back singing the pop song that was on?” and I told him I’d write that into a song one day.
And you reference Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway in the line “It’s the laughter / it’s the plunge” – would you go into more detail about this?
There are so many themes in that novel that I relate to, that’s it’s hard to answer this without sounding like I’m writing an essay for my English A-Level. That specific lyric references one of the most famous lines in the book, “What a lark! What a plunge!” When Clarissa (the protagonist) flashes back to her youth. Both ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘Co-op’ flip between memories and the present moment, in a desire to preserve the past. It’s not very cheery, but I have a preoccupation with time running out and a fear of death, and I think that’s one of the reasons this book spoke to me. Big Ben is used as a vehicle to represent Clarissa’s fixation with the passing of time, and the suicide of a war veteran she’s never met. My own fear of death compels me to lean into trivialities to ground me. You know that feeling when you’re thinking about something unsettling late at night and then you decide to look up cupcake designs on Pinterest to change the subject? That’s what I’m getting at, and it’s a theme that underpins the novel. Clarissa undermines her darker thoughts by her “passion for gloves”.
And love your self-directed music video which sees you setting up home outdoors on this pontoon – what did you want to evoke with it?
The video references the lyric “half your furniture we found on the street outside” in a fairly self-explanatory way. Beyond that, it’s exploring the idea of shopping for memories/home comforts and attempts to marry two worlds at odds with each other throughout the song – the mundane and the emotional – by contrasting the props, outfit, and setting.I think this song is braver than anything I’ve done before because the lyrics are so unromantic and started off as a joke. I associate that notion with the boldness of the colour red, hence my outfit. I think there can be a tendency, when you’re shooting a music video yourself, to try too hard to make it look professional. Instead, I wanted it to have a sense of humour and to lean into the fun of making it with a friend.
How does it feel releasing new music when most of the world is in lockdown/everything feels so uncertain – what do you hope your music will bring?
Well, here in the UK we’ve just been given a date – 21st June for what people are calling our “pandemic independence”. There’s hopefulness in the air, so it feels like a nice time to release music. On a base level, I hope they just enjoy the music. Other than that, I’d love for people to relate to the lyrics and to find a universality in the specific. It’s all about connection and the easing of existential loneliness, for me.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Imminently, I’m going to go and make some bread. That’s been my lockdown “thing” once I realised I probably shouldn’t eat a cake to myself every day. This year is going to be full of releases from me which is really exciting after sitting on this new music for so long. If the world allows, I’ll be touring in the autumn too. I also recently got a kitten so I’m looking forward to my first year with her.