Brighton-based artist Bess Atwell reveals her new single ‘Sylvester,’ premiering via Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music and out today alongside its new video. Produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, ‘Sylvester’ sees Bess contemplate and re-evaluate familial roles and relationships through the resurrection of the track’s namesake, an imaginary character from her childhood. The single is the first new music from Atwell following her critically acclaimed album Already, Always, which was released via Lucy Rose’s Communion imprint Real Kind Records.
For Atwell, ’Sylvester’ personifies the inner tension between the desire to be a source of joy and distraction to those we love, yet the subsequent dissatisfaction and loneliness these attempts can bring. In the liminal space between this conflict is the ever-present sense of hopefulness that these two feelings can co-exist. Although Atwell’s knack for capturing the nuance and minutiae of the human experience in her songwriting is well documented, in ‘Sylvester’ this takes on a new resonance. Shortly following the track’s recording at Dessner’s studio in upstate New York, she received her diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder, bringing with it a wave of validation for her both personally and artistically.
In her own words, Atwell shares;“Sylvester is a character I created on a family holiday as a child to make my parents laugh. It’s a song primarily about family, the roles we play to keep the peace, and the desire for a more genuine form of connection. Relational dynamics have often felt like a performance to me which has left me feeling lonely, acutely aware that we’re mostly just going through the motions of connection. This makes more sense to me than ever before with a recent diagnosis of autism, and it’s where the cyclical, relentless imagery of running on a track comes from. Aaron (Dessner) did a brilliant job in bringing out the essence of the song with his production and instrumentation. The ambient lead guitar was one of the first things we recorded, his intuitive first instinct capturing the expansive, beautiful – but ultimately uncontrollable – essence of family and history. My only real non-negotiable was that the song had a sense of urgency and drive in the choruses which Aaron nailed with repetitive and ascending patterns.”
Upon the release of her Always, Already album – Bess Atwell’s missive as a songwriter became fully formed, marking her as one of Britain’s most assured young voices. At the fore of the expertly judged collection is the pairing between Atwell’s crystalline vocals and her raw lyrical depth, which quickly drew comparisons to Marika Hackman and Julia Jacklin. Alongside wide critical acclaim, and with its songs racking up a combined 20 million streams, the release drew fast champions in BBC 6 Music across multiple playlisted singles.
Whilst careful not to romanticise her own tumult and trauma, it’s undeniable that the wellspring of Atwell’s inspiration is her lived experience, her upbringing marked by a wider family life impacted by mental health struggles. This, alongside her own challenges communicating, fuelled Atwell’s need to express herself through music. The result is deeply personal and emotionally charged explorations of her own experiences and the complexities of human relationships, as exemplified on album singles like ‘Nobody’ and ‘Co-op.’ Atwell’s lyrics also weave pastoral and abstract imagery, using natural motifs to convey themes of both conflict and violence, as well as beauty and defiance – as captured in another album standout ‘Time Comes In Roses.’ Alongside her original music, the album also features a haunting rendition of Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes’ demo ‘Olivia, In A Separate Bed,’ which was released with Pecknold’s blessing. With a unique ability to explore the profound in the familiar, latest single
‘Sylvester’ sees Bess Atwell continue this essential work, and foreshadows much more from her on the near horizon.