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On the Rise
Edie Bens

31 January 2023, 14:30

Swansea-born Edie Bens writes with the same momentum and honesty that fuelled the best work of Stevie Nicks and Carole King.

Edie Bens has no interest in spite. Instead, the London-based singer nestles the truth in observations; about previous partners, or about the world.

Her debut EP, Playing Pretend, is able to convey the message without any glimmers of rage or pettiness — a mature take on songwriting that has served her well. On “Don’t Love You Anymore”, she addresses a partner with the same emotional detachment as you would, say, by declaring the answer to a math problem: “Don’t wanna meet you for coffee / Don’t wanna know how your grandma is.”

“I feel like my job as a songwriter is to be observational and sort of tell the truth as much as I can,” she tells me over Zoom, a large Siberian Husky she’s looking after peacefully resting in her lap. “Don’t Love You Anymore” was written after a three-week-long tug-and-forth between Bens and a partner who wouldn’t accept that she wanted the relationship to end. One day, she woke up with the cleansing epiphany that she just didn’t have the capacity to love him anymore, a sort of healthy apathy that took a while to get to. “I think I was so confused about the situation for so long,” she says, before reflecting that her feelings were valid and she didn’t have to justify herself to this person. “We both have such better lives for it,” she reminisces.


Don’t be mistaken: Bens’ music doesn’t posit herself as an emotionless creature, but the way in which she describes previous relationships signify an incredible amount of emotional maturity. Other songwriters — though no less talented or valid — are known for big emotions, big breakups, and the messy feelings that come with it. “I do think they’re totally dramatic,” Bens says when I ask her about these types of songs. “Most of the time, when we break up, or get divorced, or whatever, we’re gonna be totally fine.”


She concedes that there are moments where it feels like the world is on the brink of collapse, though: “If you lose a family member and you realize they’re gone forever, I think it’s okay sometimes to say, like, ‘This is really shit. This is really fucking sad.’ And that’s fine, and there’s healing in that, too.”

She’s referring to “Had You Never Gone Away,” the only song on the EP not written from her perspective. Before a gig in Manchester, she and her band stayed in a sketchy area with her friend’s father — her anxiety was not helped by the fact that his neighbor was shot the day before she arrived.


She learned the father was a poet, though, and had published some of his writing about his late mother in a local newspaper. “They were just so beautiful that I did what all songwriters do, and I stole them, basically,” she admits. The resulting song is the only place on the record Bens seems not completely in control of her emotions — it makes sense she was inhabiting someone else’s mindset. “I’m so fucking sad today / and I don’t know who to blame,” she sings, tapping into a harsh, emotionally charged moment everyone has felt. “I read the poem and identified how we've all lost things and people in our lives and it’s this universal feeling, and I wanted to write about it tastefully,” she says.

Bens’ music blends the honesty of singer-songwriters, the momentum of a grand pop hit, and sometimes, the twang of a country tune — coalescing into a familiar sound, but with enough twists for the listener to want more. When she was young, her father, who owned multiple cars, picked her up from school — each time, with a Garth Brooks CD playing, the effect eventually rubbing off on her. She started paying attention to those “folky male British artists”, Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard among them. But after a while, many breakthrough women singers struck a chord with Bens, who cites Maggie Rogers, Holly Humberstone, and Julia Jacklin among inspirations: “I could relate to the songs a lot more, and also see a potential career in it too, which was really inspiring.” she says.

Her writing is cleverer than others, making her a standout amongst the hundreds of new indie acts. The ‘Therapist’ in the song of the same name is a previous partner who psychoanalyzed her every move, eventually leaving her in the bathroom having an anxiety attack — the exact situation in which she could have used a therapist. “Eventually, it all got too much,” she says. “It’s just not your business to impose diagnoses on me. It’s weird — we always think we know the people we love the best, but the truth is that we don’t actually have that much perspective because we’re so close to them.”

On “Cashmere Sweaters”, too, she takes a step back to observe a boyfriend’s life after their breakup. Over the lilting, biting track, she remarks, “I thought you wanted to be something more / Now you're wearing cashmere sweaters and those plaid shorts.” The frustration of not recognizing one’s true potential, for Bens, takes place over the hurt he caused her. “The person it was about had the perfect opportunity to pursue their dreams — they were quite privileged and had a lot of support and attempts to do it,” she says. “It was frustrating to see that this person have such ambition about their passion and ended up going into banking.”

She has the ability to detach her personal narrative to these people: she’s more upset the person from “Cashmere Sweaters” spends his days playing golf, pleasing his parents, than taking a shot at his dreams; she’s more worried the analyst from “Therapist” will go around poking his nose in others’ business than what he did to her. Though her songs aren’t flooded with emotion, in some ways, she’s more caring than those who discard relationships because of the emotions that swell up within them. She sees from the world’s perspective first, then hers.

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As for Bens’ next steps, she aims to shift the focus from the past to the present — happily coupled, she describes the second EP she just finished mixing as less resentful. “I’ve grown as a person and developed a bit… it’s a lot more about me being the issue rather than other people.” I remark that she’s taking Taylor Swift’s approach, with her recent admission that she’s the problem. Bens laughs, and tells me, “I hadn’t heard [“Anti-Hero”] before I wrote these songs, but that makes a lot of sense. I was having an argument with my boyfriend, and stepping away from it, I was like, ‘I was at least 60% of the problem in that.’ I wrote a lot of songs about that realisation.”

There is almost a manner of politeness to Bens’ songs — on “Cashmere Sweaters”, she can’t help repeating, “It’s none of my business, I know.” But as a songwriter and observationist, anything can become her business, her own ground for analysis. Once she turns to herself, her writing might become more emotionally charged, but no less poignant and thoughtful.

The Playing Pretend EP is out now

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