Editors’ Notes “It’s a bit like giving birth,” London singer-songwriter Eve Owen tells Apple Music of releasing her debut album. “Whatever happens now, this is something I can play to my grandkids and say, ‘These are my songs.’” Don’t Let the Ink Dry, though, is hardly destined to just be a keepsake. This is a singer who, after recording a series of demos at 16, caught the attention of The National and was invited to perform on their 2019 album I Am Easy to Find while still in her teens (and whose vocals then sparked an internet search for her identity). “Singing with The National made me realize this is the life I want,” says the singer, whose father is the actor Clive Owen—a fellow National “fan girl” who was able to meet his favorite band thanks to his daughter. “They’re the most inspiring band, and I think they’d make anyone want to be a musician.”

Don’t Let the Ink Dry, completed when Owen was just 20, more than delivers on the faith the band showed in her. Made with The National’s Aaron Dessner at his studio in Hudson, New York, during Owen’s school holidays, it’s a stunning showcase of the Londoner’s songwriting talent and haunting voice. Owen’s songs—intricate, layered folk affairs that offer new details with every listen—are also deeply personal, exploring unrequited love (the angsty “Blue Moon”), the singer’s dismay at the contemporary political climate (the Cranberries-reminiscent “I Used to Dream in Color”), and the turbulence of her teenage years, from which working on her album in the US would prove to be a cathartic escape. “The amount of change that happened from the beginning of this record to its release is weird—I was dropping out of school, my mental health was really not in a good state, and I didn’t feel comfortable with myself,” says Owen, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome during the making of Don’t Let the Ink Dry. “But I love that those times felt really unsure and wobbly, and now they’ve [formed something] so concrete. I’ve put down everything I feel into these songs, and letting them out into the world feels very freeing.” Below, Owen guides you through her moving debut, track by track.

Tudor
“At school, I always felt like a bit of a square peg in a round hole. I tried with all my might to fit in, but I just reached a point—around this song—where I sort of let myself fall into the outsides and the outskirts. And I was actually the happiest I've ever been there. What spurred this song on was the idea of being ostracized from a group, but celebrating it and starting your own party. A lot of the structures of the songs on this album are quite poppy, but this song doesn’t have a middle eight, just verses and a chorus. I loved the simplicity of that.”

Lover Not Today
“Aaron put a drone throughout this song, and then I had a clicker. It meant that the whole thing felt free in form, but also in time. I love that constant drone throughout the song, because it is totally opposite to the meaning here. Throughout my teenage years, I always had this feeling of being behind in some way. It took me years and years to process something that everyone else seemed to understand immediately, which is that love comes and goes. I used to hate change with all of my heart, but this song is just that simple lesson that you can love someone one day, and then not the next, distilled and detailed.”

Mother
“The funny thing about this song is that everyone thinks that it’s about my mum, which I suppose is fair from the title, but it’s not about her at all. It’s about your gut, and the idea that it becomes more intuitive as we grow older, collecting little sureties that you can tell yourself in moments of uncertainty. Lessons like ‘You’re worthy’ or ‘You’re enough’—phrases that are so tiny but significant, which are helpful when you’re in a scary, overwhelming situation. Midway through this song, I let out a scream. I didn’t mean to do it, and I was really surprised, a bit like, ‘Was that embarrassing?’ It was the first time I was playing electric guitar in the studio and I just got a bit excited.”

After the Love
“This song was written as a reaction to the political events of 2016. I was also reading a lot about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and thinking about how only some parts of history are told. I felt sick at the idea that there are some people who are quiet and are silent about how much pain they are in—who naturally won’t make a big deal out of things—who might be walked over by the loud people. Musically, the song is really simple—it’s just three strings on the guitar, but I changed the position on one string. That one change created this almost uncomfortable noise. It felt really eerie. And I love how Aaron produced this: I hear a heartbeat in one of the beats, there’s a synth that sounds like wailing and crying, and then the strings sound like a warning. It’s a living thing.”

For Redemption
“When we were recording this, Aaron got the foot piano out—bass notes as big as forearms on the floor that you press to give extra emphasis on bass notes. It's what gives the chorus the really grounding, almost epic moments. Before going to Hudson, I would group my different songs into orders of which I was going to play and propose for the album. I categorized them from what I thought were 'the good ones' and the lesser, and lesser, and lesser. I didn't even think to play this song to Aaron—it was at the bottom of my briefcase. It was referred to as a dark horse, and from that day on, I've learnt the importance of not taking your own musical opinion too [seriously]—different ears hear different things in different songs. Now, I don't brush a musical idea off, and stop all its potential beauty and meaning to other people. Instead, I take more of a ‘let songs sit and simmer in the world for a while before touching them again’ approach.”

Bluebird
“I have such vivid memories of writing this song. I was in a car with my mum and sister at nighttime. I had been revising for my physics [exam] and purposefully didn’t bring a notepad because I was like, ‘No writing songs, do physics.’ So I wrote this entire song on flash cards—it was so dark in the car that I could only see what I was writing when we passed street light. It was like this weird rush of just throwing it up. The bluebird for me in this song is a literal bird, but I love the idea of people attaching what it means to them. As for the meaning? It took me a long time to realize that part of life is shedding your skin. I thought I was stuck with the boots I was born in. But I’ve learned, especially in making this album, you can be who you want to be and who you enjoy being.”

She Says
“I love the juxtaposition of something being disguised as lighthearted but which, at its roots, is really deadly. I wrote this song at 14, and was really intrigued by the idea of memory and how two people might share them. One person can hold it tight to their chest forever, while the other might not even remember it happened. I love that idea of memory fragmenting in different times, in different brains. I was also thinking about my family on this song—sometimes I feel very overwhelmingly alone, and they just snap me out. They are constantly there for me.”

I Used to Dream in Color
“I wrote this in 2016 when I was feeling that the world had taken a step back. It’s about how we’ve gone from a life of color to seeing only in black and white. The first line is ‘Well, I got here by boat and I don’t intend to stay.’ It’s the idea of a complete alien visiting planet Earth with no history or information about how we got to this point, and being in awe of how shocking and horrible this wave of politics is. I love the sound of this song—it’s got this pulse to it, like you’re sailing through the sea.”

So Still for You
“Again, I love the juxtapositions you can produce in music. Here, there’s a heavy meaning in the song, but it’s laid down in a really gentle way. It’s very tender and fragile, but the lyrics are kind of fearless. It’s about saying, ‘I’m like this, but for you I will be like that.’ I’d never noticed this as a contender for the album—I’d left it out and gone back to it and thought, ‘This is actually okay.’”

Blue Moon
“This one feels quite different from the others on the album. It was a lot of fun to record it, because Aaron was playing the electric guitar while I sang, whereas on other songs on the record we’d layered it all separately. I just remember feeling so giddy and excited at that—a bit like I was a wannabe rock star. The song is about unconditional but unrequited love. I realized one of the most powerful things someone can do is accept the fact that even if your love isn’t shared by the other person, you can still appreciate that person from afar. I like taking little things that could be seen as miserable and just trying to see the beauty in them.”

29 Daisy Sweetheart
“This song is solely about death, which I wrote when I was quite unwell and not at all happy. It was written on a piano, but I didn't ever record it. In Hudson, I was like, ‘Oh, there was this one song. But I don't remember any of the chords. I just remember it's in A minor.’ So I just went free-form on a drone in A minor and then Aaron embellished it from there. The production feels like a funeral song, with the organs and synths—it really sounds like the ending of a life. I think this is the most special song to me on this album. It’s certainly the one I feel the most protective over. It feels one step closer to me than the rest.”

A Lone Swan
“When I wrote this song, I had an image in my mind of a prom in the ’50s, and a girl singing a song on stage. But the love of her life is slow-dancing to the song with someone else. My dad always reminds me of what I said in the studio when we were recording the song, which is that this is a sad song but it’s not a self-pitying song. I like this song as an ending a lot—it’s almost like the calm after the storm, where everything is quite hushed and gentle. I had to fight for it to be on the album. Aaron and I had our favorites, but I knew I wanted this to be on there.”

SONG
Tudor
1
3:48
 
Lover Not Today
2
4:09
 
Mother
3
3:15
 
After the Love
4
4:17
 
For Redemption
5
3:00
 
Bluebird
6
3:18
 
She Says
7
4:10
 
I Used to Dream in Color
8
3:17
 
So Still for You
9
2:10
 
Blue Moon
10
2:54
 
29 Daisy Sweetheart
11
3:45
 
A Lone Swan
12
3:48
 

More by Eve Owen

Featured On