Aaron Dessner on making Ed Sheeran’s “deeply vulnerable” new album ‘-‘

"Thanks so much to Ed for trusting me to help him on his journey as an artist"

Aaron Dessner has opened up about his experience of working with Ed Sheeran on the latter’s upcoming fifth album, ‘-‘ (‘Subtract’).

Sheeran announced the 14-track record earlier this week, saying that it reflects his “deepest darkest thoughts” against a backdrop of personal turmoil.

“It’s opening the trapdoor into my soul,” the singer-songwriter explained. “For the first time I’m not trying to craft an album people will like, I’m merely putting something out that’s honest and true to where I am in my adult life.”


The National’s Dessner teamed up with Sheeran on writing and production for the LP. In a new post on social media, Dessner recalled how he was first introduced to Sheeran when he helped produce his collaborative song with Taylor Swift, ‘Run’, from ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’.

“It was special for me to hear two old friends singing together and bringing the past to life — and an interesting way to meet someone, working on music remotely first before actually meeting in person,” he wrote.

Later, Dessner and Sheeran met up for dinner in New York City where they “talked at length about music and life”. The message continued: “It felt so relaxed and as if we already knew each other. Thinking about Ed’s music, I realised I was hearing things in my head I thought we could explore, musical ideas that would allow for more space and bring out what I admire about his guitar playing and incredible voice.

“I spent some time sketching these ideas and shared a folder with Ed. A few months later in the winter of 2021, he started writing to them and sending sometimes multiple song ideas a day, inspired by a very difficult period he was going through in his life. I could really empathise with what he was feeling and was eager to help realise these songs.”

Dessner and Sheeran then reunited in January 2022 to continue working on music, and “finished over 30 songs together in a week”, 14 of which make up the forthcoming ‘-‘.


“I couldn’t be more proud of this record and the vulnerability and honesty Ed showed in making these songs with me,” Dessner went on. “There’s something deeply vulnerable and ultimately cathartic and therapeutic about shifting sadness and pain and anxiety into music, transforming darkness into light in this way and sharing these sentiments with others.

“This is what ‘subtract’ does so beautifully and I can’t wait for you all to hear it. Thanks so much to Ed for trusting me to help him on his journey as an artist. I continue feel so grateful to have the opportunity to make music with so many friends, new and old, and to experience the way community grows and grows.”

Dessner’s statement was accompanied by a series of behind-the-scenes images of Sheeran in the studio – check them out above.

Per a press release, ‘-‘ is an acoustic-driven record that serves as the “last in [Sheeran’s] decade-spanning mathematical album era”. It’s due to come out on May 5 via Asylum/Atlantic (pre-order/pre-save here).

Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran. CREDIT:
Annie Leibovitz

Opening up about the personal struggles that shaped the project, Sheeran said in a statement: “Within the space of a month, my pregnant wife got told she had a tumour, with no route to treatment until after the birth. My best friend Jamal [Edwards], a brother to me, died suddenly and I found myself standing in court defending my integrity and career as a songwriter. I was spiralling through fear, depression and anxiety.

“I felt like I was drowning, head below the surface, looking up but not being able to break through for air.”

Earlier this year, Sheeran told fans that a “turbulent” time in his life had stopped him engaging with social media, but he didn’t detail what those troubles were.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Sheeran declined to perform at King Charles III’s coronation this May.

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