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He’s back! Ed Sheeran joins forces with Aaron Dessner and announces new album “-” (Subtract)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

The composer and singer Ed Sheeran came back from a musical hiatus to announce his new album “-” (Subtract). This creation was made in collaboration with the producer Aaron Dessner and symbolizes a very emotional and difficult moment in Ed’s life. The complex story behind the album began a decade ago, and after a lot of work on it, Ed Sheeran announced its release on May 5th

It all began 10 years ago 

On March 1st, Ed announced his new album on his Instagram and people went wild. Part of that was because there was a lot of speculation on the internet about the Subtract album, once it was the only math symbol left for the singer to complete his tradition when naming his albums. Besides that, the way the star announced his new production was really emotional and caught the fans by surprise. He revealed a very private quote in his diary from last February, where he talked about his journey writing Subtract and everything that this new album represents to him. 

In his post, the singer said he had been writing this album for a decade, just trying to build something that people would like. The composer revealed his effort in writing and recording hundreds of songs with a clear vision of what he thought would be the perfect acoustic album. Then, at the start of 2022, his personal life turned upside down, and some tough situations happened at the same time, affecting his mental health, his family, and consequently, the album.

The story behind the album

On Instagram, Ed revealed some really private things he went through in 2022 that made the subject of the album change. Within the space of a month, his pregnant wife got told she had a tumor, with no route to treatment until after the birth of their child. Besides that, his best friend died suddenly and all of that at the same time he was standing in court due to an accusation of plagiarism in his song “Shape of you”.

“I was spiraling 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”, said the singer in the announcement post. 

Sheeran said that, while he was going through all of that, he started writing to try to translate some of his feelings but didn’t have any idea of how the songs would be. “Writing songs is my therapy. It helps me make sense of my feelings. I wrote without thought of what the songs would be, I just wrote whatever tumbled out. And in just over a week I replaced a decade’s worth of work with my deepest darkest thoughts” affirmed the composer. 

The singer ended his post by saying that after all he had experienced, it didn’t feel right to release an album that was merely made for people to like. He wants to show what he has been experiencing and where he is in his life right now. “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”.

Ed Sheeran + Aaron Dessner = the perfect match! 

The story about how Ed Sheeran and the producer Aaron Dessner got together to make this album is due to a third element in this story, one of Ed’s closest friends in the music industry, the singer Taylor Swift. Aaron is most known for producing and making Folklore and Evermore, both Taylor’s albums that were released in 2020. Ed posted a photo with Aaron on his Instagram and explained how the producer ended up helping him remake Subtract from the very start. 

In 2021, Taylor Swift sent a message to Ed Sheeran to link him up with Aaron Dessner, because she thought both of them could make something great together. After the two of them met, Aaron sent a couple of instrumentals for Ed to write over whenever inspiration hit. At that moment, Ed was working on what he thought would be Subtract, and even though he loved what Aaron had sent, he had to put those ideas on the back burner for a bit. But then, in 2022, Ed went through all of those bad moments and, as he felt the need to talk about them and write new songs, he thought it was the perfect moment to use Aaron’s instrumentals. 

“Thinking about Ed’s music, I realized 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”, said the producer on his announcement post about his collaboration on the Subtract album. “We then met up to work in England at the beginning of 2022 and finished over 30 songs together in a week. 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” added Aaron. 

Ed also complemented his partner and showed a lot of gratitude for their work together. “Thanks to Aaron for the insane amount of hard work and dedication you put into this project, and for bringing out a side of me I had put on mute for so long”. 

more info

As mentioned, the album “-” (Subtract) will be released on May 5th, and Ed Sheeran has already revealed some spoilers of the name of the songs, lyrics, and video clips on his social media. Also, Ed announced the release of one of the album’s singles “Eyes Closed” on March 24th and shared that this song talks about losing someone, the feeling of expecting to meet them, and when everything reminds you of them. The tracklist of “-” was already revealed and it counts with 14 songs: 

  1. Boat
  2. Salt Water
  3. Eyes Closed
  4. Life Goes On
  5. Dusty
  6. End Of Youth
  7. Colorblind
  8. Curtains
  9. Borderline
  10. Spark
  11. Vega
  12. Sycamore
  13. No Strings
  14. The Hills of Aberfeldy

Besides that, Ed posted on his Instagram a trailer of a documentary about the making of “Subtract”, made alongside with Disney. “Initially the documentary was just that, a documentary on the formation of an album. But, as my life took a few twists and turns, the subject matter of the album changed, and so did the documentary. It became something completely different to what I thought it would be”, shared the singer on social media. The documentary is streaming on May 3rd on Disney Plus and the fans are expecting something really personal and touching.


The article above was edited by Giulia De Demo Assis

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Rafaela Paredes

Casper Libero '25

A journalism student who loves movies, music, traveling and writing.