Ed Sheeran has said he “spiralled through fear, depression and anxiety” last year after his wife was diagnosed with a tumour and his close friend Jamal Edwards died.
The chart-topping singer, 32, said Cherry Seaborn, who he married in 2019, was told by doctors she had a tumour while pregnant with their second child, who was born in May, “with no route to treatment until after the birth”.
Meanwhile, music entrepreneur Edwards, who founded the music platform SBTV in 2006 that helped launch Sheeran’s career, died in February at the age of 31.
The singer later spoke of the mental strain the case caused him.
In a statement announcing his new album, called – (the mathematical symbol for subtract), which is due to be released on May 5, Sheeran said the songs had been influenced by the difficult events he had faced.
He said: “I had been working on Subtract for a decade, trying to sculpt the perfect acoustic album, writing and recording hundreds of songs with a clear vision of what I thought it should be.
“Then at the start of 2022, a series of events changed my life, my mental health, and ultimately the way I viewed music and art.
“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.
“My best friend Jamal, 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.”
Sheeran recruited Aaron Dessner of The National, who collaborated on Taylor Swift’s lockdown records Folklore and Evermore, to help with the writing and production of the album.
Work began in February last year and the pair wrote more than 30 songs during a month of studio time, with 14 tracks making the final collection.
The result is described by his record label, Atlantic, as ranging from “pared back, folk-leaning textures to bolder, full-band/orchestral arrangements”.
Sheeran has also announced a “mini-tour” of UK and European arenas where he will launch the new album’s upcoming first single.
He will open in Manchester on March 23, followed by two dates in London and shows in Glasgow, Dublin and Paris.
Subtract is the latest instalment in Sheeran’s mathematical symbol series, which has progressed through albums including = (Equals) and ÷ (Divide).
In a departure from his previous album covers, which played on their title’s mathematical symbol, this one shows Sheeran’s face combined with a cracked and broken heart.
The sea appears to be a recurring theme with the album opening with the tracks Boat and Salt Water.
Other titles include Life Goes On, Colourblind and No Strings, with the album closing with the track The Hills Of Aberfeldy – a reference to the Scottish market town, which he has visited on a number of occasions.
Images taken by acclaimed US photographer Annie Leibovitz and released alongside the announcement show the Suffolk songwriter being washed away by waves and crouched over a writing desk at night.
In his statement, Sheeran said he did not feel he could release an album that did not “accurately represent” his current situation and the challenges he has faced.
Describing the record as like “opening the trapdoor into my soul”, he added: “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.
“This is last February’s diary entry and my way of making sense of it. This is Subtract.”