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  • katiehillier

An Interview With... Nell Mescal

Rough Trade, Bristol - 29/01/2024

Nell Mescal is fast on the rise, and within minutes of her sliding into a booth opposite me in Bristol Rough Trade’s cafe, it becomes undeniably evident why. It’s an hour before doors and she’s sporting a sweatshirt and bare face of make-up. But despite her low-key look after another day of travelling around the country, her enthusiasm doesn’t falter. “I’m just really excited!” She beams when I ask how she’s feeling ahead of tonight’s show here in Bristol. “We played Bristol before and it was a really fun time, so I can’t wait to get in there and start singing.” 

The show is in the live room of the local, independent record store, marking the penultimate night of her UK tour. Originally, the concert was scheduled for October last year, but was forced to be cancelled at the last minute, along with the remaining week of shows, due to illness. “I was really really sad [when we had to reschedule], but I guess more people are coming now, which is exciting. I’m just so excited that people kept their tickets!” 

Whether or not tickets were held onto shouldn’t be something Nell should be worrying about. She spends a lot of her down time on social media, whether that be interacting with her fans through direct tweets or seemingly posting her every thought, often revolving around film, tv and of course music. But what’s it like interacting with and being so involved in the people who listen to your music? “It’s really weird. I don’t have millions of followers, but sometimes I do look at whatever number it is, and I’m just like, this is so weird. But this is the amount of people that have access to these photos that I post willingly. There are definitely days where I freak out and I’m like ‘Oh my God, my life will never be genuine’ Like, it’s never gonna be private because of this stuff, I suppose.” She pauses to consider this for a moment. “I feel like it’s not an aesthetic. It’s just me posting my life and the music that I make and I think that it’s as real and honest as I can be whilst also having boundaries and stuff. But I think I like it”, she smiles. “I like that people get to know me and it’s not really fake. It’s just who I am.” 

The fangirl experience and understanding of what it means to be a fan really shines through in Nell’s approach to promoting her music and in the way she treats her fans. After her set, the queue to meet her goes out the shop and towards the bus stop on the street, Mescal taking the time to have personal conversations with fans about everything and anything, hugging everyone individually, signing merch and posing for photos. She takes time to compliment little details of the fans’ outfits, presumably meticulously planned out months in advance and bought specifically for tonight, showing just how involved she is in her fanbase to the point she considers the finer details in their lives. She seems to genuinely love being in their company, as much as they do hers. 

“Everyone that comes to my shows is fucking sick! I just love them. They’re just so sweet and the vibe is always nice,” she gushes.“I don’t think there’s ever pressure to interact with fans because I genuinely enjoy it and I love hearing their thoughts and seeing their comments on my phone about a show. I love it because it feels real. It feels like there’s a human attached to it.” 

Recently within the music industry, there’s been discussions around the new expectation for artists to be their own content creators and almost having to become influencers on the side to promote their music, especially in an increasingly digitalised space. When I ask her about her attitudes and feelings towards this debate, she explains, “Actually making the content is really difficult. I want to be as real as possible, and it’s just not lip-syncing to songs. It’s like, I’m not doing that in my general life, it’s fucking weird, but I think that you can’t diss it too much because if we didn’t have it, we as artists wouldn’t have access to the amount of people that we have access to. So I try not to shit on it too much because one day I hope it blesses me.”

The reciprocated dedication to her fans and her understanding of what it’s like from their point of view likely comes from the support slots she’s done alongside some of her own biggest influences. “Florence Welch told me to get better friends so I didn’t have to write such sad songs, but unfortunately, I kept writing sad songs.” she laughs. “But the experience [of the support shows] changed me as a performer, which is really fun. I feel like before, I was watching a video of myself performing like a year before I did any of those big shows, and it’s just so vastly different. It was just a lot of growth, which is exciting.”

"Florence Welch told me to get better friends!”

It’s been a busy year for Nell; from supporting the likes of Birdy, Dermot Kennedy, HAIM and formerly mentioned Florence & The Machine, to a headline tour in her home country of Ireland, all whilst releasing new music and teasing an upcoming EP. “I think supports are easy to prepare for because you can have a lot of fun changing things up every night because no-one’s really there for you. Headlines are fun because you get to curate this whole show that’s just about you and the music that you’ve created which is really nice.” She begins contemplating festivals, “They’re really hard to prepare for because anything could happen on the day, we just don’t know what’s gonna happen, and prep-wise, I’m always anxious. I always have a great time, but before I’m freaking out and after I’m like, ‘Why was I freaking out?” 

Festivals can’t be all bad though, especially considering there’s an unreleased song she plays tonight named Electric Picnic, alluding to the annual Irish arts and music festival in a much slower and melancholy track compared to her more recent releases. On this tour, when this track is played live, Nell plays guitar for the first time at her shows, accompanied only by her guitarist Charlie; the crowd so captivated by Nell’s delicate vocals you could hear a pin drop. “Everyone thinks that if you can play piano you can play any instrument!” She laughs when I ask her about the learning process of playing the guitar. “I’ve been learning guitar my whole life because I always pick it up and then decide I don’t like it anymore. Then I fell out of love with writing on the piano. The way I learned piano was I was self taught and would write a song while learning, so that’s what I did with the guitar and I think it really helped and made me fall in love with writing all over again.” 

Nell has also recently started playing live with a full band, who have been touring around the UK alongside her for the past few weeks. She met her drummer, Meg, and bassist, Dave, around 2021 in rehearsals, before meeting her guitarist and collaborator, Charlie, this time last year, when she played on the Late Late Show in Ireland. “I just love them! Like [touring] is the nicest experience ever. I feel like we're all a family and really respect each other’s spaces, but also like it’s just so much fun!”

Back to the topic of writing, Nell’s gearing up for the release of her debut EP, Can I Miss It For A Minute?, set for release in early May. “I chose the title because it’s a lyric from the fourth track, and I went through all the lyrics on the EP because I felt like there would be something in there that sums it all up.” 

On the feeling of the EP and its subject matter, Nell describes it as feeling “very nostalgic for a better time in a worst time, because I’m trying to figure out why stuff happened to me.” 

“I really miss these people that really hurt me and this life. But I’ve created this new one that I love just as much. Sometimes I just want to be able to grieve it and miss it. Yeah, I think it just ties up the whole EP really nicely.”

It’s a body of work, which similar to the singles she’s put out so far, thematically centres around friendship break-ups and growing up. It’s something that seemingly a lot of her fans will be able to resonate with, and an approach to music that most artists within the genre don’t take, instead writing about romantic relationships and heartbreak. 

“I think it’s just writing what I know. Like definitely, there’s some more recent songs that aren’t on the EP that I’ve been writing more about heartbreak, relationships and love because that’s what I know now, but definitely my past few years have had a lot of friendship focus and moving away and growing up focus because that’s what I’ve known.” 

One of the stand-out elements of Mescal’s music is her honesty within her lyrics, making her feel like a truly authentic songwriter. Assuming that getting into that state of vulnerability to really express yourself can be quite daunting, what does the writing process for her music look like? 

“It’s weird. Some days, I find it really therapeutic and some days it feels like a real slog.” However, Nell notices that her writing process looks very different depending on who she’s with; “When I’m writing alone, I think I’m quite harsh on myself and I feel like I’m just writing the worst thing ever. But when I write with people like Charlie, because he knows me so well, I find that writing something and then getting feedback from someone I really trust like him is really important for me. But every writing session is different.”

The themes surrounding growing up and moving on come after Mescal made the move from Ireland to London aged 18, a feat which also heavily influenced 2023 single, Homesick. Finalising the decision to pursue music full-time in the capital came after she spent the summer before her A Levels in London, and found herself reflecting on how she just wasn’t enjoying her final year of school and was just trying to get through it. “I thought I should just go back [to London] and do the thing that makes me happy, and my family were really supportive. So I made the jump and I don’t regret it.”

Family is an aspect of Nell’s life that seems particularly important to her, and an aspect that she often presents on her social media channels, whether it be her singing to her singles with her Mum or giving fans a behind the scenes look at getting ready for award ceremonies her actor brother (yes, that one) has nominations at. The latter has seen her go viral on TikTok previously, with fans online becoming invested in the whole Mescal family. 

Despite her brother breaking out in lockdown TV phenomenon, Normal People, Nell’s had her career and has been creating and releasing music since before that. So what’s it like to navigate being a rising musician and establishing your identity as an artist, when so many people are focusing on who you’re related to? “It can be quite hard. I think it would be easier if I had this mysterious thing around me, but I’m just who I am, and I guess as an actor, you just present yourself to the world as you are as well. And we’re both quite similar, so like if I’m posting and he’s posting or whatever, sometimes I’m just trying to [figure out] how I can show people this is actually just me and I was doing it as well this whole time. I’m so proud of him and I think he’s amazing, so anytime anyone mentions him and me, I’m like ‘Oh that’s so sweet’ because I think he’s sick. But it can definitely be stressful because I’m working hard and I’m also really trying.” 

In terms of getting into the music industry, Nell doesn’t think it’s really affected her experiences, especially since she doesn’t really qualify to be accused of being a nepo-baby. “my parents are not in any way in the industry. And it’s weird when I already had a career and then [Paul] blew up. So, I understand when people come at me with that angle, but I just don’t feel it and I don’t see it. I think if I was [a nepo-baby] things would be in a different place, but I like that there’s been a steady growth and you can see it. So to be honest, I don’t mind [the comparisons] because people always think something and I feel like if they come to a show I might change their mind.”

Nell has always been a big musical theatre fan, deciding that when she grew up, like any girl growing up in the early 2000s, she either wanted to be Annie on Broadway or Hannah Montana. But not knowing anyone who had done that before became an obstacle to the dream. 

“I started releasing music during covid, and I met my manager - it was her who was like ‘you can do this, you know?’  I asked her how, then I moved, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since!” The decision to go into mainstream pop rather than going down the musical theatre route, in which Mescal has been professionally trained, came after she started to write her own music, however, she assures me she doesn’t want to close any doors on it. “I think I just started writing my own music and it was like ‘Oh, I’ll do this and then I can do both if I want.’ Ideally, I want to do both, but I feel like now I’ve gotten a lot to say that I kind of want to do that and focus on that.”

We circle back around to discussing moving away from home and everything that you know to achieve your dreams. It’s a change that a lot of her fanbase can certainly relate to, most likely in the context of moving cities for university, especially judging by the age demographic of tonight’s audience. When I ask her what advice she’d give someone in the position she was in before moving to London, she suggests, “I think if you’re going to do it, you have to think about what you want to do and write how you want to get there. But then also ultimately just do whatever; life is not that serious!”

Nell Mescal’s debut EP, Can I Miss It For A Minute? is set for release on 3rd May 2024.

Where to find Nell: 

Instagram: @nellmescal

TikTok: @nellmescal

Twitter: @nellmescal_




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