Just before Christmas we caught up with Kildare artist Nell Mescal, who released her debut single Graduating in 2022.
Fresh from supporting Phoebe Green on tour and having recently signed to Lab Records, she is excited for what’s to come in 2023 and promises plenty of music is on the horizon, the first of which is new single, Homesick.
“I wrote Homesick when I was in LA in January. It’s basically about moving to London and being very homesick and suddenly realising all the harsh realities of what it means to move away when you’re 18, but also not wanting to look like you failed,” she explains from her flat in London.
“I think there’s a huge stigma, especially in Ireland being like, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t do music, she’ll be back with her mammy’, but I have managed to catch my breath a little bit over here.”
“It’s a very upbeat song which I don’t think anybody’s ever heard from me before unless you’ve been to the live shows.”
Homesick was recorded in London with writer/producer Steph Marziano (Hayley Williams, Radiohead, Matilda Man) and showcases a darker, more self-deprecating side of Nell Mescal.
Homesick is also Nell Mescal’s first venture into co-writing. “I’ve been trying to make a collection of people who I really trust and like being in a room with to write with. I love writing with friends because you can just offload a lot more.”
The list of friends includes Jamie N Commons and Cameron Montgomery with whom she co-wrote Homesick, and Christian Lee Hutson (Phoebe Bridgers, Better Oblivion Community Center).
“I find co-writing so strange because when I go into a session, I’m like, ‘This song has to be for me’ because I’ve just poured too much [of myself] into it that I couldn’t give it to anyone else,” she says, noting that “I would like to write for other people, but I think right now I just have too much to say about myself.”
As well as friendship, Nell has a very pragmatic approach to co-writing “When I’m writing with other people, I don’t tend to want to write on the piano because I can do that at any time wherever I am. So, whenever I’m in a session, I’m looking for someone who can play a guitar.”
“I’m trying to learn myself,” she says, conceding that she has struggled to get to grips with the instrument so far.
“I would like to write for other people, but I think right now I just have too much to say about myself."
Mescal’s 2022 debut Graduating showcased the balladeer style that helped her build up an initial fanbase on YouTube and TikTok
“I think with Graduating, I just tried to be as honest as possible. I didn’t leave room for much imagination of what I was talking about. It’s a niche topic, it’s called Graduating and it’s about not graduating school and about people not being very nice to you. I think people connected with it from the get-go.”
For Mescal, connecting with people is far more important than collecting streams and views. “That’s the main reason I released that song – just to connect with at least one person who was feeling that same way I was feeling.”
In 2020, Nell duetted with her brother Paul (your man off the telly your ma shouldn’t fancy but does) on a version of Villagers’ Nothing Arrived and almost broke the Internet in the process. Conor O’Brien gave the version his blessing at the time but many other artists have been taken aback by Nell’s covers.
“A few people have commented under videos I’ve done or reshared them. Sarah Bareillles shared one. I don’t even think it was a cover of one of her songs, but she’s one of my musical heroes.”
“It’s just been really wonderful getting to connect with people that I really look up to and they like what I’m doing, even if it’s just a cover. It’s been really exciting and cool.”
"That's the main reason I released that song - just to connect with at least one person who was feeling that same way I was feeling.”
While the internet has provided a welcome springboard for Mescal’s burgeoning career, she is aware of the dangers of too much screen-time on creatives.
“It can become this black hole of disappointment for yourself because you’re trying to keep up with things, but it just isn’t possible all the time. You do feel pressure; mostly the pressure you put on yourself.
“I don’t have crazy numbers on TikTok, but I know that people like them and want to stick with me so I feel like it’s important for me to be able to show people that listen that I’m just as much with them as they are with me.
“Keeping that connection with people has been really important for me and I’ve been lucky that the numbers don’t really matter to me. I’s more about the people behind the screen.”
Coming from a talented family, as Nell does, it’s only natural that her Oscar-nominated brother regularly comes up in conversation. Nell has accepted that she will have to work hard to prove that she isn’t simply the beneficiary of nepotism.
“I think that I’ll always have to prove myself, but for the next while it’s crucial that I just keep making people know that that’s not why I’m doing it.
“I’m not doing it so that people connect me to him. I’m doing it so people see me and who I am. So, if it keeps happening you just have to go through it and keep proving to people that you’re not someone’s sister, you’re just someone.”
"...you just have to go through it and keep proving to people that you're not someone's sister, you're just someone.”
“I’m starting a collection,” says Nell Mescal jokingly when we mention the prominence of Phoebes in her career to date, having supported Phoebe Green on her recent UK tour and having appeared on stage with Phoebe Bridgers.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do. It was such a special moment for me. I don’t plan on forgetting it anytime soon,” says Nell Mescal, before acknowledging that it was simultaneously a stressful and liberating experience
“People could just be like, ‘Who is she?’ or ‘She’s only there because of A, B and C’. I was really stressed out about it but the second I walked on stage all the nerves completely went away. I was really welcomed and it was so heart-warming.
“I was crying on stage because I could never have imagined this to happen. It was just really cool and it made me feel very comfortable in myself…something happened when I went on stage it just kind of all went away.”
However, Nell Mescal isn’t letting these experiences go to her head. As 2023 kicked off, she found herself on a host of international magazines Ones To Watch lists, but she is taking it all in her stride.
“I never believe anything anyway. So it’s like, ‘That’s a cool list, but it’s not real’. I’s not real until something else happens. I’m very honoured and happy to be on those lists, but for me it’s about the audience and what they are feeling. That’s why the live shows have been so important for me this year.”
Upcoming Irish live dates:
// Oh Yeah Centre, Belfast – March 02
// Cyprus Avenue, Cork – March 03
// The Academy Green Room, Dublin – March 05
// Tickets on sale Friday Feb 9th from 8AM here