Musician of the Mescal family, 20-year-old Nell is on the road and carving her own lane where friends are in love and Irish folk can be indie pop.
The first thing that jumps out when Nell Mescal joins our zoom call, is her excitement. The 20-year-old songwriter is still coming to terms with the reality of her recent successes. She had a whirlwind summer – jam-packed with gigs and festivals, performing alongside the likes of Florence and The Machine, Haim and her Irish song-making idol (who’s been on her bedroom wall forever), Dermot Kennedy. Recounting this, two months later, Nell’s enthusiasm would have you think she bounded off the festival circuit yesterday. “It was absolutely wild. I don’t know how I’ll ever feel that feeling again.”
“That feeling” more than likely returned on Monday, when Nell embarked on her biggest UK headline tour yet. She’s wrapping up the Ireland leg this week and hits the road for England after Christmas, where high anticipation has already sold out January 31st’s finale in London. It’s inspiring to see how little the younger sister of man-of-the-moment, global filmstar Paul Mescal, takes nothing for granted, whilst acknowledging the influence this brings her (there’s no wincing, only fond smiles and expressions of gratitude, when her big brother’s name enters our conversation).
It’s not the first time Nell has been overwhelmed by the joyous surreality of her young music success either. Her inaugural gig in 2021 was a hard launch. “I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier than that night… I saw this new world and getting to do so with someone who I look up to so immensely was just absolutely crazy,” she remembers. That someone being Phoebe Bridgers, whose show at Shoreditch House she supported.
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Then 19 with just four indie-pop songs to her name, this debut performance was an impressive triumph, but didn’t guarantee the Irish singer a Normal People fate – Nell went straight back to put her head down in the studio. Only one of those pre-2022 releases remains on Spotify, and explaining why, she says simply “it doesn’t display who I am now.” Five more recent singles do; reading back like a journal, ‘Graduating’, ‘Homesick’, ‘In My Head’, ‘Punchline’ and ‘Teeth’ reveal maturity and authenticity through a combination of lyrical vulnerability and musical confidence.
Songwriting is how Nell processes and copes with change, “I go to write when I feel that emotionally I have to.” At 14 came the first major life upheaval, a back surgery which took her out of school. “That’s when I was like, ‘Well, I can’t do much else but write’”, she says. “These problems in my personal life I couldn’t deal with at school, so instead I deep dived into them through music.” Making music helped her mentally heal through a traumatic period. “That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a songwriter,” she tells me, explaining that after receiving a recording software for Christmas, she built up a musical portfolio. “I put my songs out at the start of Covid, then I met my manager and it all snowballed from there.”
That was the first turning point, but music had been a cornerstone of Nell’s life long before, “I was singing before I was properly forming sentences.” Five-year-old Nell was in Glee club, formative school years were taken up by musical theatre and teenhood was defined by eclectic listening sessions – everything from the Annie musical soundtrack to Queen of country pop Shania Twain and 60s folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, and the discovery of Birdy. The alt-indie singing prodigy was a huge influence. “She was the first person I listened to who made me feel a way I’d never felt before, and I wanted to do that for other people.”
Dreams are coming true for Nell, and supporting a Birdy show has already been ticked off. Eyes lit with ambition throughout our conversation, it’s clear how: she knows what she wants and is unafraid of taking bold leaps in the name of her artistry. “If I can visualise myself doing something, in my life or career, then I believe it’ll happen…people will think I’m very airy-fairy for saying that,” she muses. Perhaps, but Nell’s manifestations have so far proven true.
At 16 Nell left school to commit more time to songwriting, and this big decision, followed by a move from home in Maynooth, Ireland, to North London, are the basis of the songs ‘Graduation’ and ‘Homesick’. Watching from afar her school friends celebrate the end of an era together bubbled up mixed emotions, she explains. “I started thinking about how different my life could have been, but writing and reflecting, I’m so grateful. You need change, you need to get out of your comfort zone and I guess a new place is what sparked that for me.”
Nell Mescal is now settled in Haringey, where she’s calling from, sat on the sofa where much of the lyric writing and guitar playing happens. Finding a community in the sprawling city at first, having only just turned 18, wasn’t easy. “I’m not very good at being a casual friend. I don’t think I’m needy, but I find it difficult to have a relationship that’s a ‘see you again in five weeks’ situation,” she tells me. It makes sense, then, that friendships are a running theme of her folk-infused indie-pop songs. “I think they’re something people often skip over. So many songs are about love, but they don’t often focus on the love between best friends, or the heartbreak of those platonic relationships ending.”
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The 20-year-old is currently thriving, growing and continuing to be inspired by London’s creative community. Nell has found a similarly musically-minded best friend, a guitar player (and member of the band she cites as best friends) to practice music with as well as a crowd outside the music scene. “Which is really important,” she affirms. “My community is all scattered and amazing and everyone’s so different.” Plus, Nell shares mutual love and appreciation of her growing fanbase. “They are so cool. I know it’s hard to say you love people you don’t really know, but I do. I met a fan, Ingrid, who flew over to see me from Brazil. It was really, really special.”
As the artist’s burgeoning career takes off, her family and Irish roots keep her grounded… along with humbling moments when malfunctioning appliances lead to an emergency dial of mum. Irishness subtly enters Nell’s music too. “I’m really happy when people say they hear my accent when I sing. I’m really interested in bringing my heritage into my music more,” she says. “I’ve got cousins who play the fiddle. I want to make a [sound]scape which sounds like the indie-pop version of traditional Irish folk.”
Nell Mescal can’t spill too many other secrets about what’s next, but she definitely wants to get involved in a dance track soon. “I’m not a good dancer whatsoever, like I’m the most awkward dancer on the floor. If I could just sing on a dance song that plays in the club, then I’ve done my part,” she laughs. But that will still only be the beginning. “I know it sounds a bit cringe, but the main thing I want is to never stop doing this. That’s ultimately what I’m going to be working for.”