The sound of cheering wafted around the room in Whelan’s as singer-songwriter Nell Mescal walked onto the stage. At the second show of her tour, Mescal angelically stood with just a spotlight and her piano as she opened her Dublin show with her hit ‘Graduating’. I spoke with the Kildare-born-and-bred singer a week before her Irish tour was set to begin. As I was sat at home in Meath, Mescal joined the Zoom from the studio in London, where she is working on new music. A longtime admirer of her music, I was initially nervous to speak to the singer. Noticing that we had the same dog, as mine wandered in the background of the camera, her immediately warm presence alleviated any worries I had. It is crazy to think that a week later, I stood watching her headline a sold-out show.
Although the pandemic was a stagnant period for most, Mescal took it as an opportunity to boost her career. Admitting that even though she started releasing music in 2020, “I feel like it has just started now, that everything before was just a warm-up”. She joked that she was grateful for the opportunity to take down her previous releases and essentially “start again”. Despite having wiped her slate clean, Mescal still holds the same loyal fanbase that eagerly anticipates her new music. She says, “People love the songs I took down but I’m lucky that people are waiting for new music that I’m putting out”. Her fans have embraced the evolution of her sound as they sang along to all her latest releases throughout her set.
“I feel like it has just started now, that everything before was just a warm-up.”
‘Homesick’, Mescal’s most popular song, grapples with the idea of longing to go home, although the singer wryly notes that “it’s about a load of different things”. I asked the 20-year-old how it feels knowing her music has been so widely related to. Singing about everything from relationships to friendships to finding your feet, Mescal says that her music “should feel like you’ve just read something that I should have kept to myself”, quickly adding that “it is subjective that you can relate to it”. Listening to her discography, it’s clear to me that Mescal writes music to evoke emotions within her listeners, which she imbues with a distinctly punk-indie vibe. Her songs blend soul-destroying lyrics with catchy and upbeat tunes. The artist puts it perfectly: “If I put love into something then you can only hope people can connect to it … it’s the coolest thing ever”.
Although Mescal’s top hit is about leaving Ireland, she discusses how she still feels rooted in her Irishness. Anticipating beginning her Irish tour, she notes “I always get really nervous because it’s so important, but I get so excited”. “One person coming to see me in Dublin is crazy”, she continues. As Mescal finishes her opening songs, it is clear how much a sold-out home crowd means to her, as she visibly wells up and exclaims, “I’m so emotional, this is so cool, why am I crying?” to audience cheers and whistles.
“If I was to say anything to anyone who is feeling lost in Ireland is that you can do it, you can leave as well and nothing is better than the other, it’s just about circumstance.”
She currently lives in London, admitting that she left Ireland for the UK because of the opportunities it would offer her career, noting “there were people in the UK willing to help me”. Speaking to the widespread sentiment that “you can’t progress at home in Ireland” Mescal stresses that “you can!”. The concept of leaving is embedded in the Irish consciousness, often showcased through the artistic tradition. Mescal doesn’t shy away from this, joking about having an entire song about leaving Ireland. To anyone who might be feeling this way though, Mescal offers her advice: “If I was to say anything to anyone who is feeling lost in Ireland is that you can do it, you can leave as well and nothing is better than the other, it’s just about circumstance”.
Throughout her set, Mescal played many of her unreleased songs, my favourite of which was entitled ‘Electric Picnic’. Speaking about her experience playing the festival last summer, the singer remembers “that was such a crazy show”. She continues, noting “I love getting to play shows at home and stick to my roots”, as evidenced by the corset themed around Irish landmarks which she rocked at Electric Picnic. Affirming her relationship with her homeland, Mescal continues, “I’m Irish and I love being Irish and I love talking about being Irish”. The song alludes to an experience she had at the festival with the enigmatic lyric, “I’m not going to forgive you because you’re crying at a song I wrote about you” which had me and the audience wondering ‘what the hell happened at EP?’.
“I’m Irish and I love being Irish and I love talking about being Irish.”
Discussing the influence that her family and friends have on her career, Mescal jokingly told me that this is the first tour that her parents aren’t at every show, but that she has many core moments she was able to share with them. Discussing her appearance on The Late Late Show last year, Mescal notes how “doing things like that, I often am like this is so cool for my parents and my friends that they get to see this and I got to bring them along”. Although her grandmother recently passed away Mescal fondly recalls being able to share such a special moment with her. The singer explains, “The first person I wanted to tell was my granny, she passed away recently but she got to see me do that. That was a dream of mine come true”. The Irish collective experience is something that struck me from my conversation with Mescal, along with the importance of family in her life and career. The singer identifies this as “the beauty of being Irish”, noting “Things like that mean so much and getting to experience it all together is so lovely”.
The night in Whelan’s continued with a mix of new releases and familiar songs, as the young singer showcased incredible audience engagement and commendable stage presence. One of the bigger venues on her tour, Mescal had everyone in Whelan’s singing and dancing away. Getting the audience to repeat lyrics of her songs like “I stayed awake for this / I stayed awake for you”, she had everyone firmly in the palm of her hand. Despite being only 20 years old, Mescal looked as though she had been doing this all her life. She comfortably and effortlessly performed every song to its fullest potential. It reminded me of when we discussed her recent nomination for the Rolling Stone Rising Star award, as the singer recalled feeling “imposter syndrome”, laughing as she admitted, “I was thinking there’s no reason for me to be on this red carpet right now”.
As the night came to a close, Mescal was extremely thankful to the audience for coming to the gig, as she prepared to head west to continue the rest of her tour. Back on Zoom with the singer, it felt as if no time had passed, almost like two pals catching up on FaceTime. When I asked what people can expect from Nell Mescal, the singer said that she was “excited for the tour” and that “new music is coming, sooner than everyone will think”. Since this interview, Mescal has released a new single entitled ‘Killing Time’, which I got a sneak peek of at Whelan’s.
After the gig ended I couldn’t help but admire the amazing quality of Mescal’s voice. Every song sounded exactly as though you were listening to it on Spotify, if not better. Whilst remaining humble and in touch with her roots, Mescal continues to reach new levels. She still appreciates every person who supports her journey. At the end of the concert, I was left with two pressing questions: ‘Nell, when is the EP?’ and, ‘What on earth happened at EP?’.