Nell Mescal has had a very busy 48 hours. Fresh from playing live at East London venue Colours, the Irish singer quickly headed home, packed up a case and hopped on not one flight but two, before landing in Los Angeles just in time for a swanky pre-Oscars party with her brothers, Paul (yes, that one) and Donnacha. “It was just a bit wild!” she laughs, just a few hours later. “I did sleep the whole time on the plane though. Everyone was like, ‘Why are you sleeping on the plane?’ and I was like, ‘Just wait…!’
Jet-lag firmly defeated, it’s easy to tell just how excited Nell’s feeling about things right now, and it’s little wonder as to why; when we speak, she’s fresh off an Irish mini-tour that concluded in Dublin, is set to play alongside one of her musical heroes Birdy (“I was so emotional [hearing the news]; I was crying my eyes out!”) and has just announced details of her next single, albeit a little earlier than expected. “Yeah, I was like, ‘I’m gonna announce something on Friday’ and then I announced it today because I just can’t wait…”
The something she’s referencing is ‘In My Head’, which she’s already calling “one of my favourite songs ever”. Written alongside friend and collaborator Kai Bosch, the track follows on from previous singles ‘Homesick’ - that was released back in January - and last year’s ‘Graduating’, which both dealt more with the struggles of growing older, moving away and discovering your own self. ‘In My Head’, however, shows off a different side to Nell than those explored before; its darkly cathartic pop seeing her delve into the allure of returning to unhealthy relationships and trying to break that cycle.
“It was a weird one,” she says, of how the song’s subject matter came to the fore. “I don’t usually write about the themes in this. I think I was pulling a lot from friendships and stuff like that, which is usually where my songs come from. But then it took on this different world where it became this kind of horrible love story.
“I feel like we all have like that one person that we’ll consistently go back to and we know it’s not good. But I feel like what I love doing in my songs is having some sort of redemption or hope, even if it’s like a really sad song. I’m not writing songs for people to stay miserable and so I feel like ‘In My Head’ has the perfect ending to have a little bit of revenge. So yeah, it was a weird song to write because it felt so cathartic, because I don’t write about that kind of thing.”
“I’m so young, and there’s just so many paths I feel like I can take.”
It’s unsurprising that the singer’s trying on a few different styles for size: she is, after all, still just 19. “I think I’m so young, and I think that there’s just so many paths I feel like I can take,” she nods. “I just feel like it would feel inauthentic to release something that was just the same every time because that’s not how I write.”
It’s not just releasing music that’s been truly fortifying for Nell. While her social media channels do admittedly get their fair share of attention - thanks, in part, to the sibling mentioned earlier - and with the subject of ‘going viral’ constantly on people’s minds (“Social media is such a frightening place to find yourself on, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am chronically online”), it’s not always easy to keep a grip on reality. Cutting through all that noise, however, is being able to finally play shows and meet the people connecting most with her music.
“The shows have just been my favourite thing to do ever,” she grins, “and meeting people at the end, and playing songs that no one’s heard before. It’s been one of the best things in my life. After the shows, I usually spend like an hour just chatting to people and it’s the most gratifying thing ever; more gratifying than getting a like on a tweet or a viral video. These are real people that really care and are showing up to as much as they can. It makes me so emotional, because I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, you guys actually really want to be here’.”
Nell Mescal plays The Great Escape (11th - 13th May), where DIY is a media partner. Head to the festival’s website for more info, and to buy tickets.
As featured in the April 2023 issue of DIY, out now.