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Interview: The Mysterines

25 March 2022

Liverpool rockers The Mysterines are the type, in this day and age, to wind up on multiple genre-defining playlists. From the desert rocking numbers like “Life’s a Bitch (But I Like it So Much)” to the the swaggering blues of “Reeling” to the ‘90s-influenced Brit-rock styles of “Dangerous”, the band’s debut, Reeling, has something for all rock fans.

The young band – singer Lia Metcalfe, guitarist Callum Thompson, bassist George Favager, and drummer Paul Crilly – has been stacking up honors and accolades in the UK by selling out headlining tours, supporting Royal Blood, The Amazons and Sea Girls, and playing the Reading and Leeds festival stages. The next thing to cross off the list is a headlining U.S. tour set to begin in May.

Before flying across the pond, Metcalfe and Crilly joined a Zoom call from, presumably, a conference room at their label’s office while grabbing some lunch to discuss recording Reeling with producer Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice, PJ Harvey), music genres, expectations of their first time to the U.S. and more.

No joke, I have an impossible time picking out a favorite song of yours. With each track I listen to, I think, “This is my favorite song.” When you’re writing songs, are you thinking of them as singles and writing the best possible song at that moment or do you think of them in terms of how they’ll fit on an album and how the songs will work with each other?

LIA: We recorded the tracks four at a time.

PAUL: The last time we did five.

LIA: We did four in July over the course of a week. I suppose we group it together in a way.

I suspect there’s a difference in going in for one long session to do all the songs and breaking it up into smaller sessions where you can really focus on the four songs you’re recording.

LIA: We had to do it that way. It happened naturally in doing it in groups but it paid off because we could concentrate on the songs and making those four songs sound the way they do.

PAUL: When we first started, there were seven or eight songs that we needed to record. As the process would go on, and we’d go back, we’d have more songs to record. There were some songs that we started that never ended up on the album because Lia kept writing as we were recording.

Do you go into recording thinking that any of them could be released as singles or do you have an idea either in your head or that you’ve spoken about of which songs you are going to release?

LIA: When we wrote “Hung Up,” I knew that was going to be a single pretty much instantly. Same happened with “In My Head.” I think we’d all agreed between ourselves that they were definitely the singles. I suppose we do think about it in a sense but not too much.

PAUL: You aren’t discussing it constantly as you record. There’s certain songs that probably could have been singles that we left to be album tracks. “Hung Up” and “Dangerous” instantly jumped out as being good singles.

Writers, and fans, like to attach a word in front of “-rock” to describe music. There’s “hard rock” and “punk rock” and “alt rock.” What I appreciate about The Mysterines is that you are just a rock band, any and/or none of the other words need to go in front.

LIA: I suppose if you think about music as a whole, you never really sit down and think “My favorite genre is this.” I don’t really do that. You listen to so much music and there’s so much influence. It’s not really up to the band or the musician to categorize themselves because you can shoot yourself in the foot doing that.

PAUL: That’s why it’s so odd when people ask you what type of music it is. I’m like, “I don’t know.” You don’t sit down and agree what you’re going to be before you start playing. It develops as time goes on and different influences come in.

As you’ve mentioned, there wasn’t any specific influence for your own songs, it was a mix of everything. But, what kind of stuff do you enjoy listening to?

PAUL: You can draw influence from anything, that’s not just music, it can films or anything. That’s the best way to approach it. When I was younger, I was trying to be cool and listen to certain things but as you grow up and when you start making music, you want to find something good to go inspire you to influence your writing and playing.

LIA: A lot of the stuff we listen to, people wouldn’t associate with us. I love Bon Iver.

PAUL: I love a good sad song.

LIA: I suppose Bob Dylan as well. You can’t really hear that in our record. People don’t really say, “You guys sound like Bob Dylan.” You can listen to so much stuff behind the scenes and draw influence from it somehow.

PAUL: Even production. When we were recording the album, we had a playlist of influences. It was like, “I like the guitar tone on this” or “I like the snare sound on that song.”

LIA: I find myself constantly going back to the first people that got me into music. I can’t ever escape them. We do listen to a few new bands. I guess it’s good to be aware of what other people are doing, not even necessarily to see where you’re going to fit in because you don’t ever think about that. It’s good when you find a good new band that you like.

PAUL: You want to hear something that will blow your mind. I enjoy that when you find a new band.

LIA: I think it’s always good when you find a song by someone you’ve listened to for years that you’ve never heard. “How have I not heard this?” You just repeat it for months and then get sick of it and move onto something else.

Growing up, did you start out liking songs rather than artists and then eventually think, “Because I like this song and this song, maybe I should listen to a whole album by this band”?

PAUL: When you first get into music, you have people showing you stuff. I remember, for me, it was Nirvana. They were the first band that I felt was my band. I must have watched a live set at Reading or something.

LIA: The angst of Nirvana at the point in time I started listening to them, it made me think they were my band as well. Nirvana was definitely one of the first bands for both us.

PAUL: I think Dave Grohl said something like Kurt Cobain was the master of making really simple songs sound amazing. The voice must have helped but I always like it when you find a band that changes your life and then you find out what influenced them.

When you get to my age, you’ll discover that the Grateful Dead isn’t as bad as you imagined and that they are actually good musicians!

LIA: It is funny how your tastes change. When the band first started, we’d get compared to some bands that I had not necessarily listened to and when I did, I didn’t really like them. And now, where I am in my life, they are sort of the main people I listen to. It’s weird how experience and opening that door and taking yourself to that place with that artist can change your perspective.

I saw the Arctic Monkeys at Lollapalooza in 2011. I had listened to their album maybe twice all the way through before seeing them but I recognized everything they played in their set. When listening to your album for the second time, I found that I recognized the songs, I didn’t have to listen a dozen times before they started sinking in. I saw on YouTube that you did an Arctic Monkeys cover so you must like them.

LIA: Obviously, being a northern band, you have to, I guess. They’re one of the best bands of our generation.

PAUL: They were the cool band when we were growing up, especially the AM days, because I had felt like I had heard them before that. Over the last year, I’ve listened to Humbug a lot and it’s so good.

LIA: I remember when all the girls in school started fancying Alex Turner. I was like, “He’s been my imaginary boyfriend for years, not yours.” When you go back to AM now, it’s a flawless records, isn’t it? He’s one of the best songwriters.

I was looking at some of the U.S. festival lineups and there are certainly ones with rock bands, like the Welcome to Rockville festival you’re playing in Florida in May. But, the biggest festivals, the ones like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, they don’t seem to have a lot of guitar-rock artists on the lineup. It’s perhaps reflective of the times, but are the U.K. festivals designed the same way?

LIA: I think hip-hop has had a resurgence and it’s the thing people are listening to so you’ll see those types of artists on festivals. It’s always good to have a festival which has got lots of different things on it.

PAUL: I think the smaller the festival, the more guitar bands and rock stuff you’ll see. The bigger you get, you get more pop artists. I don’t think it’s an issue.

LIA: I wouldn’t have seen some hip-hop artists and rap artists that I do like without playing festivals. It’s always good to mix and see new things live that you wouldn’t have necessarily gone and paid for.

At what point did you decide that The Mysterines was a real thing and not just an opportunity for friends to get together to play around with their instruments?

LIA: It’s not something we were consciously aware of, not for me anyway. I never said, “This is the plan.” I’ve always done it, it’s all I’ve ever known. This is the only band I’ve been in. I’ve loved music since I was a kid, written since I was a kid.

PAUL: You’ve got to find like-minded people.

LIA: You have to find people you enjoy playing music with. You listen to the same stuff together and you want to create something more each time. I guess it’s a bit of luck and ambition mixed together.

The first time you hop in a fan and play a show outside of your home town must be somewhat scary, right?

LIA: I guess because the UK is so small, when you first tour, you just do the North. Most Northern places are pretty similar and the place we are from is pretty small. It was never too intimidating but I think touring in general, when you first do it, is exciting but there’s apprehension because you don’t know who you’re going to meet. For me, that was the exciting part.

PAUL: When I was younger, I started disliking playing in Liverpool just because you’d either be playing in front of the same people or the compliments would be from your mates or your mom but if you go to London and someone comes up to you and makes the effort to compliment you, that means a lot more than your mate coming to see you play every weekend.

In a COVID world, are you able to meet fans after shows or do you stay in the dressing room to limit your exposure?

LIA: We played some shows last summer and then we did a tour in October. I think we’ve been pretty lucky. When we were gigging, everything had eased off and people just wanted to go to gigs again. We got to meet some other bands and speak to our fans so it felt normal to us. It wasn’t like everyone was spaced out.

You’ll be heading to the U.S. in May to tour. Will this be your first time here?

LIA: Yeah. Because we’ve never been before, it’s pretty exciting. It’s something you dream about and is a goal. To have it booked feels like an achievement. We’re just excited to go over and play to new fans.

PAUL: We don’t really know what to expect so it might be overwhelming but I think that’s the exciting part.

LIA: I’m sort of looking forward to a lot of the drives. We get to drive through Laurel Canyon at some point.

PAUL: What I’m imagining is that it’s going to be like the film Almost Famous and I’ll be disappointed if it’s not like that.

LIA: We’ll just put “Tiny Dancer” on over and over again! It’s exciting to trace these people that we’ve listen to over the years. They’ve come from New York and L.A. I’m excited for Detroit because of Rodriguez. You attach so much to these places like the music that’s come from there.

You’re a pretty young band but what has been the instance where you look around and think, “Is this a dream? I can’t believe I’m here.”

LIA: We played with Royal Blood at this venue in Cornwall in the UK called The Eden Project. It’s like South England’s Red Rocks. That moment was like, “It’s real and it’s happening right now.”

PAUL: We were the only support band and we went on at 8. The longer the set went on, the sun started to go down and then all the lights came on. When I first started getting into music and playing with bands, Royal Blood was the first rock band that I saw go into the charts. Getting to play with them was pretty cool.

U.S. Tour Dates

May 3 – Brick & Mortar Music Hall, San Francisco
May 4 – Peppermint Club, Los Angeles
May 5 – Valley Bar, Phoenix
May 7 – Lost Lake, Denver
May 9 – Minneapolis, 7th St Entry
May 10 – Cobra Lounge, Chicago
May 11 – The Basement, Columbus
May 13 – PJ’s Lager House, Detroit
May 14 – Monarch Tavern, Toronto
May 15 – L’Escogriffe, Montreal
May 17 – Middle East (Upstairs), Boston
May 18 – Mercury Lounge, New York City
May 19 – DC9, DC
May 21 – Vinyl, Atlanta
May 22 – Welcome To Rockville, Daytona Beach