Nell Mescal: ‘I’m really proud of Paul, but I’m in my own lane’
The reviews are in. And even those closest to the leading man are disturbed by the “raw animal power” displayed by an actor who is, to quote the Standard’s Nick Curtis, “horribly good”.
“I have seen A Streetcar Named Desire,” confirms Nell Mescal, the 19-year-old musician sister of Paul Mescal. “Three times!” she adds, laughing. “Paul’s like, ‘come see it again!’ I’m like, ‘OK!’ — and I’m going again in a few weeks. The whole cast and director are amazing, and the reviews came out and they are, thankfully, right!”
Haringey-based Mescal — who has just released her second single, Homesick — knows a bit about performing. She’s not yet quite on the scale of her eldest brother, who has had a shooting-star career since his breakout role in the BBC’s Normal People, but the teenage singer-songwriter is on her own fast-paced rise through music. (There’s also a middle Mescal, brother Donnacha, who is working in New York for a year).
Having dropped out of school in the family’s hometown of Maynooth, County Kildare, in October 2021, Nell Mescal has only lived in London for 15 months. But already she has a management deal with American firm Q Prime (which looks after Metallica, Muse and Foals) and has signed to discerning Manchester indie label LAB Records.
Mescal knows her family has her back. When she made her professional debut, at Shoreditch House in 2021, they were out in force. “That was very nerve-racking,” admits the singer. “That was the most stressed I’ve ever been in my entire life, for anything. My brothers were so stressed, too. By the start of the first song, they were both sobbing. It was a very emotional experience. Afterwards, I was like: ‘Never ask me to do that again, Phoebe, because I can’t take it.’”
“Phoebe” is Phoebe Bridgers. The American singer had asked the younger Mescal to support her that evening. “I was quite nervous, wondering if I was just doing it because I was Paul’s sister. But I’m quite open about that with people. I said to her: ‘Look, if you don’t like the music, don’t have me play, I don’t mind.’ And she was like: ‘No, I really like it.’ That was a really affirming moment. I still feel a bit emotional about it because it was such a great day for me.”
Bridgers was also on hand to lend advice. “Having someone like Phoebe around has been incredible. I’m a huge fan of hers, embarrassingly so. So to have someone that I look up to so much, just being someone to touch base with about certain things, is great. We’d send each other bits of songs and ask: ‘Is this a bridge? Or is it a chorus?’ Although whenever Phoebe sent me anything, I’m like: ‘Anything you do is OK. It’s great. It’s amazing.’”
With the Phoebe/Paul romance the subject of feverish fan speculation, Mescal is understandably loath to be drawn further on her current professional relationship with Bridgers.
Mescal been writing and playing piano since she was “about 12 or 13”, then, aged 14, an operation focused her thoughts. “I knew I wanted to sing and do something in that world. But I didn’t think it was a real job,” she says. “I have a weird type of scoliosis that meant I had huge, life-changing back surgery. That had me out for a few months. So I began throwing everything into my phone and my piano. That’s when it all clicked for me that [being a musician] could be real.”
Little more than two years later, Mescal released her debut single, Missing You. Last summer came Graduating, a gorgeous bedroom-pop moment reflecting on her forgoing graduating secondary school in favour of pursuing her music.
And now comes Homesick, written this time last year in Los Angeles. “I didn’t know what to make of it, because it was the most upbeat song I’ve ever written,” she acknowledges. “Then I was listening back to it and I was like, there’s no happy lyric in any of this song. It’s just disguised with an upbeat background.”
She shares that she’s moved on from the emotion that powered the song. “When I was writing it, I definitely missed my family and friends. But now I’ve settled into London and I’ve made friends and have a little community around me now. So it’s definitely a much better time for me at the moment than it was when I was writing that song.”
And, of course, if she’s ever struggling with the life of an artist, or needing advice about dealing with fame, big brother is just round the corner. “I’m really proud of Paul,” she says. “And he knows that I’m in my own lane, doing something different. That’s what’s really important to me.”
Homesick (LAB Records) is out now. Nell Mescal appears at The Great Escape in Brighton in May