Life’s A Bitch: Clash Meets The Mysterines

Lia Metcalfe and Paul Crilly in conversation...

Tongue-in-cheek with Liverpudlian lilt, The Mysterines are the new alt-rock band on the block. But there's a twist: they actually don’t care what you think. Or is that just what they want you to believe?

With a moody, grunge-rock sound and an aesthetic to match, debut album 'Reeling' is an impressive first peep into the thunderous world of The Mysterines. Tracks such as 'Life's A Bitch' and 'In My Head' stand front and centre as live show firecrackers, balanced by toned-down moments like ballad 'Still Call You Home' and the principally indie 'On The Run.' The Mysterines are ready to bare it all on the stage as they embark on a back-to-back UK and US headline tour.

Clash chatted to The Mysterines' Scouse starlet Lia Metcalfe and charming drummer Paul Crilly about their upcoming debut, tambourines, bruised knees and halitosis. The pair have a rapport consisting of jovial bickering, bantering, and speaking over one another, possessing a kinship that could easily mistake them for siblings.

Our conversation flowed like the River Mersey, aided by The Mysterines' effortlessly cool, calm, and collected nature. "We've not thought about it much" became an accidental refrain as the band explained how they make music with their hearts, rather than their heads – an instinct that has paid off in their arresting debut.

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So, 'Reeling' is out this week! How are you feeling?

Lia: Great. Excited, to be honest. I didn't last week – when people were asking us last week. Me and Paul were both like "uhhh, we don't really know" but I feel pretty excited now.

Paul: Now we've started the dates I feel a bit better about it. When you're just at home you're stewing over everything. It's a bit more scary. When you're doing something you don't think about it as much. I am still slightly shitting myself I'll be honest.

Lia: I think it'll be good… I hope. Me and Paul have this theory that because we're going to be in London when it's released at midnight, and when it gets to midnight everyone will be like, "Oh, the album's out!" and we'll check on Spotify and it just won't be out and it'll cause this big commotion.

Paul: Everyone was like, "oh, fuck that" but I think it's funny. I kind of want it to happen, I think it'll be awesome.

Lia: I genuinely think that’ll happen. It would be quite funny if it did happen.

Fantasies aside, does it feel more real now we're in single digits?

Paul: Yes, especially because we've been sitting on it for so long. We finished it pretty much like a year ago to the day that it's being released. So we've had some of the songs getting on for two years now.

Lia: That's weird actually. It freaks me out when I think about it. It's like when you think about space – space is constantly expanding.

Paul: Where does it end?

Lia: It's ending this week!

Paul: The whole band is ending this week?!

Not yet, please! Was it very intense, recording your debut in such a short amount of time?

Lia: Yeah. Three weeks over, like, two years, which is weird.

Paul: It wasn't that long, you know, you always say that.

Lia: Well it was from one year to another year – that's two years.

Paul: Ok, I take it back.

Was it beneficial or stressful to have this passion project to focus on whilst everything was locking down?

Lia: I think, to be honest because we were recording the album live I didn't really notice lockdown as much in a weird way. I feel a lot of people really struggled with lockdown and felt pretty isolated and stuff and suffered quite bad with their mental health. I probably would have if I didn't have something to do in that period of time. I mean, everyone felt like shit. I did have periods of that, but because we were preoccupied and I was writing and we had to go to London I didn't really feel that isolated because we were practising so much. I guess thanks to the record isolation didn't really exist in my head.

Why was it important to you to record the songs live?

Lia: I think it was something we all wanted to do and a lot of our influences have records that are recorded live. It's something the producer is pretty big on as well. Everyone just sort of agreed, so that's what we did.

Which influences are those?

Lia: Tom Waits… Black Rebel!

Paul: There was loads. Black Rebel.

Lia: Did we say that at the same time then?

Paul: We did, yeah. Great minds, Lia.

Lia: PJ Harvey, the Pixies, Patti Smith, Nick Cave

Paul: Arcade Fire. Have you said Desert Sessions?

Lia: I mean, I'm not saying all these people have recorded live, but I think a lot of them are, like Tom Waits. He used to record onto tape and have a full orchestra in the room. So if one person fucked up they'd have to just scrap the whole thing. He did a lot of records like that. I like the madness. You can hear it in the music of a lot of these people.

Paul: There's like an imperfection to it that makes the music like jewellery. It's not perfect – the way that the albums are produced – especially with a debut album. There's a beauty to that I think. There's so many bands that go in and try to make everything perfect. Not that we've gone in half-arsed or anything like that.

Lia: If you look at some of the most iconic debut albums like The Strokes, The [Arctic Monkeys], I mean, the recordings of them aren't great but they sound like…

Paul: They capture who they were at that particular time. 

So you get more of the heart of it, rather than the meticulously perfect sound. Did it make recording nerve-wracking?

Lia: We practised quite a lot before. And I guess because none of us has recorded a debut album before we had nothing else to base off. There is no fear involved in something you don't understand. Just the fear of the unknown, which is just the whole experience altogether.

Paul: When we did it, when we started it, I was slightly apprehensive about it because I didn't know whether we'd be like, up for it, it's a bit of a challenge, really. And then once you do it for the first time you get The Take, and you know what you're chasing then. So there were some songs where there were a lot more takes than others. 'Life's A Bitch', for example, we did in three takes, but 'The Bad Thing' went on for like a full day. But you know what you're trying to chase so it's not like you just go "Fuck it, let's just overlook everything." You know what you can kind of get to if you just kind of persevere with it.

Lia: It instils more confidence in you the more takes you do, and the less takes songs require over time. I don't really think about it too much. I didn't even really know what recorded live meant until we did it. I guess I wasn't really that bothered – I thought that's how people recorded records.

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Did you have a different mentality coming into 'Reeling' in comparison to 'Take Control'?

Lia: My mentality was definitely different and my influences had changed. My perception of myself as an artist had changed, just because I was like, 16 when I did 'Take Control', so I was just super young and didn't know what I was doing. I can't really remember the recording process of it. Maybe that's a sign that it wasn't necessarily enjoyable. But it must have been different because they sound different and they sound better. Introducing Paul and Callum into the band definitely established a sound because you all had the same influences and it was more creative to bounce off each other and create something that we all enjoyed. And I think discovering Nick Cave helped.

Paul: Yeah, I think because before I was in The Mysterines, I was in an indie-pop kind of band. I grew up wanting to be like… I loved Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age and big drum sounds… anything Dave Grohl played on, basically. I knew that's what I wanted to bring to the table. And then Lia kind of was showing me new stuff that fits around, so it all came together. Convenient.

All these different influences have worked together to create your sound that's been described as 'having the attitudes of Godzilla', 'scuzz rock', 'post-grunge', as well as the generic 'alternative rock'. How do you feel about these descriptors?

Lia: I suppose we don't really care about it too much. You never go into a song and be like, "Oh, I'm going to write a post-grime…" I can't even name six genres of music to be honest. It doesn't really mean anything to us but I don't think it really means anything to anyone. I'll make my own mind up. It's sort of like someone else telling you what colour your hair is when you know, it's not that colour. I find it's easier to reference other artists' sounds than it is to reference genre. Anything can be in any genre dependent on someone else's opinion. You know, I could say that the Foo Fighters are classical music, and no one here can say that I'm wrong because that's just how I interpret music. But whereas if I say I want a song to sound like Tom Waits, it's a bit more condensed and you can navigate yourself a bit better with what you're trying to achieve.

Paul: You also put your influences across in subtle ways. So I don't think people would listen to the album and go "Oh, yeah, Tom Waits", but then you can go "I like the snare sound in that and I want it to sound like that." So it's not like you go "I want it to sound like that song," instead you're taking different sonic devices.

How was the first show of the in-store tour?

Paul: It was good. It was funny because we've been rehearsing the sets and we tried to copy the MTV unplugged thing – so I'm still on the drums and stuff like that in the shop – but there was no chance of there being anything other than guitars. There was no space whatsoever so I just was on the tambourine. George, our bass player, was just standing there. Only like 50 people could fit in so I think it was a good way to start.

Lia: I think the tambourine is staying after that experience. You look good with a tambourine. It sort of makes you look really small when you hold it because it looks so big.

Paul: I was made up with it though, it was only seven quid. We should get people to sign it.

Where did you find a tambourine for seven quid?

Paul: There was a little shop around the corner that was called Hobgoblin. It was good! There was loads of banjos and just one tambourine and I got it.

Lia: They have some glockenspiels as well if you're interested. When it's glockenspiels involved, you wanna travel.

Paul: Travel the world for the glockenspiel?

Lia: Been there, done that.

There's so much talent coming out of Liverpool at the moment, yourselves included. Do you feel Liverpool influenced your music much?

Lia: I think growing up by the water has a lot to do with it. That's my theory. We never really tend to connect with other bands that much. To be honest, I'd probably say Paul and Callum know other bands a bit more than I do. I'm not really in the loop.

Can you expand on growing up by the water? My interest is piqued.

Lia: I think you can hear a band who has grown up by the prom. I don't know why. Like, when you listen to Echo and the Bunnymen and some early Beatles, I think you can sort of hear.

Is it like a certain type of grit or motivation?

Lia: It's quite a dramatic thing. And it's very like theatrical in a sort of way. It creates these narratives and these characters that perform the music rather than the person.

Paul: I think Liverpool usually thinks that we're in our own little world. So people like Echo and the Bunnymen and especially like, early The Coral, they just make whatever they fucking want. They don't actually care about what anyone else down South is doing, they just do what they want.

Lia: They were just so obsessed with their influences at the time. I feel like it's influenced me definitely, living five minutes from the river. Because there's so much that comes from it, creatively. There's a lot of thinking time spent down there.

What got you into music?

Lia: My parents. Family.

Paul: Yeah, my family as well. Well… me mum doesn't have a fucking clue, but me Dad's… Me sisters as well, to be fair. I'm the youngest of… four… I had to think about that. I'm the youngest of four and they're quite a bit older than me. So when I was a kid they'd go to Bandwagon nights in Zanzibar and they saw The Coral before they were big. So I was kind of always around music when I was a kid.

Did you get to tag along to the cool shows?

Paul: I was when I was a little bit older. I went to see a few of their mates' bands and stuff like that. But no one of note.

Lia: Me and Paul were at a gig at the same time before we met each other when was, I think, 12. So he must have been about 13, and Paul had played the gig.

Paul: I would've been a bit older than that. I think I would've been 15, something like that. It was genuinely one of the worst gigs ever. We were first on and the lads that I was in a band with, I was with for like, years, but we'd only just started then. We made Adam be the lead guitarist but that was his first gig and he had a fuckin' shocker. It was awful. It was so bad. Didn't you get up on stage?

Lia: I don't remember watching you I just remember being there. And then we spoke about it that one time. I think it came up on your Facebook as a memory. I was playing guitar there for someone, like my Dad's mate. I didn't know what I was doing, I think I just held the same chord.

Paul: That's all you do now.

Lia: Ha! We both started young. I started playing guitar when I was like, nine. I didn't really get any better.

I very much doubt that. What would you say to your nine-year-old self?

Paul: Get a proper job!

Lia: I don't know. I'd probably just say keep doing what you're doing. I was a pretty creative nine-year-old. I loved Karen O and MGMT so I was a bit all over the shop. So I think I wouldn't restrict nine-year-old Lia. I'd probably give advice to 14-year-old Lia which would be, "Stop being fucking lazy."

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'Life's A Bitch' is a really strong opener and it's gonna sound great in the mosh-pits. Did you have a particular energy in mind for this track?

Lia: It does have that motivation behind it. I guess because it’s such a simple song. It's meant to be quite tongue-in-cheek because they say it's the best thing for an opener. It's definitely one that people would enjoy watching live. And they do. It was influenced by bands that are great live. It's all about that moment.

Paul: I always thought it would be a good opener.

Lia: We should start the set with it every time. That's my outlook, but no one really cares about that.

Paul: When I first heard it, it just kind of made sense to be an opener. I also liked the fact that it wasn't allowed to be a single, because it says "bitch". So the first track on the album people won't have heard before, which is unusual, since bands usually have the first three singles as the first three tracks on the album. I like the fact that people won't have heard it.

Was there a lot of purpose in the chronology of the rest of the album?

Lia: We always knew that 'Life's A Bitch' was always gonna be the opener, and we always knew 'Confession Song' was going to close it. I think it was the in-between we struggled with. But we did it between ourselves. There was many different orders that were marked up. A lot of them, me and Paul were pissed up and doing it.

Paul: To be fair, it didn't change that much from that first time we ordered it. I quite like where it is now.

Lia: All the songs are there. I started off with a really strong opinion about it because I thought of it like a DJ set. When a DJ plays good music it's not actually about the music that they're playing, it's about the order in which they played it. I did have a strong opinion about it but when everyone got involved it was quite exhausting, to be honest. In the end, we accepted it because it sort of does work. As long as 'Confession Song' finished it, for me, I was always pretty happy. It rounds the whole record up like the closing credits of a film. It's everything that I've spoken about within the context of the record but as a confession. I think the sound of it means the second record can lead to something a bit more weird.

'Confession Song's vulnerability is wrapped in its hard sound, which seems to be a key feature of your music and aesthetic, probably best exampled in the music video for 'Dangerous'. How was the process of translating the song's message to visuals?

Lia: It was very cold. But you know, it wasn't as cold as I thought it was going to be. I only realised how cold it was when I got back into the warm. It was sort of supposed to be quite liberating and spiritual – walk barefoot on a beach – but… it wasn't. It was just cold. I was in a lot of pain for a while after. I went on my knees and stuff, and my knees were just cut for weeks. I was like "where are these fucking bruises coming from" and it was because I'd launched myself across a beach in early January. It was in New Brighton where I live, so, right on the front, pretty much. A lot of people were confused when taking their dogs for a walk in the evening.  

I think I tried to perform [the intensity] as much as I could in those conditions. There's a one-tape version of it I think I might release which is probably a bit more emotional because it's not edited, so you can see the moments where I'm like, literally losing my breath because it's so windy. It was an emotional experience too and I feel quite like I reconnected to the song in a way. I remembered what it was about, through the conditions I was in. It's probably one of the most emotional songs to play live. It always has been. I sort of saw it as the gateway song to performing with a vulnerability and not being petrified of what people think about that. People want honesty in performances, and I hope to deliver that live with 'Dangerous'.

What was the inspiration for the track?

Lia: I suppose you could base it off many drunken walk homes after the pub – it sort of looked a bit like that. It's what I visualise when I listen to the song. Originally, I was meant to be walking across the prom, and I thought, why don't I do it across the beach when I've got no shoes on. Like you said, it does manifest that vulnerability. Also psychotic behaviour – like why would anyone do that – is sort of what 'Dangerous' is about, falling into the same cycles of asking why you're doing this to yourself.

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Do you have a favourite song to play live?

Lia: I like playing 'Reeling'. I like playing 'Dangerous'.

Paul: I like playing 'Reeling' as well.

Lia: I think I like 'Under Your Skin'. I've enjoyed trying that recently.

Paul: I like playing the slow ones because I'm lazy. I like playing 'Old Friends' actually.

Lia: I like the humour attached to it, playing that and witnessing people's live reactions.

Your sound really knows how to fill a room. Is it a very different vibe playing the smaller, unplugged shows?

Lia: I think it's worked pretty well. We actually enjoy playing stripped-back more than we like playing them in a loud manner. It's new, and a bit more revised.

Paul: It's a nice change. We've not really thought about it too much, we've just played like we do when we're doing a full show, just with different styles and instrumentation. So I'm on like, hot rods, and then Lia's on the acoustic and stuff like that. We've not overthought it, so we just kind of do what we usually do but just with different instrumentation. It's been a lot of fun.

Lia: We decided to practice that set a bit more than the actual tour set and then realised that we hadn't practised for a bit. You relearn the song in a weird way and appreciate it for a different side of it that you sort of forgot about because you were in the studio. Then you're playing live and you take it back to where it started, and you're like "oh, this is actually quite a good song." Would you ever release an acoustic album?

Lia: All of the songs were written on acoustic. We spoke about live-recording these in-store things and then releasing them. I think people would enjoy that. And again, it gives a different perspective. So, yeah, we’d probably think about that in the future.

Do you have an idea in mind of what you want your music to be for others? Or do you hope the listeners do what they want with it when it's in their hands?

Lia: I think for me as a writer and an artist, the biggest thing an artist can offer is a connection to a song. If we get to achieve that in any sort of form, whether people listen to the record when they're fucked, or when they're really sad, or when they're having a good time, or when they're alone – I think that's sort of the biggest reward for me. There's not much else you can really ask of anyone else other than for them to dedicate their emotions to you. You can't really get any bigger than that. That's sort of what I'd like to create amongst people with records. Also, like what you said, they can do what they want with it. If they also would like to give me money then they can go ahead.

Paul: Going into the recording process, from a drummer's point of view I wanted to play what 14-year-old me would've wanted to hear listening to an album when I was getting into drums. I think you can hear that – there's certain songs at the start of the record where I'm trying to squeeze in so much. And then as the record went on, I started to forget about that. But like Lia said, and like you said, you have to give it away and you'll see, but try not to think about it too much. Otherwise, I'll be conscious of whether some people like it or not. I'm looking forward to see what people think about it anyway.

Lia: If someone who liked the same influences as me thought the album was shit, then I'd probably be a bit more hurt than someone who didn't have the same influences and wasn't really aware of what we were trying to achieve. Anyone who says they don't care what anyone thinks about the record is lying a little bit. I mean, I don't, but it's also a pretty big thing to do to put yourself out there and be really vulnerable. This is all I've ever known and it's my life. So people can have an opinion on it, and I am interested in it, but I'm not going to take that to heart. But I suppose I am interested if people do like it, and it does make me feel happy when people do like it. So I guess I do care!

Is there anything else you'd like the readers of Clash to know?

Paul: Lia's got smelly breath.

Lia: That's an untrue fact!

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'Reeling' is out now.

Words: Gem Stokes
Photo Credit: Steve Gullick

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