Nell Mescal

After dropping her new single Graduating, announcing a tour, and sharing the stage with Phoebe Bridgers, it’s safe to say Nell Mescal’s life as of late has been a whirlwind.

In every generation, there is a songwriter that easily captures the attention of listeners through their empathic lyrics and universal themes. For some, it’s Joni Mitchell. For others, it’s Kate Bush or Taylor Swift. For Gen-Z, it’s Nell Mescal.

The 19-year-old Maynooth native is more than just a “one to watch” or a talent on the rise — she’s someone that understands the power of music and, most importantly, how everyone uses songs to lean on during difficult moments. Putting lyrics penned from Mescal’s own heart and experience is what has helped her capture listeners around the globe.

What makes Nell Mescal’s songwriting isn’t the hook or overly complicated lyrics. Instead, what makes her songs special is how relatable they are. Mescal’s music doubles as a score for a coming-of-age film; she easily conceptualizes her personal experiences while growing up in a way that is so succinct and specific, they become universal. Her debut single Graduating is a sonic representation of that; a heart-wrenching and haunting song about Nell Mescal’s own experience in school and choosing, above all, her own happiness.

1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes chats with Nell Mescal about her beginnings in music, writing and releasing her new single Graduating, and more.


So… to say the past few weeks have been a whirlwind is an understatement! How has it been for you?

Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind. It’s been so nice to finally release music again and talk to people about it. 


I bet! I discovered Missing You during the pandemic and I know you’ve been writing up a storm throughout the 2 years. How has that growth been? 

At the time Missing You is what I thought to be a personal song. It still is to an extent but it’s more of a blanket statement of what I was going through then. It was as honest as I could be. The songs I love most are the ones that are so honest that when you’re listening to them you think, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I am listening to this,” because you place yourself in those songs. Looking back, when I wrote Missing You, I feel so young when I think about it. It’s only been a few years but I’m already able to process my feelings a bit more and more articulately.


Are you ever hesitant about being too vulnerable in songs? I am not a songwriter but I know when I write anything that’s remotely personal and people are going to read it, I have a bit of a meltdown before!

Definitely. It’s always scary and it’s always the last-minute, night-before-it-comes-out feeling. For Graduating I thought, “Oh no, I should not have made this a single.” You have all these thoughts going through your head thinking you’ve just released the worst song ever. Then, someone sent me this huge paragraph about how they had just skipped their graduation because they had bullying going on. They were at a loss of words on how to deal with it and the song helped. Immediately that makes you feel so good about what you’re writing and talking about because it is one of those songs that if I had heard around the time where I was going through something similar, it would’ve made me feel a bit better. Honesty comes at a price but it also feels like a gift. I’m always going to go through with that fear.


Graduating is such a gorgeous song but it’s also incredibly haunting. I know you released Missing You during the pandemic, but what was it about the song Graduating that made you want to make it the start of this new era for you?

I think what made me want to start with this one is because I moved over to London and started writing in different ways than I was used to writing. That changed the course of how I’ve written and it’s just been so fun. It’s been a great year of a lot of groundwork and a lot of writing. But, then when I wrote Graduating, it really came from a place of this is just me — it’s just me and my piano. I wrote it on my bed with no expectations. I felt I needed that song more than I’d ever needed a song in that year. So, to me, it just felt so “now.” I immediately sent it to a few people and it was a no-brainer. We found the artwork and clips of me graduating quickly and it all just came together so easily. It is the one that feels right and that’s why I feel like I just wanted to start off with something that was so, so “me.”


Choosing to leave school early was such a bold, brave choice given that so many of us are always trying to adhere to society’s standards of what we should be doing at each stage of life, graduating from school at a certain time being one of them. What was it like to come to that decision?

It was such a long time coming. If you had asked me years ago, I would have always just said that I love music and it’s what makes me feel like me, but I didn’t know it was a real thing you could do and earn money from. School was just something I was good at so you just continue on with it to stick with the herd. When I moved over to London in the summer of last year, I knew I wasn’t gonna come back to school, but I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. I kept thinking “I’ll go back and see how it goes” but I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore. Instead, I felt like I started something in London and I needed to stay on it. It was a difficult decision because I didn’t know anyone that made that choice, so I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice. Weirdly enough, it was the quickest decision I’ve ever made but also the longest. 


You very much come from a creative family with your brother being an actor, but I love that your parents actually encouraged you to pursue your passion rather than get bogged down by what was happening in school. What has it meant to have their support?

When you tell your parents that it’s obviously scary and there’s a lot of silence, but I had plans in place so quickly! They weren’t surprised because they’ve been with me every step of the way. I was so overwhelmed with how much they believed in me because it can be so difficult to come to that decision. To already have two people — my parents — on my team that are saying “Yeah, we’ve got you. Whatever happens, happens,” is amazing. I know everyone says their parents are the best but mine really are! 



The lyric “I don’t love you anymore, you don’t have this hold on me like you used to” is so powerful and cathartic. Was writing this song therapeutic for you?

Yeah, I wouldn’t have released a song if I didn’t have some kind of distance from it. What usually happens to me when I’m writing is that if I’m going through something at that moment I’ll write like 15 horrible songs that are so bad, they’ll make your ears bleed. It’s only when I come out of that headspace that I can take them apart and find the bits that I like, like the melody from a certain one or lyrics from another. I do go through those intense periods of times where I write tons and then don’t write at all. I have nowhere to put this stuff because I use it as my therapy which can be difficult. I will eventually write a song that makes me feel like I don’t have to think about it anymore. That is what happened with Graduating. For so long I knew I needed to write a song about it and I didn’t know when it was going to come. 


Was Graduating a mix of songs that you put together? 

Graduating came fully by itself, but I don’t think I could’ve written it without writing all of the terrible songs beforehand. I don’t even mention graduating in the songs before, and that’s what made me realize that it had to be so specific and real to my experience. I’ve written a lot about the topic but I was trying to be too vague. When I was writing it I was getting so tired because I was sitting there for like 40 minutes without writing anything. Then, I thought of the line about putting a target on my back and not running because I’m not fast and it just made sense to go into the song. I didn’t want to go back and rework things to make them sound more intelligent, I just left it as it was and the result is Graduating


I love the music video as well. Was it odd to visually see the juxtaposition of you wearing regular clothes and seeing actors dressed up in grad gowns? 

Yeah, it was so interesting to be a part of. They made me a graduation robe which was so strange for me! Everyone was so nice, though. I was up for 24 hours and the day just didn’t feel real. I always knew I was going to make a music video, but it felt like I was actually graduating. That’s why that last line is so important — “I don’t love you anymore” — because it really did feel like I was taking myself out of an equation that I didn’t want to be in but still getting that gratification of it. I didn’t graduate but look at all of these people around me doing something that means so much to me. 


I loved the little laugh you did at the end, it was so sweet.

[Laughs] Thank you! I don’t usually have videos of myself and it’s been a weird year of having my photo taken and such and it’s something I’m getting used to. I was giggling on set because we had to speed up the song and I felt so cringe! 



The result is amazing! It’s like you smiling at your past self, it’s sweet. Recently you’ve been working with Steph Marziano who produced Graduating. I read that you both chopped up old recordings of our friends and families and put them all over the song and I love that. What was the creative process like between you both?

When I was writing, I was trying to get into learning how to produce too. I made this lofi demo with vocals all laid out. I have all of these voice recordings and videos of my friends singing happy birthday and such, so I cut them all up and put them in. I didn’t want it to be too obvious so that people could pick themselves out. I showed that to Steph and she loved it. I asked her if she had any voice recordings that she wanted to put in to give kind of her flair because it’s my song but it’s also a song that now belongs to her. She put in a voice recording her grandmother. It’s this stunning laugh that feels so right — it was such a nice touch. Working with Steph is a dream.


As a songwriter, you’re obviously inspired by your own experiences but I’d love to know what are some recent books, films, or music you’ve loved lately?

Oh wow, what have I been listening to? Lots of folk music, I’ve gone back to those first country albums I would have ever listened to. With books, I’m trying to get back into reading! But I watched The Worst Person in the World and it shook me to my core.


Oh my god, same! I was having a midlife crisis in the theatre.

It was funny because I was telling people to watch it and it’s like they didn’t understand how good it is! I saw that movie five times in the cinema. Someone asked me why I liked it so much and I just said “You don’t know how it feels to be 30!” I’m 19! [Laughs] It’s just such an amazing film. You know when you see art and you’re so in awe? That movie made me want to be better. It makes me want to write amazing music. 


Lastly, if you could manifest something for yourself this year, what would it be?

Oh, big question. I would love to do an opening tour of someone that I really, really love. I think that would be so fun. Honestly, I’m just excited to record more music and see what happens from this song. But definitely, it’d be fun to start touring a little bit. I feel like that’s something that I’m just excited and ready to do.

Graduating is out now. Check out Nell Mescal on tour here.


Interview Kelsey Barnes

Photographer Jemima Marriott

HMU Charlotte Kraftman

All clothes are Nellʼs own except coat by Jennafer Grace


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