Nell Mescal knows how to deliver a ‘Punchline’

This year, everything seems to be coming up NELL MESCAL. With her latest 5-star new single ‘Punchline’, and a UK and Ireland tour to follow, the second half of 2023 looks massive. Read our latest Hype playlist cover feature now.

Words: Abigail Firth.
Photos: David Reiss.

Nell Mescal is having a great year. Undeniably one of the buzziest artists on the planet right now, she’s returning with her new single ‘Punchline’ and the announcement of her first full UK and Ireland tour.

It arrives in the middle of a huge summer for her, which has so far included support slots at stadium-sized venues with P!NK, Florence + the Machine, and Dermot Kennedy, and with a full festival season still to come.

When we catch up, it’s the morning after the last of her trio of Irish shows with Florence, which saw Nell and fellow Irish icon and supporting artist CMAT join Florence on stage for a rendition of her track ‘Mermaids’.

“It’s definitely a wild experience,” says Nell. “I had to tell the band not to get too used to stadiums for the shows. Anytime I get to play a show, no matter how big or how small it is, it’s just so fun. Getting to be in a room with people that want to hear the music is really untouchable.”

Born and raised in Maynooth, Ireland, Nell moved to London just before her 18th birthday to start her music career. Now 20 and four singles in, she’s already making her mark. Switching it up with every release, her tracks so far have featured emotional piano balladry (‘Graduating’), indie pop bops (‘Homesick’), and sprawling breakup hits (‘In My Head’), ‘Punchline’ moves again in another direction, merging the theatrically of her ‘In My Head’ and the deceptive cheeriness of ‘Homesick’.

We caught up with Nell before her busy festival season takes hold to get the lowdown on ‘Punchline’ and what’s coming up in the second half of 2023.

Last time we spoke, you were just starting to play live shows. How are you feeling about touring now?
It’s been so fun. I was talking with my band the other day when we were playing a show for Dermot Kennedy, and we had only met that week a year ago. So it’s been a crazy, crazy year, and I’m so lucky that I get to play shows like that and that I get asked to do them. It’s just so surreal.

You’ve been playing the new single live too. What can you tell us about it?
‘Punchline’ is a song about when a friendship ends too soon, and you have to act like you’re fine with it in order to win the friendship breakup. It’s a song about when friends who know you so well and know how you’ve been hurt before can kind of use that to their advantage when they want to hurt you and kind of trying to spin it back on them, but it doesn’t really work that way. It’s very hard to pretend that you don’t care when you do. I wrote it in my bedroom last year when I was feeling those emotions.

“It’s very hard to pretend that you don’t care when you do”

Nell Mescal

Friendship breakups are definitely an underrated pain.
They’re so difficult. They can take a toll on your whole body when it happens because these are people that are supposed to be there when everything else falls away. I’m very lucky I had something like music to throw myself into after lots of crying and hugging my parents. Going into details is so funny because when I write songs, that just is everything. I feel bad for the people when I write them because I’m like, they definitely know that this must be about us because every detail is there, but it’s just hidden in different ways. Friendship breakups are just a part of life, and they can be so crucial and so important for growth. So I’m very grateful that I’m at a point now where I’m ready to release songs instead of wallowing and still writing about the same experiences.

Do you have any favourite friendship breakup songs?
See, when I go through something, I’ll listen to the saddest song you can imagine. And then I’m like, yeah, amazing, I’ve done it; this is the song that was written for this exact situation. I like to listen to a song by The Gloaming which is called ‘Fáinleog’; I have a tattoo of it, and it’s this really beautiful folk Irish Trad song. Every time I listen to it, I’m like [blubbering] because it’s just so good. I feel like that’s the song I use to get through the most difficult things in life.

Is the single part of a bigger project?
I’m still releasing singles at the moment. I’ve been having a really fun time trying to figure out my sound and figuring out what the next step is, and getting to play these shows has been really cool. Getting to play the songs before they’re out is such a luxury and such a cool experience because you kind of engage what people are liking, but also the songs that I really love that go down well, I’m like, yes! But there’ll probably be something a bit bigger next year.

“Friendship breakups are just a part of life; they can be so important for growth”

Nell Mescal

It does feel like you’ve done something different every time.
I think that’s just how my writing has been. I feel like I haven’t been really too strict on making it all the same structure. It’s been really nice that I’ve been allowed to do that and been supported doing that because I know it’s not always like that. A lot of the time, it’s like, “Write a hit, write a pop song!” and I’m like, I want to write about a friendship that didn’t work out, and I need 10 days to process it! There’s still more music to come this year that I really, really love.

And you’ve just announced a tour; tell us about that.
I can tell you that it’s gonna be really, really fun. We’re doing south to north of the UK; it’s my first time doing a headline UK tour, so I’m very nervous. But I think if I don’t do it now, I’ll be so nervous and I won’t want to do it for a very long time. It’s just a strange thing, doing a headline tour in a country that you’re not from and trying to get people to care about it. I’ve done two headline Irish tours now, and every time I’m really stressed, but every time it’s like people coming out to support an Irish artist, which is so lovely. So my fingers are crossed that it’s gonna be a good tour and people get tickets, but if not, it’s just gonna be really fun because I get to do it with my band and play these songs, and we’ve been having such a good time playing them. I’m really excited; I think it’s gonna be really cool. ■

Nell Mescal’s single ‘Punchline’ is out now. Follow Dork’s Hype Spotify playlist here.

Nell Mescal’s new UK & Ireland tour dates read:

12 Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s
14 Leeds, Live at Leeds in the City
15 Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
16 Manchester, Deaf Institute
17 Nottingham, Bodega
19 Liverpool, Leaf
24 Brighton, Komedia Studio
25 London, The Lower Third
26 Bristol, Rough Trade

11 Belfast, Voodoo
13 Dublin, Whelan’s
14 Galway, Roisin Dubh
15 Cork, Cyprus Avenue

Tickets are on sale now.