Tommy Lefroy: “Be as messy as you need to be”

Bonded by their love of literature and the beauty found in well-crafted lyricism and narrative, Tommy Lefroy are coming into their own with their second EP, ‘Rivals’.

Words: Neive McCarthy.

For the Pride & Prejudice fans amongst us, the name Thomas Lefroy might ring some bells. The man responsible for Jane Austen’s own heartbreak, he is thought by many to have inspired Mr Darcy himself. Fast forward a couple of centuries, and enter Tessa Mouzourakis and Wynter Bethel. Battling their own experiences of men acting out of order and navigating their early twenties, they looked no further than the man himself when it came to deciding on a band name. And so became Tommy Lefroy. 

Dropping their debut EP, ‘Flight Risk’, back in 2021, Tessa and Wynter meticulously weaved a world of magical, empowered examinations of the self and the world around them. They dove headfirst into what it meant to be a bit flighty sometimes, to be lost in their writing and on the cusp of seismic changes in their own lives. Two years later, those changes have played out, and Tessa and Wynter have emerged anew – bolder, inspired, unafraid. 

“We joke that ‘Flight Risk’ was the flight, and ‘Rivals’ is the fight,” Tessa laughs over Zoom from Montreal, where the two will support Samia on tour later that evening. “When we were working on ‘Flight Risk’, we wrote and produced most of it apart. I was in London, and Wynter was in LA. With ‘Rivals’, we had the chance to really make this music together. Having performed live and understood how this music might translate into a live setting, it feels a bit more like stepping into ourselves. There’s more assurance and power.”

Wynter adds: “Our experience with ‘Flight Risk’ was empowering not just creatively but also personally. The places we were at with ‘Flight Risk’, we were in our early 20s, getting ghosted all the time. Now, we’ve really come into our own so much, in part because of this project. We’re viewing everything from a more empowered place, including our personal relationships and things like that. It’s definitely stepping into the next level of that, but still needing to unpack and heal some past things.”

‘Rivals’ feels like the Tommy Lefroy we were introduced to on their first tracks, but with more layers peeled back. They’re more unapologetic than ever, and it was apparent from the very first snippet of the EP, ‘Dog Eat Dog’. A scathing introduction, it dissected the inescapable recurrence of pitting women against one another and acts as a call to arms for women confronting that and embracing one another. Setting the tone for the EP, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ seemed to position Tommy Lefroy at their most powerful yet. 

“We are so inspired by so many of our friends who are making awesome music and visuals and art,” Wynter explains. “‘Dog Eat Dog’ came from a conversation about how crazy it is that there’s still this whisper that there are only so many spots at the top, and if one woman is on the radio, then another can’t be.”

“The ways that we’ve grown up watching women be presented in society is so toxic”

Wynter Bethel

With a circle of fellow female musicians surrounding them, the duo have a fountain of awe-inspiring women to look to. “It’s so inspiring, even being on this tour with Samia,” muses Tessa. “She’s an incredible performer and incredible writer, and she’s just so authentically herself. She’s so honest in how she tells her stories, and that’s really inspiring, especially for me. I feel like sometimes it’s hard for me to get to the meat of it and open up fully. I’m excited for us to write more music, and I hope to channel a bit of that confidence and unapologetic telling of your story.” 

Telling their version of events has been a crucial foundation for Tommy Lefroy to build upon, something born from that bookish affinity that began their journey. They continually return to the myths and stories that preceded them, and re-engage with those age-old conversations in an absolutely vital way. Whilst their initial prompt to consider creating a band was a boygenius show, it isn’t just their musical habits that play a part.

“As much as many of our influences are sad girl music, and that’s how we relate and how we wanted to write, having those references makes it about more than just us and extends it beyond our stories. It makes it feel less silly, almost – it’s about more than us; it’s a bigger conversation,” reflects Wynter. 

“We’re engaging in those traditions as well. In calling ourselves Tommy Lefroy, it’s as much a nod to being the heartbreaker instead of the heartbroken, but it’s also about being a writer and having our own non de plume, like a Bronte, like a George Eliot,” continues Tessa It’s that sort of reference of trying on being the writer, and it being about the writing and what we have to say.” 

Their harmonies are always cosmic, and the production, especially on this EP, is developed incredibly. ‘Slick’ plays with shuddering beats and layers of texture, while ‘Worst Case Kid’ is pulsing and bristling, a far more ambitious track for the pair. Yet, as they emphasise, it is their lyricism that makes Tommy Lefroy who they are. Here, more than ever, they embrace honesty with open arms. They’re existential, critical and hurt. They’re imperfect, and that’s fine – they’re ready to rise above it all. 

‘The Mess’ is a poignant example. They’ve often spoken of their engagement with the ‘sad girl’ trope, but in the last couple of years, there’s been more and more talk of what it means to be a messy girl. Think Fleabag, or the women of Ottessa Moshfegh and Eliza Clark, or the rise of female artists telling their stories and acknowledging all the ways in which they are flawed and being okay with that. “I thought being a woman was cleaning up the mess / but I am, but I am the mess,” sing Tessa and Wynter. Growing up being instructed that there’s a certain way to be a woman, which erases all complexities, ‘The Mess’ acts as a rejection of that idea completely. 

“The ‘messy girl’ trope is something we were talking about super early in our relationship,” Wynter recalls. “‘Trashfire’ had this idea of not having it all together and looking around at everyone else and wondering if they feel like they have it all together. Very early on, I remember being a kid and having a moment of watching other women and the ways they operated in the world and how they needed to button it up and present themselves in a way, and I just didn’t want to do that. It’s much more interesting to not do that. Feeling the need to hide yourself, or pretend you’re okay when you’re not, is something that’s not healthy. The ways that we’ve grown up watching women be presented in society is so toxic, and I think that’s changing. ‘The Mess’ came from being raised by women who had to hold it together for everyone else. Watching that as a child and being like, ‘well, if that’s my fate, what about me? What if I can’t?'”

Tessa chips in: “It’s also a commentary on just how incredibly exhausting it is to try and meet that societal demand of always having it together and how it wears you down. We want to create a space where you can just be open, and be yourself, and be as messy as you need to be.”  

The world they have created for their listeners is exactly that – numerous young women who feel exactly the same seem to gravitate towards Tommy Lefroy. Writing is something we look for company and solidarity in, whether it’s the books we consume or the lyrics that flood our ears each morning. Tessa and Wynter continuously offer that acknowledgement that they’re with you through all of it. 

“That’s the crux of it,” Tessa expresses. “We want it to feel like a community. The biggest thing for me is feeling understood and having that shared experience of having been through this and understanding where you’re coming from. Mental health can feel very alienating, and you can feel very alone. In the music, I want to offer a hand in the dark, this understanding, because you’re not alone in it.” 

On ‘Flight Risk’, they were learning to leap but doing so hesitantly. ‘Rivals’ is a deep inhale, a bid goodbye to that hesitancy. It’s navigating mental health, it’s celebrating their love for each other, it’s coming of age all over again and working their way through this new chapter step by step. It’s taking a step and observing how the world around you has changed and how this is how it is now. “It’s a reminder,” Tessa decides. “That phrase of ‘stepping into your own’. For me, it’s been one step in front of the other; it’s a constant journey of finding my step and finding my footing, taking a deep breath and doing it again. With each project and every song that we write, I’m getting closer and closer to that feeling of being more sure of myself. I hope that the next project is another step in that direction of feeling empowered, and honest and unafraid of telling it how it is.”

Wynter concludes: “Being able to take those risks and having them be received positively has made a world of difference in our perception of what’s possible for this project. Now, I think we’re really ready to just run with it.” ■

Taken from the April 2023 edition of Dork.