For Liverpool grunge-rock four-piece The Mysterines, the past 18 months have been a wild ride. Since they last caught up with NME just before the pandemic hit, they have dedicated their days during the country’s multiple lockdowns to finalising and recording their debut album ‘Reeling’, due March 11 on Fiction Records [The Big Moon, The Maccabees]. If putting together their first record wasn’t enough, they also managed to find time to refresh their line-up (with the additions of Callum Thompson on guitar and drummer Paul Crilly) and reimagine their sound, by stepping away from their indie-grunge roots towards a more mature rock outlook.
Though with so much time to focus on the band’s next moves, it wasn’t all fun and games. Over the course of a year, they made three week-long visits to producer Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice) at London’s Assault & Battery studios to put together the album. “You grow up thinking that you’ve got your whole life to write your first album and that it’ll be this luxurious experience. But it wasn’t for us,” drummer Paul Crilly says over Zoom.
“It was intense,” says vocalist and guitarist Lia Metcalfe, laughing. With studio time booked between lockdowns, the process spanned nearly 12 months, leaving the group with a year of thinking about nothing else but the album. With just three weeks to bring it to life, the pressure mounted up, and cabin fever soon set in. “You couldn’t go out and forget about it, or spend time with other people. It was such a relief to pass it over once we’d done our part,” says Crilly, with that sense of relief still reeling in his voice six months later.
“A lot of people talk about The Beach Boys, and how it affected Brian Wilson,” Metcalfe says of Wilson’s experiences with mental illness and the nervous breakdown that led him to stop touring for over a decade. “If we feel this unhinged from [recording], then I couldn’t imagine how he felt. It made me reflect on how difficult it can get when you care about something so much that you put everything of your being into it. Moments like that can break you as a human being.”
Having experienced so many lows through the recording process due to the sheer amount of effort they put into the album, the group collectively looked to find positives within the experience. As Crilly explains: “When I listened to the test pressing for the first time, I could feel all of those moments in the studio again.” The tension in the record is almost palpable, and adds a clear maturity that wouldn’t have been possible without all of this emotion.
The fuzzy ‘Hung Up’ chugs along with its vengeful licks, while eerie slow-builder ‘Under Your Skin’ crawls away from its hard-hitting predecessors to put all the focus to Metcalfe’s powerful, sultry vocals. Her dark wit then comes to play in swinging country hit ‘Old Friends, Die Hard’, with her taunts of “Everybody thinks I should say sorry/Others think I’m the life of the party/I don’t know, I think I’m just horny/Frankie, come back I’ll show you I’m lovely”. The provocative writing is what stands out here, with her influences stemming from the wild eccentricity of Captain Beefheart to Dua Lipa’s pop stardom. When shared with the grunge-rock backing that plays homage to the greats that came before them – namely Nirvana’s scathing rock attacks and The Stooges’ sensual, abrasive arrangements – it’s a mix that can’t be beaten.
All this works thanks to the decision to record ‘Reeling’ live. “It would’ve been easy to go into an expensive studio to build all kinds of crazy synths and guitar sounds, but when you come out of that studio, you don’t sound like The Mysterines anymore,” Crilly says, emphasising the encouragement Marks gave the group to create exactly what they wanted.
The relationship built over the weeks spent together turned into a real friendship. “There was no ego at all,” he adds, explaining that Marks’s expertise came into play when she encouraged the quartet to balance acoustic numbers against the full band tracks. He continues: “[Catherine] was exactly who we needed. She let us play out all of our ideas, and only intervened when she felt like she needed to. By the end [of the process], she trusted us – and we trusted her too.”
“Catherine put in as much emotion as we did,” says Metcalfe. “There are parts of the album that were hard to deliver and perform, but it was just as hard for her to hear and record them. It made for these emotionally intense moments that aren’t something I could ever recreate live again.”
Being bold and giving it their all isn’t something new for The Mysterines, though. They refused to include their older tracks on the album – such their last pre-Covid single, ‘Love’s Not Enough’ (despite its two million Spotify streams) – and picked the heavy-handed ‘In My Head’ as the record’s lead single, even though it was first demoed just a week before they finished the album. The trust they have in each other’s opinions and instincts is unfounded.
With ‘Reeling’ finished and ready for release in March next year, focus has turned to their upcoming tour as they now “can’t change anything” about the album, but hitting the road does mean that they’ll need to revisit their back catalogue. As The Mysterines haven’t been able to tour since 2019 due to Covid restrictions, fans are still waiting to hear their older material live – though they aren’t too upset over having to relive their previous indie-grunge sound and keeping the whole new record to themselves for a bit longer. “It’s like your mother putting food in the fridge and not letting you eat it. The older songs are slightly tedious to play but I’m never going to complain about it,” Metcalfe quips.
The band’s mantra has always been around making music that they’re proud of first and foremost. “Being proud of something that you’ve created is the biggest reward you’ll ever receive as a musician,” Metcalfe concludes. “I never thought I’d be able to get up to that point until now, and that feeling tops anything else.”
The Mysterines’ debut album ‘Reeling’ will be released in March 2022