Blink and you’ll have missed The Mysterines’ rise from smoking area adulation to the name on the lips of the country’s biggest taste-makers. This is merely the start. Take a deep breath and hang on tight as they wind up to release the full force of their hair-raising repertoire.
Over the last 18 months, you might have noticed posters surfacing around the city’s streets crying out ‘Who are The Mysterines?’ Those early few who knew, knew. But, beyond the striking red and shredded typeface, there was no explanation. Who, what or were THE MYSTERINES? Overheard whispers in the smoking areas of venues gave the odd hushed clue. But, even if you didn’t know, it felt like you should care.
Until now the band have had little internet presence and only a handful of songs to go with their poster campaign. Yet, even with a relatively low profile over the last year, the trio have been able to build a fair amount of excitement, just in time for the release of their statement EP, Take Control.
People love a mystery. Everyone strives to be the first person on the pulse of a new band, to be the first person to bring them up in conversation. However, after supporting Miles Kane on his UK tour and with fans in Steve Lamacq and Huw Stephens, the aforementioned heavyweights have beat many to it. The Mysterines are fast becoming less mysterious to discerning rock fans in Liverpool and further afield. Word is spreading.
So, here I am on a Saturday night at the O2 Academy, preparing myself for my first full experience of their much-touted live show, one that so many have attested to in Liverpool since the arrival of those posters. It’s a sell-out in the main room for tonight’s headliners Red Rum Club, so it’s fair to assume most up-and-coming bands would feel a hint of pressure in the situation. Not quite. Rather than smile and be thankful for the opportunity, the trio offer a direct lesson in the need to turn up for support acts.
No frills, no fuss, no hype. Just grungy guitars, dirty bass riffs, pounding drums and rough vocals that sound like a combination of PJ Harvey, Courtney Love and Dua Lipa. The show pretty much carries on in this vein for the rest of their set, with a distinct absence of unnecessary chatter from the lead singer, or anyone for that matter. The band don’t need it. The crowd don’t need it. The music speaks for itself.
Take the eponymous EP opener. There’s no revving up of the engine or false start. It’s a juggernaut already in monition, like a brick laid on a muscle car accelerator pedal. The soaring vocals that career alongside give off the cool of a Ray-Ban clad James Dean. Hormone is pumped full of wiry attitude, a song that begs to played with the windows fully rolled down with little care for the decibel level. Gasoline and Bet Your Pretty Face are as unsparing as they are anthemic; they could happily draw the curtain on a sunburst backdrop as you speed off in the distance. The EP as a whole sounds like it was recorded with a white-hot intent; it’s clear no single thread of energy was spared in its assembly.
Seeing all of this live forces home the feeling. Their lack of online presence means their whole persona, style and stage presence is a surprise until curtain call. It harks back to the good old days of not knowing what to expect from a show. When you couldn’t pre-watch glimpses of sets on YouTube seemingly recorded by a potato. When setlists were still something to be anticipated. The Mysterines are bringing back that first time excitement of going to gigs.
Behind the posters and lashings of overdrive, The Mysterines are a three-piece band from Wirral. Lia Metcalfe provides their fierce vocals and guitar, George Favager adds gritty bass and Chrissy Moore relentlessly bangs the drums.
Yet, mysterious by name and mysterious by nature. When I meet up with Lia a few days after the show, even though I had seen her on stage a few days prior, I have no idea who I’m looking out for.
I try to make myself look obvious in the bar we are meeting in; laptop and notebook poised, pen in hand, anxious knee tapping. After a number of bodies and faces come through the door, she eventually arrives. It’s clear who she is. Lia oozes a sense of nonchalant coolness, one I’d never be able to achieve in a million years. Much more sedate in nature now, but with a lot more to say than the weekend’s stage presence. She’s only 18 years of age. Suddenly, I feel old.
In between their Red Rum Club gig and pending support slots with Seagirls and The Amazons we sit down to address the posters and finally answer the elusive, A2 sized question: ‘Who are The Mysterines?’ We start at the very beginning, with a good old blast to the past. Well, one not so distant; Lia and George are 18, and Chrissy is only 23, after all.
“My dad was a singer-songwriter in a band,” Lia starts, when asked how she got the impetus to explore the world of music and eventually form her own band. “He taught me my first two chords when I was nine and I just wrote songs off the back of that.” She recalls this while shrugging her shoulders as though learning how to play guitar at nine is commonplace. “I didn’t want to learn guitar. Weirdly, I just wanted to learn tunes, so I sort of skipped learning to play theoretically. It’s only the past few years I’ve been like, ‘Shit, I really need to learn some stuff’.”
Having known Chrissy pretty much since birth (“his parents used to babysit mine!”), Lia had a readymade drummer at her fingertips when needed. George’s acquisition can be as much owed to his aesthetic as his ability with a bass. “When I met him I just thought he looked quite cool,” she confesses, before adding, “I assumed he played an instrument, just from the way he was dressed.” A little further social media detective work and the band’s fixtures were in place: “I stalked his Facebook until I found him and sent a really long message like, ‘I’m not a weirdo, I’m just looking for band members’.” It paid off, and the band have carried on an upward trajectory since, sharing a journey from practices in the front room, a first gig at 14, right up to the release of their debut EP in August and selling out a December headline show at Jimmy’s – almost three months in advance. It’s been a progression they’ve undertaken together, as Lia explains: “It’s the first band I’ve ever been in, so we’ve all grown up together with it.
Despite starting so young, the three of them have grown into the musicians they are now under the watchful eye of James Skelly of The Coral and Skeleton Key Records, who is also credited with shaping the world of The Mysterines. “As we were so young when we first started, Jay said to keep everything condensed, music-wise. I suppose the mystery thing was an unintentional way to protect our personalities because we were so young. But then people caught on and we just blagged that we came up with the idea. We’re sort of mysterious, but not to ourselves.
The question on everyone’s lips then: why the name? Lia starts: “I think we wanted something that was quite 80s, a Lost Boys sort of thing,” she explains. “Jay was saying The Coral got their name from a mouthwash in the 90s called Oracle or something, so we were joking about saying Listerine and then Jay said ‘Mysterine’. We were like, ‘Yeh, let’s just use it!’”
With Take Control now out in the open, the ‘Who Are The Mysterines’ mantra less prevalent than regular mainstream radio plays, it leads to the question of whether the band are now looking to take control of their identity. Will they opt to sculpt more shadows or present an open book to go with their hair-raising rock ’n’ roll? “I think it will be a good idea to keep [the mystery surrounding the band] because we are still so young and have opinions that probably shouldn’t be let out into the world yet,” Lia adds with humour, casting light on the fact that the band are still likely to be asked for ID upon entry to most venues they play. “It’s like a cautious thing. I don’t really like sharing too much as more music gets released either. I think, sometimes, you can attach the artist to the person a little too much. For certain artists that can work, but sometimes you need to take the artist for what they are; music first.
Lia’s maturity is palpable. Mainstream media tends to create a preconception that young people in the music industry aren’t able to handle the pressure. In this instance, writing music and gigging from the age of 14 has sped up the steps towards gaining confidence in ability, especially when it becomes your livelihood. “There’s a lot you can take from it going in so young, but there is also a lot that can fuck you up because you’re so young,” Lia muses. “You don’t really understand how people work yet. When we first started we just got thrown into the deep end. We were just saying yesterday, it’s mad to think that we haven’t been to that many gigs as spectators. Instead we’ve played hundreds.”
Playing such a large number of gigs is no easy feat, especially when you’re trying to juggle school, the added pressure of fronting the band and essentially being the spokesperson for the group. It’s a role that Lia is happy to be taking on, but not without its caveats of expectations for musical progression and development. Lia shrugs off the standardised thought of these expectations. “You get compared to people who have been in the industry for years, like grown women and men. I haven’t even finished puberty yet, you know,” she jokes. And it’s not only confined to the stage and recording studio. While the efforts are paying off, taking the reins of The Mysterines is an all-encompassing endeavour. “It can get stressful because I write everything. I do everything; social media and stuff, too. It’s all from me, really.”
However, Lia is quick to outline that it is far from a self-reflective endeavour. The Mysterines are a band that are top-loaded by the lead singer-songwriter and guitarist, but only with all the other parts pulling in tandem do they become a force to be reckoned with. “When I bring the songs to the boys they turn it around in a different way. It’s like putting bread in the toaster, the toast is the final product,” Lia explains. I like the analogy. Bread is always better after a quick run in with the toaster; gives it an edge. “There is definitely an energy there that needs to be communicated when we play live.”
Beyond strong influences from Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, PJ Harvey and Patti Smith, I’m intrigued to find out where she gets her songwriting inspiration from. If I think back to when I was in my early teens I wouldn’t know where to start with writing my own music, yet Lia has managed to turn those turbulent times into clever lyrics and angsty songs. “I think it’s changed over time,” she muses. “Initially, when I was younger. it was from my perspective on feelings, which it still is to a certain point. Sometimes I’ll write something and I still don’t realise what it’s about until I’ve got over the issue. I’ll look back at the song like, ‘Oh shit, that’s what that was about’. I think now, because I’m a bit older, I like to get points across in songs, especially from a female perspective. But love is probably the main thing, it’s probably the main thing everyone writes about, really.”
Touching on the female perspective she mentions can often be a subject lingered on when speaking to female musicians. But when you’re fronting a heavy rock band in a city that lacks this sort of genre, more so with the recent end of Queen Zee, I want to find out how she feels being in this position as a young woman. Does society load it with a greater responsibility, expectation and rules, and does she even notice the pressure at the age of 18? “I feel like a lot of people get those questions and they are quick to jump to the answer of, ‘Being a girl in the industry is no different to being a boy’, but it really is. There is a major difference,” she says passionately. “The way you’re perceived and treated is sometimes even more positive than boys, but then sometimes it’s really degrading,” she adds, with an expression that lightly leans on the experiences she is mentally recalling. “The lads have gone through it with me as well. Their perspective on feminism has changed over time because they have watched me deal with it. Two years ago, if you had asked them if sexism exists in the music industry they probably wouldn’t be so certain, but now they would say, ‘Yes’. It’s not in the way that girls are better than boys or boys are better than girls. I think it’s more the fact you become a gimmick in some ways. It’s mad, sometimes people shock you and treat you normally, it’s good when that happens because you feel a lot more comfortable.”
The Mysterines are certainly no gimmick. They’re in good company, slowly on their way to sharing a platform with some of the biggest female voices the band take their cues from. The Mysterines are leading a charge. They’re leading it with a power and maturity the music industry needs. They are only just getting started with an exciting future built from the humble beginnings, one where the alluring charm of mystery has paved the way to near ubiquity within the Liverpool scene.
“It’s hard to see far ahead,” Lia says, as we wind down our conversation. “We’re just taking it as it comes and not getting ahead of ourselves because the pressure kicks in then. I’m just letting myself grow into a style as a writer. Hopefully we’ll still be doing this in five years, because if not I’d have to get a job,” she laughs. As far as I can see, the only job now for The Mysterines is to keep the music coming and the posters at eye level. Finishing with a sigh and a smile she ends with a grounding comment, “It’s been a long road and there’s probably more shit to come, but it’s been great. It’s all worth it.”
Take Control is out now via Pretty Face Recordings. The Mysterines play Jimmy’s on 7th December.
Thanks to Vessel Liverpool Studios – and keep your eyes open for behind the scenes content from this photoshoot on Bido channels.