The Mysterines Embrace the Next Day

Lia Metcalfe and Paul Crilly talk about how their Liverpool band found inspiration in American music scenes, working with John Congleton, tricking their bandmates, and their sophomore album, Afraid of Tomorrows.

Music Features The Mysterines
The Mysterines Embrace the Next Day

While I was still in college, I would hop on the college radio station airwaves every week with my newest finds. One band that would constantly find their way onto my playlist was Liverpool’s most ferocious young act, the Mysterines, and, thanks to Spotify autoplay, I stumbled across their angsty Love’s Not Enough EP while listening to Wolf Alice (a similarly searing English rock act). Since then, I haven’t been able to get enough of Lia Metcalfe’s raspy yet fearsome vocals and her band’s brilliantly noisy alt-rock sound.

The Mysterines began when vocalist and frontwoman Metcalfe met bassist George Favager while they were living near each other on the Wirral Peninsula. Then, in 2020, the pair added guitarist Callum Thompson and drummer Paul Crilly to form the lineup behind their debut album Reeling, an explosive, angsty display of grunge rock. After two years of touring around the globe with the Arctic Monkeys, hitting the festival circuit and becoming a more mature and self-assured version of themselves, they are delivering an album self-described as “whimsical surreal,” cutting the strings between them and their past: Afraid of Tomorrows.

After Metcalfe and I spend time gushing over David Lynch’s bizarre yet affecting art—a massive inspiration for Afraid of Tomorrows—and chatting about memoirs, she and Crilly explain why they felt an earnest desire to set their grunge past ablaze and search for a new sound that felt more in tune with where they are now. “It was a refresh to try and find that spark with creating again,” Metcalfe says. “I think if you stick to the same thing over and over again, it becomes a bit tedious. So ripping that whole thing up and injecting in more of what we were listening to and expand on it.” “I think that was the initial idea to start writing the album. It was quite an intimidating thing, but it was quite exciting, too,” Crilly adds. “We just needed to do something that excited us again, whether that was a hip-hop album or heavy metal.”

To block out the noise of Liverpool and decompress from the excitement of playing for packed venues, the band took a tour across the English countryside, doing isolated writing in barns and small towns, like Hexham, to hone their new sound. “It was quite fun, to be honest. But neither Lia nor I drive, so we’d get dropped off there, and we’d be stranded,” Crilly laughs. In these secluded writing sessions, the band wrote more collaboratively than they had on Reeling—most of which was written when the world was in lockdown—and brought in a multitude of influences.

The Mysterines turned to their favorite bands from their teens to draw some musical inspiration. “We watched the Meet Me in the Bathroom documentary, which is about the era of the New York scene of the Walkmen, LCD Soundsystem and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” Metcalfe says. “That was a huge inspiration for us to watch those bands on their journeys. That whole scene was pretty inspiring for the record.” Tracks like “Another Another Another” and “Tired Animal” show off the electro-rock blend of LCD Soundsystem, while “Hawkmoon” brings in dramatic synths and powerful vocals that beckon the work of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—along with a David Cronenberg reference to boot.

The NYC explosion at the turn of the new millennium wasn’t the only place the band went looking for creative inspiration. Metcalfe found some insight in Billie Holiday’s autobiography as well. “I remember I finished a Leonard Cohen book and saw [Lady Sings the Blues] on the bookshelf, and it just kept calling out to me,” she says. “Her story is incredible. I’ve loved many singers of that era for a long time, but I had never really delved into Billie Holiday, though I was aware of Strange Fruit. Her story is so unbelievable and heartbreaking that it sometimes felt like a fictional book, but obviously, it happened. It’s also written in her dialect, which is cool because you read it in her voice, and you become so intimate with her as an artist. Everyone should read it, to be honest, especially female musicians, because not only does it show how far we’ve come, but it shows how far we’ve still yet to go.”

So much of the band’s first album pulled from Metcalfe’s rich vault of youthful turmoil that took years to make its way into her songs. But, after spending so much time diving into the past, she entered Afraid of Tomorrows ready to embrace the present. On the record, she leaves behind her younger self to embrace her 23-year-old perspective, diving into a darker subconscious than we delved into on Reeling. “It wasn’t a conscious choice or an intentional thing to be more vulnerable,” Metcalfe says. “It was just survival at that point, trying to figure out and understand what was going on in my life, which became pretty confrontational with myself. It was quite a cathartic experience, and we ended up with something more vulnerable and fragile. But initially, it was quite scary.”

The album’s title-track combines youthful fears with the horror of growing up, as Metcalfe sings in the opening lines: “I wish I had eyes / Of a frightened child / So someone would / Cover them for me / I’m so afraid of tomorrows.” She then evokes some of the band’s most visceral imagery to date (“My brain to rot wild and free / With the moth eggs / Decayed frog legs / The skeletons of rose bouquets”) over a simple acoustic melody—an immense departure from the gritty rock of their past LP. The vulnerability continues to show face in the heartbreak of “JESSE YOU’RE A SUPERSTAR,” especially when Metcalfe recalls, “Your sins are my joyous treasure / My life’s greatest measure / Don’t let the light go again,” over the grungiest guitar melody on the album.

After sequestering themselves up to write Afraid of Tomorrows, the Mysterines hopped on a flight to record in Los Angeles to record with Grammy Award-winning producer, engineer and musician John Congleton. “It was like getting babysat by your cool uncle,” Crilly quips. “He would let you do what you want, and then he would step in and take control whenever we needed him. That’s what makes him such a great producer. He would only interject when he felt like he really needed to. He also made everything feel lighthearted, and we all enjoyed his company, which was important because Los Angeles was completely alien to four Scousers in their early twenties—it could have been a complete disaster.”

The quartet spent five weeks recording and living in Los Angeles. They got up to some hijinks while they were on the West Coast, playing tricks on their guitarist Callum Thompson. “We played this game where we’d lie to Callum and pretend that we’ve met a celebrity,” Crilly chuckles. “One of the times, we said that we met Danny Trejo in a bar. Another time, we were on the beach, and Callum went to get some food. When he came back, we said that we’d met Macaulay Culkin, and told him [Culkin] asked for a ciggy. We kept this up for ages, and we don’t know if he knows or if he couldn’t be bothered to call us out.”

The Mysterines injected that same cheeky energy into the experimentation that crops up on Afraid of Tomorrows, too, trying to find new ways to interpret the rock music that fueled the beginning of the band altogether. “We spent a lot of time trying to stay away from the ‘rock’ thing. But then ‘The Last Dance’ was written like a rock song that felt different from ‘Life’s a Bitch’—you can dance to it,” Metcalfe says. “Then, there are the unique textures of it as well. One of my best friends is a violin player, so I borrowed a bow from him, and we played the guitar with it because we were trying to find things that would excite us.”

“The Last Dance,” which has a gothic, almost-vaudevillian energy, encapsulates this new artistic era for the Mysterines and is, fittingly, the first track on the record. The opening riff that drives the piece was the first part of the puzzle, growing to a monstrous track of infectious, danceable energy that ultimately drove the vision of the rest of the album. “Initially, when Paul played us the riff, it felt different—an interesting new direction,” Metcalfe says. “It inspired me to write something for it that felt more surreal and different from our past work. I feel like ‘The Last Dance’ is its own little world in a way that then opened everything up to a no-boundaries writing process. It felt like a pretty exploratory song and affected the whole record, so it was definitely an important moment.”

With only their debut under their belt, the band checked off some major bucket list items, like performing on Jools Holland’s BBC show and playing in huge stadiums. Now, a few years in, they have added a few more dreams to the list: Metcalfe’s aspiration to have one of the Mysterines’ songs in a film, and Crilly’s desire to add Glastonbury to the band’s list of headlining shows. With the undeniable passion and their unflinching exploration of anxiety and the unease of human existence on Afraid of Tomorrows, I’d wager those dreams are well within reach for the Mysterines.

Olivia Abercrombie is Paste‘s Associate Music Editor, reporting from Austin, Texas. To hear her chat more about her favorite music, gush about old horror films, or rant about Survivor, you can follow her on Twitter @o_abercrombie.

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