Lia Metcalfe doesn’t see things in the same pink chiffon light that more optimistic folks do. To this sleeve-tattooed, raven-haired, Doc Marten-armored, ebony-garbed Brit, the outside world has always looked and felt more like Blue Velvet, both the material and the surreal suburban-nightmare film of the same name by one of her aesthetic heroes, filmmaker David Lynch. And — rather than shivering like a chihuahua in fright — she’s eternally grateful for those dark visions. Ever since childhood, they’ve inspired her, and they’ve now helped define the Liverpudlian’s sinister coliseum-rattling rock combo, The Mysterines.
Only 21, Metcalfe carries herself with the prescient weight and wisdom of a world-weary old soul. It’s a maturity that could be traced back to her showbiz father, Andrew Metcalfe, who fronted a late-aughts outfit dubbed Sound of Guns, or her friendship with more seasoned artists like Paul Weller, with whom she’s already written and recorded. But she is fascinated by such spiritual and artistic concepts as The Abyss, and how creative minds have traditionally been drawn to stare into it, like moths to a fatal flame. Equally, she enjoys musing on Nietzsche’s counter-argument, that The Abyss stares also, a recurring theme she explores her quartet’s pile-driving new debut, Reeling, which just debuted in the UK Top 10.
Backed by the stomping rhythms of co-founding bassist George Favager plus newer members Paul Crilly on drums and Callum Thompson on guitar (both joined the five-year-old unit last year), the singer/co-guitarist lays bare much of her personal philosophy on Reeling, from the opening “Life’s a Bitch (But I Like it so Much)” through the sinewy blues sidewinder “Under Your Skin” (wherein she notes, “I see things repeat in my dreams”), to the fuzzy growler “The Bad Thing” and a similar-themed “All These Things” Bic-flicker (“I did a bad thing,” the lyricist admits in the former, while mourning “All these things that I’ve done” in the latter).
“I saw the darkness and I know it well,” she rumbles, and if listeners don’t hear that as some sort of mea culpa, they certainly will in the heartfelt Nick-Cave-stark coda “Confession Song,” which reads like a guilty laundry list of past sins. Metcalfe’s classic R&B-belter of a singing voice arcs, stretches, and cracks so painfully, you can’t help but believe her. When she wrote it, she says, she imagined it playing like the end credits of a noirish, flickering film.
And yes, the auteur admits, she does usually keep a dream diary, recording them each morning, she says, “as divinations or reflections. And I’m not saying every dream has meaning, but you just know the ones that do.” Like the other night, when she had an oddly-specific reverie where she was floating beneath a full moon in the Irish Sea, but the water turned so brackish that she couldn’t escape as the tide started pulling her under. After being encouraged to write by her father early on, the very first literary contest she won at age 8 was for a similarly-spooky poem called “I Wonder.”
“It was about someone drowning in the ocean and looking up at the world through the water,” she says. She can’t help it — the family house (where she’s once again residing) was adjacent to a river with a scenic beach. “So a lot of my dreams do occupy water.”
Liverpool being a coastal city also played an influential part in her upbringing. Staring idly at the port’s giant cranes, she would often imagine them snapping free of their harbor bonds and lumbering off into the briny depths. And as an adult, she still finds them unusually ominous and unsettling. Yet now, Metcalfe swears she doesn’t feel at home in anything short of “Blue Velvet”-otherworldly surroundings, where stumbling across a severed human ear in a field can drop you down into an ominous parallel universe. Even the Liverpool wedding dress shop she worked at as a teen was like a warped, funhouse mirror version of a serious bridal boutique.
“It challenged the whole aesthetic of wedding dresses, and felt like it had been drawn out of some David Lynch film,” she recalls, fondly. Having moved during the pandemic to a predictable Manchester, she recently returned to her old Liverpool digs for exactly that reason. To her, it is Blue Velvet, minus the freaky Frank figure, she says of the city most might associate with The Beatles, maybe Echo and the Bunnymen.
“And it has this underground that was always just sitting there until it gets uncovered by something as simple as what’s in Blue Velvet or (Stanley Kubrick’s) Eyes Wide Shut. And suddenly you’re tumbling into a subterranean world of..Uh-oh! You’ve opened the wrong door! My hometown has this…magnetic field around it, I would say, and I think people forget that the internet exists there — it’s very insular. But that’s sort of where the magic happens, and I found myself missing it a lot, so I moved back.”
Which is where Metcalfe picked up the odd new hobby that got her through lockdown, from one of her area’s most eccentric locals: A hip boom-box-toting elderly lady she started seeing, roller skating down the neighborhood promenade in knee socks and ‘70s-retro Adidas tracksuits. “I was like, ‘What?! That is so fucking cool! And that’s who I wanna be when I’m that age!’ She really inspired me, so I bought a pair of roller skates,” she says.
Metcalfe even copied grandma’s vintage fashion style, and skating has proved to be the perfect distraction when she’s experiencing writer’s block. She takes her skates with her everywhere she goes, and even plans on bringing them on The Mysterines’ first tour of America, which kicks off tonight. “And it’s a strange hobby, compared to how tough our record is,” she says. “But the whole time we were making it, I was just roller skating around in the sun.”
Reeling took a brisk three weeks to complete, under the auspices of producer Catherine Marks at London’s Assault & Battery Studios. Unfortunately, said weeks were far from consecutive. “Those three weeks were over the course of a year,” Crilly, who replaced Favager and Metcalfe’s departing percussionist, says. “So I was quite happy to be joining a rock band in the end, even though we hadn’t been a band for very long and hadn’t been together in a studio before making the album, and it was pretty overwhelming at times.”
They’d record in quick bursts, and have several months off to overthink and second-guess what they’d done. Inspirationally, however, all four members were on the same classic Queens of the Stone Age page, and their in-studio volume rose, exponentially. “And I think that was always gonna happen, just having an extra guitar,” Favager adds. “The first-ever gig we did, me and Lia, we were 14 or so, and the reviewer called us ‘psychedelic blues.’ And we’d been a three-piece for so long, once that extra guitar got added, it just made the sound grow. Massively.”
Favager also owns up to the band’s all-too-obvious moniker origins. Yes, it started as a mouthwash-campy in-joke between he, Metcalfe, and James Skelly from The Coral. But the more they repeated it, the cooler it sounded. So it stuck. And Metcalfe herself didn’t go stir crazy during the pandemic since she’s always been a lone wolf by nature. “So I quite enjoyed being alone, because I do quite enjoy my own company and solitary pursuits,” she elaborates. How does she stay one step ahead of the Abyss-dark elements that are always threatening to consume her? Easy, she replies in a heartbeat.
“Because I know what I can use, what I can create out of those things. The potential of what I can create, of turning those visuals into something creatively — that’s the thing that keeps me going. Because if you stopped creating?” She gasps in horror at the very notion. “I think I would actually go insane if I stopped doing that!”