Tommy Lefroy: ambitious, TikTok-conquering duo with a storytelling flair
Wynter Bethel and Tessa Mouzourakis, the duo behind Tommy Lefroy, were fed up with having their hearts broken. So, they asked themselves, what if they became the heartbreakers instead? Taking their band name from the 19th century judge and politician Thomas Langlois Lefroy (the infamous real life Mr Darcy who broke novelist Jane Austen’s heart) was a natural move for Wynter and Tessa, who felt a kinship with Austen, who died alone despite writing many great love stories. “The Austen era was such a man’s world and she was giving a voice to the experiences of women,” says Tessa. “She wrote strong female characters who were just living their lives, and that’s what we’re trying to do as well.”
The duo first met in Nashville in 2017 while they were both working as professional songwriters, and felt a connection instantly. When Tessa posted a boygenius cover on her Instagram Stories in 2018, Wynter half-jokingly commented: “Can we start a band?”. This interaction kick-started the Tommy Lefroy story and led to their self-produced debut EP ‘Flight Risk’, which was recorded during lockdown over FaceTime while Wynter was in LA and Tessa was in London, arriving in November 2021.
It was a learning curve, not least because they were teaching themselves how to produce for the first time as they went. “For eight months we sent things back and forth and had no idea what we were doing,” says Wynter. “We worked quite inefficiently because we were so new to it but we’re getting better.”
Despite these hurdles, ‘Flight Risk’ is a remarkably polished collection of pop, rock and folk that mirrors the reflective songwriting of artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief and First Aid Kit. Honest lyrics ruminate over loves lost and the messy intoxication of youth, a landscape of self-doubt, growing pains and the humour and heartbreak of falling in and out of love. Breakout single ‘The Cause’ takes a satirical stab at the “soft boys” who “mansplain Woodstock and think they’re better than you” over a gentle drum beat and fuzz-driven guitars. The track became a TikTok hit last year as lo-fi videos of tube stations, sunrises and bedroom dancing introduced many new fans to Tommy Lefroy: what started as a lockdown project has now racked up more than one million monthly listeners and counting.
Tommy Lefroy have spent the last few months touring, including a string of European festivals and a recent sold-out London headline show. NME sat down with the band at The Lexington – where they played to a rapturous crowd last month – to discuss bringing their love of Austen into pop music, recording their first EP and finding humour in heartbreak.
NME: Your band name Tommy Lefroy comes from Jane Austen’s love interest. Why did you settle on that name?
Wynter: “It started as a joke. A friend of mine was genuinely joking and said you should call it Tommy Lefroy. We were contemplating it for a while, but that was the name that we kept coming back to.”
Tessa: “I love Jane Austen and I love that era, but the other thing I loved about the name is that it’s a boy’s name: it’s like our own nom de plume. A lot of female writers from that era were initially published under boy’s names, like the Brontes and George Elliot. There’s a history there, so it felt like a nod to that as well. The Austen era was such a man’s world and she was giving a voice to the experiences of women. She’s also an author who was quite radical within the constraints of the time. She wrote strong female characters who were just living their lives, and that’s what we’re trying to do as well.”
You recorded your debut EP between London and LA during lockdown. How did you overcome the hurdle of not being in the same city during that process?
Tessa: “When lockdown started and all our other work got cancelled, we needed this project to work because we had nothing else. We needed a project to funnel all this energy into, all our frustrations and our fears. There was a desperation and a hunger to work, so with every hurdle we came across we just powered through. The time zones didn’t matter because it felt like time didn’t exist. I was staying up until 5am because Wynter was in LA. That might be hard now, but during lockdown it didn’t matter when I woke up and when I went to bed. It was such a unique situation. It felt like a lot of our usual laws were suspended.”
Wynter: “Like everyone, we were both struggling quite a lot personally, so the project came from sheer determination because we needed something to get us through. For eight months we FaceTimed every day, recorded things, sent things back and forth and had no idea what we were doing!”
Tessa: “We were learning how to produce while we were doing it. I was Googling how to mix things because I had no idea. We were figuring it out as we went along.”
“Life is so heavy. For us, humour has been a really foundational aspect of survival” – Wynter Bethel
‘The Cause’ is a criticism of the men you have dated with “god complexes and liberal arts degrees“. Is songwriting in this humorous tone a way to process the hurt of your past relationships?
Tessa: “Totally. Our sense of humour is very similar. It’s quite self-deprecating. We know that we have similar tastes to these men that we’ve dated. We don’t want to pretend like we also haven’t read Jack Kerouac because we have. We also listen to Elliott Smith. I personally deal with a lot of grief and sadness through humour.”
Wynter: “We need humour. Life is so heavy. For us, humour has been a really foundational aspect of survival. With this project, even the name started as a joke. We are serious people, but, also, we laugh at ourselves all the time. When you get your heart broken it is funny, especially when you consider the person who broke your heart. They have so much power and you’re looking at them like, how did this happen? What is this sorcery?”
Having divided your time between London and LA, how do you deal with not letting the pressure of living in big cities affect you as artists?
Tessa: “My experience of London has been very positive, because I feel like there’s a lot of community here looking to help and lift each other up. People are really interested in the music: if they like what you’re doing, they will talk to you and you can get their respect.”
Wynter: “Compared to other cities we’ve been in, London, for us, is less of a music city because I have friends here who don’t work in music. In other places I’ve lived, everyone I knew was also working in music, and that’s when it can get a little hard. Finding good, grounded people has been so helpful in remembering that there’s so much more than this. At the end of the day, we care very much about the project, but we’re also just making silly little songs.”
When you played at The Lexington recently, the crowd were singing the songs back to you word-for-word. How did that feel?
Tessa: “Surreal. The first time the crowd screamed the lyrics I was completely taken aback. I felt like I was in a fever dream.”
Wynter: “It feels like you can’t believe it’s happening. I have to try really hard to stay in it and focus on playing. Like, ‘Don’t cry!’. It’s really special. It makes me realise it’s bigger than us. The songs are so important to us, and we never could’ve imagined that they would also have so much importance to others. The songs have a life outside of us now. We say that we’re just writing silly songs, but people are listening to us and we want to be there for them.”
What does the future look like for Tommy Lefroy?
Wynter: “We have a new single ‘Dog Eat Dog’ out next month. We’re having a really different experience making this album because before it was just a private thing. We didn’t think anyone was going to listen, but it’s fun. We feel really lucky.”