In Conversation with Pale Waves
Pale Waves’ music doesn’t have any right to be troubling the upper echelons of the UK charts. The quartet are a million miles from the ubiquity of tropical house, their melancholy synth-pop transporting you instead to the streets of Manchester, coated in a cool sheen that evokes the city’s rain-glazed pavements. Their music is weighty – with heavy ’80s drums, chunky glittering synths, guitars that carve through the gloss, and themes of lost love, anxiety, and the pressures of adulthood.
But their debut album, My Mind Makes Noises, hit number #8 in the UK album charts last year. There’s something to that weight, that reality, that draws people in. Few of us have the magnanimity and audacity to say “Thank u, next”, and no matter what Calvin Harris wants you to think, life isn’t all about spying hotties through the smoke in the upstairs room. Having regrets, being uncertain, feeling the weight of the world – modern pop wants to excise these topics in favour of spontaneity, glamour, perfection. But for lead singer and songwriter Heather Baron-Gracie, these are the rich and authentic experiences from which music should be crafted.
We spoke to Baron-Gracie about the ideas on My Mind Makes Noises, her songwriting, and Pale Waves’ future.
Why did you call your debut My Mind Makes Noises?
I felt like that line summarised the album as a whole because the album is 14 tracks about my life and what goes on with me. So I wanted the first impression of the album to put across a good understanding of what it’s gonna be about. It’s about my thoughts, my opinions, everything in my mind…No other title represented the album in the right way that that did.
This idea of characterising what’s going on in your mind as noise, when noise is normally defined as something you don’t want to hear, is there an element of that too?
Yeah some of the songs are about mental health issues and insecurities – it’s good and bad noise basically.
And your new single ‘One More Time’ which is out now, how would you describe that track?
It’s a really energetic song. It’s about when you break up with someone and you see them about and you second-guess that choice that you made and you want that final last moment with them. Wanting someone that very last time to put the nail in the coffin.
Like a lot of your songs, its about a relationship that’s over or in its death throes – what drives you to write about these, what must surely be, painful episodes in your life?
It’s easy to write about because I think about it so much – and people want to hear about real situations. People don’t want to hear a really plastic song. They want to hear what’s really happening.
As young people nowadays are embracing our individuality perhaps more than any generation before us, it seems that one of the few things we can share in and come together over is the negatives – our fears, insecurities, the ends of relationships. It feels like that’s something you’re tapping into with Pale Waves.
Yeah I think so. We have a very diverse fanbase but there’s still a lot of young people. When you’re growing up its really important to look for those voices for guidance to say “It’s okay, I feel like this as well”. So I try to talk about things as real as possible really. I don’t want to sugar-coat things.
Yes the content is very real, but the production is still sugary, synth-pop, there’s an interesting dichotomy there.
You’re currently on an arena tour in the UK with the 1975, how do you find playing to the huge crowds?
We’ve supported them in the US and Europe before but never the UK. So it’s really weird playing such familiar environments that you pass all the time, like I don’t know how many times I’ve passed the M.E.N. [the former name of The Manchester Arena] – it’s really weird being in our own country playing such big shows but it’s really exciting. We’ve got a thirty minute set which is cool because we can just play the bangers.
Last year you said you were working on a new EP which was quite sonically different to My Mind Makes Noises, where’s that at now?
I’m actually sat in front of my laptop working on it right now. It’s still in the process – we’re just trying to write as many songs as possible and then give it like a penalty shoot-out. We’ve definitely branched about a bit more. Im consciously trying to be a bit different with my writing style, we’re trying to do something different from the album. But I honestly have no idea what it will sound like yet.
Is there reason why you want to try something different in particular?
Well we’re still keeping it Pale Waves. But it’s just to keep people’s interest and our own interest really – we don’t want to stick to the same formula all the time.
Is it heading off in a punk, guitars-more-than-synths direction like you’ve been suggesting?
Yeah a bit of both really – it’s a mad one at the moment. There’s so many ideas and songs I don’t know what direction to go with yet. I’ll be able to tell you nearer the time.
When do you think it might be out, roughly?
I have no idea honestly, we’re planning to record it in February.
You complained about people straight-washing the songs on My Mind Makes Noises, assuming they’re about men when actually a lot of them are about women – do you think the music industry still has a problem with heteronormativity regarding the way it presents artists like yourself?
I don’t think its necessarily the industry, I think its just society. I don’t know how many people just presume people’s gender these days. People are so fast into thinking they know someone. I’m guilty of it, I’ve done it before, but I’m trying to consciously stop doing that, and stop thinking in such a formal way. We definitely don’t know everything about each other. I feel like people need to stop labelling each other – we get labelled all the time because we dress in dark gothic fashion, so people freak out when they see us playing indie pop music. People need to stop trying to put people in boxes, it’s not healthy.
The goth aesthetic has been cropping up in a lot of new places recently – it’s been creeping into rap for instance. It’s an interesting time for goth imagery, it’s having a resurgence.
Yeah it’s definitely becoming more popular. But this is just how we’ve always dressed. I dress like this when I’m at home – it’s not just for stage or for ‘the image’ or for the ‘shock factor’. It’s just what I’m comfortable in, what I’ve always been into. But it’s definitely becoming more popular – everyone just wants a goth girlfriend.