On the last day of the Pale Waves UK tour, I was lucky enough to interview lead singer and songwriter Heather Baron Gracie at the O2 Academy in Bristol about tour life, home life, musical and aesthetic influences, and loving pop music.
So it’s been a really big year for you guys! You came fifth in the BBC Sound of 2018; your debut album, My Mind Makes Noises, has just come out, and now you’re on tour. How are you feeling?
It just feels like everything is going at once, so a lot of the time you don’t really get a moment to take it in. It’s like a fast train. Exciting though!
How are you enjoying tour life?
I love being on tour! I prefer it to the studio. The studio stresses me out.
I imagine a studio is quite a closed environment.
Yeah, I mean you have to go back to the same place every day and you spend hours looking at the same four walls… It just does my head in.
I can imagine that. So where’s your favourite destination and venue on tour so far?
Japan was amazing! Australia was too, but I found it similar to New York. But my favourite place has definitely been Japan. Just because there’s so much going on and the fashion’s amazing.
It sounds it! In the past tour life has been seen as this really hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and well… Mick Jagger! Would you say that your own experiences fit the stereotype or do you think that’s all in the past?
I think it depends on each band – I mean I’ve met bands that do hold that reputation, but then there are bands like us that just aren’t like that. I mean the worst thing we do is drink loads of alcohol!
You’ve cultivated this amazing Gothic aesthetic. What does the term ‘goth’ mean to you, and would you say it’s part of your identity as a band?
I wouldn’t say we’re a traditionally Gothic band. I don’t want to take away from the goth culture, but we are influenced by goth fashion though. Whenever we call each other Goths it’s normally as a laugh.
Pale Waves was formed in Manchester – Tony Wilson, co-founder of Factory Records, once said that ‘Manchester kids have the best record collections.’ Do you think there’s any truth in that?
I sound quite biased because I’m from Manchester, but I think Manchester definitely has a great music scene.
You’ve got a lot of history there.
Of course! You can tell when a band is Northern or Southern. You can just tell. But I don’t agree with the whole idea that just because a band is from Manchester they’re going to be a good band. People think that because we’re from Manchester we have a step up. But you can be from anywhere, and if you write good music, people will listen. Not just because you come from a destination where it’s previous artists have done well. In a lot of my interviews, people say ‘you’re from Manchester, are you happy to be from there?’ Well, yes I am! But not because The Smiths are from there.
you can be from anywhere and if you write good music people will listen
I guess when you see this hallowed scene full of big names, people begin to wonder if there’s something in the water. But what were you listening to growing up?
I was listening to Avril Lavigne… I was also listening to a lot of bands my Dad listens to, because he’s musical as well. He listens to Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, The Cure… ACDC as well, but I don’t really like them anymore.
I think your parents do influence your music taste. You don’t want them to, but begrudgingly, you realise they do. Would you say you have any musical guilty pleasures?
I hate when anyone calls something a musical guilty pleasure! I’ve had some people say we’re their guilty pleasure because we’re pop. It’s usually those who write pop music that people call guilty pleasures. I don’t know why that is! I really like simple music. I love Justin Bieber! I think he writes amazing pop music. I listen to all the pure pop artists like Taylor Swift and Charli XCX… I just love all of it!
It’s usually those who write pop music that people call guilty pleasures
In your song ‘Karl‘ you say you tattooed the name of a song you wrote on your body. Do you do that with a lot of your music and lyrics?
No not really, I have a tattoo of Hide and Seek which I think is what you mention, and I’ve had that for years. I have “Ciara” (name of Pale Waves band mate) tattooed on me. I am going to get My Mind Makes Noises but I don’t really have any lyrics.
I think the song ‘Karl’ closes the album in a very powerful way. The way you explore losing family, and that feeling of losing a part of your history, is really poignant. Would you say song writing is a form of therapy for you?
Yes definitely, I mean that’s why I write music. I’d prefer to avoid an awkward conversation and write about how I feel. Which is strange because I go out on stage and give this song to everyone rather than having a conversation with someone!
An audience is a lot more anonymous.
Yeah exactly. It’s easier in comparison to sitting at home and talking with my Mum about it.
That makes perfect sense. So how does Pale Waves go about writing songs? How collaborative is the process?
It’s mainly me and Ciara. Ciara dominates the musical side of things. She’ll write something on a laptop; the drum beat, bass, and some synths. Then she’ll show me it. I’ll either have a song ready, or I’ll take that as an inspiration. Or it could be the other way round. At the moment I have six songs waiting, but she’s not caught up with me. So the process is very equal. I’ll write guitar parts, and then at the end we’ll jump into each other’s pond and tell each other what could be done better.
So it’s mainly you and Ciara leading the band. It sounds like you’ve got quite a strong relationship.
Oh massively! Ciara’s the closest person that I have – as well as my Mum, Dad, and brother. We’re like a part of each other. We are completely different but we’re very similar at the same time. I’m this fiery, hot headed person and she’s very relaxed. I feel like that’s how we balance each other; she tells me to calm down and I tell her when to stick up for herself… Or I just attack that person instead! (laughs)
Ciara’s the closest person I have
I think we all need a friend like that though! So what’s next for Pale Waves?
We’ll finish this tour – first we’ll go to Europe, and then America, which takes us to mid-December. Then we’ll have a few days off. Then we’ll go on The 1975 tour in January.
In January The 1975 are coming to Exeter so we might see you there! So no plans for any new music?
Not for a while… But we’re writing a lot. We have an EP coming out next year – if it all goes to plan.
So you’ve got an EP coming out next year! Will you get a break at any point?
It’s always nonstop for our band! We have like two days off. I think we’ll have a week off where we can go home around Christmas time, which will be nice. I just love going back home and doing normal things.
There’s nothing like going home for Christmas.
I know. And it’s weird because I come home and it feels different. Different but not different. Now I’m in a band with people I really love.
In a way, they become your second family.
Definitely! And then I go home and I’m the Heather that everyone’s known since birth. But it’s strange because my Mum has friends whose daughters and sons love Pale Waves. It’s changed their lives a bit as well! And this is only the start!