Pale Waves already know what they want their next release to sound like
Singer and rhythm guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie explains how embracing vulnerability led to creative freedom.February 10, 2021
In 2018, Pale Waves’ first LP, My Mind Makes Noises, offered a crisp and clean, swirling blend of dreamy, synth-tinged pop tunes threaded with a heartful homage to the ’80s darkwave scene. It helped the band create a distinct presence as it shot up the U.K. charts. Their robust follow-up, Who Am I?, stands on top of that solid foundation, cementing the fact that this four-piece are committed to expanding sonically, enveloping the styles that made their first release so addictive and subtly moving in some new directions. For instance, frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie is deeply passionate about country music, and you can hear a touch of twang in her bold, broad-ranged vocals on tracks such as “Easy.” The band never lose their ability to be cohesive, whether they’re blasting through an anthemic pop-punk rocker (“Tomorrow”) or twisting your heartstrings with the haunting ballad that is the record’s title track.
The music isn’t the only place where the band’s growth is undeniable. Baron-Gracie took on the writing duties for this record, and the lyrics are a showcase of the indomitable voice she’s acquired over the last few years. Songs such as “You Don’t Own Me” and “Run To” drip with confidence, highlighting the strength that accompanies self-evolution.
Alternative Press caught up with Baron-Gracie to talk about the new release and how she and the band are dedicated to providing a strong voice—and a safe place—for marginalized groups.
Your second full-length, Who Am I?, oozes with confidence and feels thorough and complete. People often worry about the sophomore slump. Is that something that crossed your mind?
In general, I feel like people tend to put a lot of pressure on second records and artists, expecting them to come back with a totally different sound. I do feel it’s important for artists to do that, but I don’t think it’s the right thing to completely abandon what you originally had and what connected with the fans in the first place. I think it’s important for artists not to let that pressure get to them and just create. I feel like it’s healthy for those sorts of expectations not to be projected onto artists because it can make you second-guess yourself.
What do you see as significant differences between this new release and My Mind Makes Noises?
I feel like the first record worked because it had a naivete to it because we all felt so young, as people and musicians. It influenced this second record because I thought I needed to go into it with a stronger voice and leave the world with a stronger message. I wanted to talk about things that society needs to hear, like body image, mental health or what it’s like to be a woman.
You felt like things could take shape organically without worrying about the level of success the record might reach?
Yeah, 100%. I just didn’t let any of those expectations from others influence me because I love music. And my favorite part about this whole career is actually the writing process and creating the song itself rather than recording or touring. If anything, I just let go of those chains and let go of people’s expectations. I just wrote songs and created music.
The record’s power is in that apparent personal evolution. Where did you find your inspiration?
There were three years between records, so I feel like my life experiences influenced this record. I feel like I’ve grown up so much as a person compared to the 23-year-old me that recorded the first record. I have traveled the world more. I brought in my palette of music, too. I started listening to a lot more music, including country, but what influenced the album was me growing as a person and my experiences and being aware of more music.
What was the creative process like as a band with this recording?
Writing the first record was a tag-team effort between myself and Ciara [Doran, drummer]. It’s always been Ciara and me on the writing side of things. The boys have always played and recorded but never wrote anything. This time around, me and Ciara took a break from writing when we started to feel like we were going around in circles and writing the first record again. This time, I had more freedom to write whatever I wanted, and that’s why I have a record now that is an album that my younger self would love.
Your openness and vulnerability on this record not only shows your growth, but it creates an atmosphere that allows others to feel comfortable with being vulnerable themselves. What do you hope people get from Who Am I?
I hope that people really connect with my message and connect with everything that this band stand for—the message that says it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to have a different sexuality than your straight friend. It’s OK not to feel like a female or a male. We stand as a band to represent those people. I knew as an artist that I had to let even more walls down, which was quite a tough one for me. I don’t do well with feeling vulnerable, and I knew that was required for me as an artist to show myself even more to the fans so that they could connect with the music even more. Because if I’m truthful, I can’t preach to people to be themselves and embrace it when I’m hiding away from the world. So, I knew that I had to be as open as possible.
Is there anything you haven’t done style-wise that the band may want to tap into?
Maybe we’ll get a bit more grunge-y, a bit more aggressive. I’m a big fan of Courtney Love. I think she’s an amazing lyricist and a very unapologetic, very strong woman, which I am drawn to. I look up to her a lot. So, I feel like with the next material, maybe we’ll try and go a bit more grunge.
Both you and the band are often associated with the 1975, as you’ve toured and collaborated together. Matty Healy is often referred to as your mentor. Do you credit them with any part of Pale Waves’ evolution?
The 1975 definitely have played a big role in our evolution as a band. They’ve been wonderful in helping us achieve a fanbase in a way. We had one song out, and they took us on tour in America, and it was literally the coolest thing ever. We played at Madison Square Garden and were like, “How did this happen?” We felt like babies right out of the womb. Playing to all those people was incredibly scary but amazing at the same time. We are very thankful to them for being so generous. That was a really cool experience for us. We’ve had so many great moments and memories of being on various tours with them. They’re incredible guys and such a cool band to watch [and] to be on tour with because they are such great musicians. Right now, I’m doing my own thing. You never know in the future. It’d be cool to do something together.