With a pandemic pause forced upon them, Pale Waves have embraced their heavier roots.
Words: Jamie Muir. Photos: Derek Bremner.
“Sorry, but we’re driving through what looks like woods at the moment…where are we??” questions Heather Baron-Gracie, searching for signal while attempting to work out her surroundings. “It genuinely looks like we’re on the set of Twilight.” There’s a pause. “To be honest, I would love to go where they shot Twilight – I’d be living my dream. In fact, just leave me there, find a replacement, and I’ll just pretend I’m a vampire. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that, to be honest!”
Pale Waves fans fear not – this isn’t the story of a band shutting up shop thanks to a vampire film franchise, but of one entering a bold new chapter as their moon rises once again. Their journey today is one of many, traversing the US on a hot run of shows supporting 5 Seconds Of Summer. It’s part of a schedule that’ll see them flying between festival dates in the UK and packed arenas on the other side of the pond. “We’re just having a blast,” states Heather. “Everyone’s been so lovely on this tour so far… plus the CATERING!”
If there’s an added sense of excitement and fun bursting through the world of Pale Waves at the moment, it’s for good reason. When the world slowed down and stepping onto stages in front of tens of thousands of people may have seemed a dream far in the future, Heather, Ciara Doran, Hugo Silvani and Charlie Wood started work on an album full of urgency and immediacy. An album ready to pop off, no matter the location or occasion. “That was the aim, really,” explains Heather. “We wanted to make an album that would translate well live and be fun for us to play. It’s why we headed in this heavier direction. We want to thrash about on-stage. Play our instruments more, be out there more. I think that comes with confidence as you grow as people. This moment was always coming.”
‘Unwanted’ isn’t just a third album, but a laser-focused statement of intent aimed squarely at kicking down any doors left standing. It’s not about trying to fit into cliches or what’s “expected” but defining something more individual. The result is a Pale Waves hungry for the very top – born from the path laid out by ‘Who Am I?’ and only aided by that sense of anticipation built when the world began to shut down.
“I think the moment where ‘Unwanted’ started was the pandemic,” admits Heather. “We were sitting at home and just knew we wanted to make an album. We didn’t want to wait like we had before. It was all about utilising this time and getting into a studio while still trying to figure out everything going on to start writing and recording. I knew once things began to get back to normality, we would be right back on the road again. This was our opportunity, and it happened pretty fast, to be honest.”
It continues a journey for Pale Waves that has always bristled with ambition – from the moment ‘There’s A Honey’ and debut full-length ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ flipped new music on its head. Sold-out tours, undeniable devotion and feverish live shows only added to the rush. With ‘Who Am I?’, any sense of the difficult second album was thrown briskly to the kerb – marking the next evolution of Pale Waves with a confident and raw record born of honesty and eagerness. Looking back, it sits as a “really important time for us,” Heather reflects, while the ensuing effects of a global pandemic “really allowed and helped me to figure out who I am as a person a lot more and what I like, what I want to do and what I want to say. I feel like that time was really important and needed for a lot of people, and it was definitely needed for me.”
“We can’t just say yes to everything now – we need to make time for ourselves”Heather Baron-Gracie
Putting themselves first and learning how to deal with being a band in demand across the globe came thick and fast. “When we were younger, and when we first came to America and toured, we were up for partying. We were up for doing EVERYTHING in terms of grafting,” Heather remembers. “Now, I need a certain amount of sleep, or I’ll definitely get sick. We can’t just say yes to everything now – we need to make time for ourselves – but that lesson comes with learning. I wanted everything as a new band, and I guess that kind of just really dampened my mental health, whereas now I have to set up a lot of boundaries because I’m the one who knows when my body needs a break!”
Pale Waves aren’t just any other band. That was clear from the beginning when track drops would provoke story after story of fans whose lives are intrinsically intertwined with that of a band who’ve worn their emotions on their sleeves from the get-go. Acceptance, love, pride, defiance and more – it’s what Pale Waves represents that has taken on a life of its own, only bolstered by the personal journeys each member has made. It’s something Heather holds close, aware of how important having that outlet was and could have been for her when growing up. “Sometimes, I wish I had someone to look up to or connect with like that. I had one or two artists, but I don’t feel like I had a whole lot. To see people resonate with who we are and what we’re doing means a lot. It’s really important to have that in general, whether that’s artists or friendships or activities, those things that make you feel okay and happy. To feel like you’re being seen – so many people don’t feel seen or heard, which is just crazy. If we can be that to someone, then that’s amazing.”
With evolution as each era begins, there remains an undeniable thread – that at the core of all things Pale Waves is a heart full of emotion, release, honesty and comfort. Laying that out for the world to hear is no small feat. “Sometimes, it can be really intimidating. It can be real scary to just put all your shit out there,” Heather admits. “To put all your trauma out there essentially for everyone and anyone to just look up and dive into and analyse. People know you in a way just through that, and that’s kind of scary.” It’s in the connection with Pale Waves fans that Heather and the band have found something altogether more important, a community that supports not only the band but each other in a manner that makes every low point completely worth it.
“There are days where we can feel quite mentally fatigued and so exhausted, and I’m like, okay, this is a lot. Then you get these messages, or I meet people who tell me about their journey or their experiences and how we as a band have helped in some way to get people through their struggles or to find themselves, and I’m like – oh, yeah, this is exactly why it’s worth it. This is why we maybe played a show on a few hours of sleep when I feel like I’m dying. It makes everything worthwhile.”
“I’m definitely a caretaker at heart,” Heather continues, “and I think that comes from my mum because she’s a nurse. She’s always taught me to look out for people and to look after them. There’s this like fibre within me to help where I can, and I get this satisfaction and relief when I hear these stories. It’s amazing.”
On ‘Unwanted’, those stories of defiance, determination, heartbreak, loss and resilience rip larger than ever before – turning those moments into bold rallying calls not only to live but to thrive. Linking up with producer Zakk Cervini, it sees Pale Waves embrace the sounds and bands that soundtracked their early years. Pop-punk with an edge – the Pale Waves message delivered with an emphatic knockout blow, sitting happily on a mixtape of alt anthems you’d have blaring from speakers at the highest volume possible. “All of us grew up with heavier music, so it was really natural and easy for us to get in the studio and make this album. That’s a genre I’m constantly listening to personally, and as we go through life and become more confident with ourselves and ourselves as musicians, we figure out our sound a lot more. Like you know those kinda whiny high-pitched voices and those songs that are constantly singing out of tune, but it’s still amazing?” cracks Heather. “People catch me listening to it and are like, what the hell is this? I’m like – you just don’t get it, and that’s fine, but I love it! That’s the kind of music I love, and we wanted to go in that direction. But I did want to sing in tune. I didn’t want to bring that part to the record!”
That raw energy stems from recording sessions where tracks clicked into gear, with a sound that feels like one they’ve been keeping in their back pocket for years. “We just knew instantly. A lot of the songs you hear on the record were done like there and in the moment,” explains Heather. Constantly serving out pop-punk banger after pop-punk banger, tracks would form together quickly and get laid down during day-long sessions – with first-takes being used to capture that immediate sense of emotion. The result was a bit of a dream for the band. “I feel like you can just really hear that. It just feels really exciting; very unapologetic, very bold, and very in your face. Just loud!’
“It’s still there, that feeling – are people actually going to come? Are people actually going to listen to what we do next?”Heather Baron-Gracie
‘Unwanted’ feels like the band’s grandstand takeover. Punchy garage-rock licks with ‘Lies’, ‘Reasons To Live’ and ‘Jealousy’, devastating ballads with ‘The Hard Way’ and ‘Without You’ and explosive pop-rock bangers such as ‘Only Problem’, ‘Clean’ and ‘Act My Age’ all live up to that blueprint. Yet it also showcases Heather’s crystal clear approach to telling her story, not being afraid to tell things as they are. Take ‘You’re So Vain’, an angry takedown of narcissistic people in a modern world obsessed with nothing but self. “I found it quite easy to be blunt and real when writing a song about them,” Heather notes. “In general, I try to be as on the nose and as honest as possible because I think that’s what people want. They want things that are real and don’t hide behind anything. They want to see everything you go through as a person. That’s just how I have to be when writing a song. It wouldn’t feel right otherwise.”
From the very beginning, it’s been clear that Pale Waves are born for the headiest of highs, but on ‘Unwanted’, they have the ammunition to fully claim something even bigger. “Even now, we’re always asking – erm, what are the ticket sales like for the show we’re about to play?” admits Heather. “It’s still there, that feeling – are people actually going to come? Are people actually going to listen to what we do next? I feel like we have that daily. I’m always surprised and shocked because I feel like I always set my expectations at the lowest! That way, you can’t get hurt or disappointed, but in a way, I think it’s a good thing. We’re firmly down to earth and not getting carried away with anything that comes our way. We’re still just so appreciative.”
As Heather speaks, there’s that buzzing of excitement for where ‘Unwanted’ will take Pale Waves. Yet, while it signifies a soaring new chapter, it’s also a moment Heather takes to look back on the ride that’s taken them to this point. “It’s amazing to be with the same three people for years and to look back on those memories and everything we’ve shared together so far.” Whether it’s those early nights jumping between small venues as word spread, to travels across the globe as they themselves have learned and lived – it’s a bond impossible to break. “To see how much people have grown in confidence, grown into their own skin and grown as musicians – it’s really nice. It gives me a warm feeling when I think about it.”
Pale Waves. The band coming for an arena near you soon. “Headlining those, that’s the dream,” states Heather, as the Twilight woods come to a close and the 5 Seconds Of Summer tour welcomes another preview of what’s to come. “Walking out to a sold our arena and knowing that everyone is there for you… I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it. That is the dream for us.”
There’s a pause.
“…and that’s mainly for the catering,” Heather laughs. Dream fulfilled. ■
Taken from the September 2022 edition of Dork, out now. Pale Waves’ album ‘Unwanted’ is out now.