Heather of Pale Waves talks Prince, female-fronted bands and opens up about her anxiety
You know about the Pale Waves, right?
So you mean to tell me you didn’t read our Ones To Watch list back in January? Shame on you.
Well it’s a good job I managed to catch up with Heather Baron-Gracie, the band’s front woman, backstage at this year’s Standon Calling Festival because now you’ve got another opportunity to get to know Manchester’s exciting new foursome.
Straight off the rip Heather laughs at me after I ask her why it’s taken as long as it has for Pale Waves to release a debut album.
“I don’t think it’s been that long," she begins. "I think it's you being quite demanding. I think most bands wait a bit longer than us. We released our first song like a year and a half ago so to be releasing our album in September is quite soon. We thought we’d actually have longer to write it and release it but everyone was basically telling us that we needed to do it now or we’d let it pass and lose the momentum.”
If truth be told, it was definitely me being demanding. But can you blame me? Pale Waves, made up of Ciara Doran (drummer), Hugo Silvani (guitarist), Charlie Wood (bassist) and Heather Baron-Gracie (singer/guitarist), are everything I think we’ve been missing from British music for quite some time. The music they make is fun, it’s electric, it makes you want to dance, it makes you want to fall in love over and over again, it taps into every human emotion. It’s pop music but it’s not the stereotypical brand of pop that the industry can sometimes lump on us.
Whether it's because of Heather's beautiful unique vocals or the luminous 80s backdrops, in a live setting the band's music leaves you feeling lighter than air.
The band’s debut album, My Mind Makes Noises, is out now and Heather says that while she was rushed to finish it she’s really pleased with the end product.
“I’m really happy with it,” she begins. “A lot of the songs we sort of wrote last minute in the studio but I think that’s what has made them really special, like the pressure on everyone has pushed us to write to the best of our ability in the shortest time and space.”
One of the main topics highlighted on the album is mental health, which is something the music community has been hot on as of late. From Stormzy’s Channel 4 interview to Logic’s hit song “1-800-273-8255”, now, more so than ever before, there are a lot of artists openly discussing their own struggles with issues relating to mental health. Heather Baron-Gracie is no different.
"My mind makes noises too much/ I feel like I'm slowly losing myself/ I’m afraid that I need help."
For Heather it’s anxiety that gets the better of her and it’s something she admits she suffers from on a regular basis.
“I experience it everyday as I’m a very anxious person,” she explains. “And especially with my health I can get really super freaky about it, and like when I get really stressed with Pale Waves or when I’m super busy and I really lack sleep that’s when it really gets intense and I get really anxious.
“There’s been a few times when Ciara has had to basically cradle me to sleep because that’s the only way I’ll get to sleep because I’m shaking so much from anxiety.”
After sharing my own anxiety experiences and how I got over them Heather tells me how it is she combats the “noises” in her head.
“I find what really helps me is when I talk to my family, Ciara and my really close friends. They calm me down,” she says. “But other than that nothing can really calm me down. I need people to reassure me that I’m okay. I’ve tried all sorts. I’ve tried meditating, I’ve tried taking myself out of the situation, I’ve tried walking. Nothing really calms me down like getting that reassurance off of other people.”
When I think of Pale Waves I think of John Hughes movies and Paramore. The pop sonics made up of sweeping synths and Prince-esque drum kicks could so easily score a Sixteen Candles sequel or a Breakfast Club reboot. Don’t believe me? Apparently it’s not the first time Heather’s heard this observation.
“I’m a fan of John Hughes movies,” she admits. “But I never even thought of them being compared to our band or me as an individual until people started saying it. ‘Oh, she looks like she’s out of a John Hughes movie.’ It’s not intentional, it’s just our look and sound.
“Although in fact, you know the song ‘Kiss’? I had to do this assignment for university where we had to write music for a trailer and I actually cut a trailer for The Breakfast Club and that’s how ‘Kiss’ became a song. It was never a song before. I just wrote the music and Ciara was like, ‘Fuck, that’s really good actually. We should make that into a song.’”
But it’s not just John Hughes comparisons the band get.
“We get compared to the 1975 a lot,” Heather explains. “I think that’s because we’re a pop band or we’re a band that plays pop music. And we’re friends with them and on the same label and have the same management.
“People these days just love to compare, not in terms of being an artist either but you know, when you see someone and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, they look like such and such,’ or, ‘they remind me of what’s it called.’ We always compare. It stresses me out. I wish people would just try and not compare all of the time.”
Another subject I wanted to touch on with Heather is the sudden resurgence of bands with female lead singers. Back in the 90s it was a pretty regular thing. Whether it was Garbage, SkunkAnansie, No Doubt, Catatonia, Everything But the Girl, there were female fronted bands everywhere. But then things went quiet for a while.
Now on its way back to becoming a more balanced playing field with more female-led bands coming to the forefront, while Heather agrees that she’s seeing it more and more she still thinks the industry as a whole is a little one-sided.
“I just think the music industry is really dominated by men, still, and it’s quite frustrating really and I don’t understand why the reason is,” she begins. “Is it because girls feel a bit intimidated by it? I don’t know.
“I know there have been several occasions where I’ve been looked down upon or not been treated in the same way as Hugo. Men will come over and discuss guitars and pedals with him and not even acknowledge me and it’s like, ‘Hmmmm, thanks.’ Or with Ciara, no one will ever ask: ‘Are you the drummer?’ They’ll always go: ‘Are you the singer?’ or, ‘Are you the keyboardist?’ and I think that’s really stereotypical.”
Before leaving Heather to get on with the busy end to her summer I’ve just got to nerd out with her over Prince after finding out that she’s a big fan.
“It was my mum’s influence,” she says when explaining where her love for the Purple One comes from. “My mum’s favourite song is ‘Purple Rain’. So that’s how I first got introduced to Prince because I was like, ‘Mum, who is this?’ And she was like, ‘It’s Prince,’ and ever since then I’ve just listened to him.
“I admire him not just as a musician but as an icon because he’s so much more than a musician. He’s bigger than the music. I just think that he’s amazing and he has so many fucking tunes.”
Naming “I Would Die 4 U”, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “When Doves Cry” as some of her favourite Prince songs, after we get done comparing our favourite records I ask whether she and the band would ever cover anything by Prince.
“Yeah, maybe. I just don’t think I’d ever play it live because… well, who knows. Actually I’d love to do a Live Lounge. That would be pretty cool.”
Until that day comes Pale Waves’ new album will have to do, and I’m okay with that.
My Mind Makes Noises is out now and you can listen to it on all available platforms here.