English indie group Pale Waves is a sonic tsunami of dark energy, barreling toward the pop music shore with their badass looks and personal lyrics. I spoke to Pale Waves’ lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, the raven-haired, smokey-eyed and tatted-up Heather Baron-Gracie, as she was halfway between San Francisco and Seattle in the midst of the band’s American tour in March.
Even though the band is new to the scene, they are already selling out venues. In 2017, they released their debut single “There’s a Honey,” which was quickly followed up by “Television Romance.” Their debut EP, All the Things I Never Said, was released in February. They even won the “Under the Radar Award” at the NME Awards.
Heather sports a fun goth aesthetic of velvet, leather, and leopard print, along with chunky shoes and black lipstick. Drummer Ciara Doran rocks a similar look; previously a platinum-blonde ying to Heather’s brunette yang, Ciara has lately been rocking red, blue and midnight black hair. It only makes sense that they initially bonded over their style. “Me and Ciara met at University in Manchester at 18,” Heather says. “I saw a picture of her online and immediately was intrigued. She had a quirky dress on.”
They met the very day they moved to Manchester for school in 2014, and they hit it off immediately, gushing about music all evening. Soon, they were making their own music. Within two years, they met bandmates Hugo Silvani (guitar) and Charlie Wood (bass), two tall skinny boys with New-Wave-esque haircuts. Collectively, their look leads people to wrongly assume they are metal musicians. “Just because I have some dark eyeshadow and black lipstick!” Heather says.
But don’t get it twisted. Pale Waves is all about pop music. “I think pop is the universal genre,” Heather exclaims. “It’s worldwide. I think pop music is changing. A lot of people these days, it’s branching out to all sorts of sub-genres of pop. There are a lot of bands that are making the genre a lot cooler and there’s a lot more people coming into it than the typical image you think of when you think of pop.”
Pale Waves is definitely making the genre cooler. Since the late ‘90s, most pop groups dress in ordinary, mainstream fashion. Goth looks were reserved for more edgy music. But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the ‘80s, pop stars rocked experimental looks with ease, while still manufacturing pop music. Think Boy George and Cyndi Lauper. Although some of Heather’s style inspiration comes from her prior aesthetic obsession with vampires, she also credits ‘80s Madonna, The Cure’s Robert Smith, and Prince. “They are the three top icons I always mention just because their fashion sense was outrageous and I love that,” Heather says. “I love when you can identify with an artist straight away, visually, rather than just with the music.”
Pale Waves aims to bring that outrageous look back onto the pop scene. “I hate that there’s this stigma between looking and dressing and being a certain way to write pop music,” Heather admits. “People really struggle with how we are dressed that way, but we write pop music. It’s like, whoa, it’s the 21st century. You don’t have to look or speak a certain way to write or sing a type of music. People need to relax. It’s always the boring people who can’t handle that, anyway.”
Pale Waves may be advocating for people to have more fun with their style, but when it comes to songwriting Heather is all business. She’s been writing since age 11, little rhymes on pieces of paper. When she and Ciara met at 18, her writing was elevated and inspired by her new friend—but it’s still very personal for her. “I don’t think I could ever let someone into that,” Heather explains, stating that she only writes songs alone, with the exception of some feedback from Ciara. “This is my world. It’s a very personal thing and I feel it gets diluted when someone comes in when they are not feeling what you’re feeling or been through what you’ve been through and they try to write with you. It makes it a bit cold.”
Because Pale Waves makes pop music that runs the emotional gamut, she can write in the mood she’s in, whether dark and brooding or upbeat and happy.
After wrapping up their U.S. tour in Boston in mid-April, Pale Waves flew back across the pond to concentrate on finishing up their debut studio album. “There’s gonna be a lot of songs on there that I don’t think people will expect from us,” Heather says. “It’s a lot more diverse than what we have put out so far.” Heather is excited that their album, which drops later this year, will have 12 or 13 tracks rather than the limited six that they released on their EP.
Thus far Pale Waves has been a bit mum about politics–but don’t assume that they are apolitical. “I just think at this stage, we are so new to everything that we are just sort of getting our feet into it and finding out how it all works before we start charging into that world. We are very passionate people with strong beliefs. We are just waiting for the right time before talking about them in detail.”
But, Heather isn’t shy about encouraging her fans to express themselves: “Always be yourself, don’t ever shy away from that. With our fashion sense, I feel we’ve encouraged a lot of people to sort of be [who they want to be] and wear what they want to wear when they walk down the streets.”
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