'I just do what I wanna do'
Gabriella Ferlita
13:30 10th February 2021

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It’s a grey Thursday afternoon and Gigwise is talking to Pale Waves’ frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie over Zoom. Heather, who has much more patience when it comes to remote meetings than any of the members of the Handforth Parish Council, kindly reminds us: “oh, you’re on mute!" She let's out a full-bellied chuckle: “classic.”

This 21st century digital encounter nicely sums up the way in which Pale Waves responded to the events of last year: overcoming them with lashings of tenacity and wit. The band’s sophomore album Who Am I? was originally scheduled for release in 2020, but was delayed due to obvious, pandemic-related reasons. There was also the tour bus crash in the February, which nearly took the lives of three of the band members and their crew as they travelled from Sweden to Germany to support Halsey’s European tour. 

Thankfully, Pale Waves’ Ciára Doran (drums), Hugo Silvani (guitar) and Charlie Woods (bass) escaped unscathed though shaken up by the accident, which saw their tour bus flip into an icy ditch (Heather had opted for a plane ride on the same leg of the journey). Their fears were justified: after all, similar road accidents have claimed the young lives of British indie bands Viola Beach and Her’s while on tour. Pale Waves understandably cut their stint in Europe short, as they needed to “take time away from touring for a second: to be able to breathe and reflect and not be in that lifestyle for a tiny bit.”

Their newest album Who Am I? is a far cry from the happy-go-lucky, synth-heavy, 80s ambience that dominated Pale Waves’ 2018 debut album, My Mind Makes Noises...and it’s not hard to imagine why. A near-death experience of such gravitas may have been the catalyst for the band’s momentous move to “more of an alternative…stripped-back sound." Heather expands: “if anything, I think it was more important for us to evolve as a band and to not just re-write the first record."

And what better place for the band to flourish and renew themselves than in the City of Dreams? Originally, Heather sought solace in L.A., her “second home” and residence of her brother and her girlfriend Kelsi - the latter the inspiration behind Pale Waves’ newest pop-punk love songs 'Easy' and 'She Is My Religion'. Heather found herself writing the new album there, alone. “It just happened really naturally, it wasn’t set up or anything,” she reveals.

It was not an affront on her bandmates, and certainly not to drummer Ciára, whom Heather had worked alongside to write the entirety of the first record. Instead, this was a natural progression for the lead singer, who had not yet come into her own as a songwriter in her own right. That is, until now.

It only took Heather a period of two to three months to create the eleven-track album, before the rest of her bandmates travelled the many hours to join her in L.A., joining her to record the first half of the record. The second half, meanwhile, was recorded remotely with Hugo and Charlie having returned to the UK “because the pandemic really escalated" Heather says, "so that wasn’t that fun!" 

The 5,437 mile distance between London and L.A. may have had its physical limitations on recording the album, but it did not hinder Pale Waves from cementing themselves as serious indie-turned-pop-punk contenders, determined to fly in the face of expectation. “With music, I don’t listen to other peoples’ opinions or other peoples’ pressure or expectations. I just do what I wanna do,” Heather explains.

Their new record is a pivotal change from the heavily-reused lyrics tackling teenage existential crises in their first album My Mind Makes Noises. Instead, Think of Who Am I? as the more grown-up, slightly more sophisticated and trustworthy older sibling. The new album guides the band through some of the self-realisations and personal growth that the band members are now facing, including lead singer Heather publicly coming out as gay, and drummer Ciára identifying as non-binary. 

In her personal life, Heather was “always open” about her sexuality. “I guess I had spent so many years being out [that] it wasn’t that difficult for me. Everyone in my life is pretty loving: I wouldn’t have anyone in my life who’s anything else,” she tells Gigwise. 

When Heather and her bandmates wrote the first album, Heather was all but 23-years-old; a delicate age for anyone trying to navigate their own sexual orientation, never mind announcing it in the public eye. “I wasn’t ready to be so open about it in terms of my music because I was aware of my sexuality, but I hadn’t owned it" she offers.

For Heather, it took “meeting the right person” to write an authentic album that was not only representative of her own sexuality, but that would also be representative of Pale Waves’ LGBTQ+ fans, too. “I had a responsibility for the fans to be truthful and open because sexuality can be such a difficult thing…there’s not a lot of healthy representation in the LGBTQ+ community."

But channelling her inner badass, feminist energy was a journey she discovered on her own, especially when it came to her headstrong track 'You Don’t Own Me'. “I really look up to strong female artists like Courtney Love and Liz Phair and Alanis Morrissette. I think they’re so powerful within their songwriting and they really criticise society.”

Heather is now living “the dream representing women and [the] LGBTQ+ community in a good, healthy, strong, powerful way,” through the songs on Who Am I?. These are band members well-placed to carry such an important message for their fans. But nonetheless, “I would never wanna be just known for my sexuality,” Heather concludes.

“I wouldn’t ever just wanna be like ‘that gay band’ if you get what I mean. I don’t want my sexuality to just define me…my sexuality is a huge part of me, and it is a huge part of the music, but there’s a lot of other things that exist within this world.” And she’s right, there’s much more to Pale Waves’ new album than just that. 

Who Am I? arrives 12 February via Dirty Hit.

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Photo: Niall Lea