Manchester four-piece, Pale Waves, are a blend of pop, punk, indie and rock. On the release day of their second album, Who Am I, I got the chance to virtually ‘sit down’ with lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie to discuss her creative process with this album, and how it has impacted her journey of growth and confidence. The tracks on the record reflect this journey beautifully, and I was lucky enough to hear the insight behind this.
How are you celebrating today, are you doing anything special for the album release?
It’s so tough, because it’s like, what can you do?! You can’t really have a party, whereas normally I’d invite people round and we’d have a big ass party, but can’t do that. So I don’t know what I’m gonna do!
How are you feeling now that the album is out?
It’s strange really. I feel like it has existed and been out, in my mind, for a year and a half because I’ve been working on it for so long. That’s what’s strange as an artist; you’re working on something for so long, but no one is aware of it, and then it gets to the release day and it’s new for people. I wish that I could re-live that! But it’s so exciting, and it means a lot seeing the fans’ reactions. I think they really adore the album which is amazing. So much hard work has gone into this album, so I’m really glad that it’s out there.
Are you finding it difficult not being able to see the fans’ reactions through playing it live?
Yeah, that really does suck; not being able to go on tour right away and connecting with the fans, and seeing them in person. But I get to see them over the internet, the way of living right now- through a computer screen.
So you wrote this album alone, without the rest of the band?
Well, Hugo and Charlie never wrote anything ever; it was only ever me and Ciara that wrote our previous music together. With this album, Ciara came in for a few moments and added some special sprinkles to the tracks, but overall I did write the majority of it. That’s why it’s a bit more alternative and like a bit of the 90s/2000s; a lot of guitars basically!
Yeah, there are some amazing guitar riffs, on tracks like ‘Fall to Pieces’. Do you normally start with these riffs and build on them, or start with lyrics?
It varies. I don’t really stick to a set structure when it comes to music, I know that some writers like to look at it kind of mathematically, but for me, it’s basically whatever comes first. Sometimes I can be really inspired by one certain line that I wrote, and then that’ll formulate the whole entire song. Or I can be really inspired by just picking up my acoustic and playing chords. For example, ‘Odd Ones Out’ started out with the guitar strumming pattern that you hear, and then it was actually Kelsie, my girlfriend, who encouraged me to write a song to it. I’m awful for writing so many things but getting bored and moving on; someone needs to lock me in a room and force me to finish songs! Anyway, so that song nearly got thrown out the window, but Kelsie has great taste and made me follow through with it. And then, ‘Fall to Pieces’ for example, was created because I had the line, “I love your mouth but hate what comes out of it sometimes”, and that formulated the whole song. So it really differs for each individual track.
Would you describe the tracks as individual projects, or is there a connection throughout the album?
I think there’s definitely a running theme because they were written very close together in a matter of a few months. So what connected them was the headspace that I was in, which was constant throughout the entire record. It wasn’t like the record was spread out in a two-year period, it was literally like three months.
There are parts of the album that feel very raw and personal; how do you find listening back to yourself in those vulnerable moments, like with ‘Who Am I’?
I think I feel sad for me back then, not that I want to throw a pity party. I’m not that type of person, I hate people feeling sorry for me! I look back and I think about how I don’t want to go there again. Obviously, I’ve had incidents around this time period where I’ve been feeling really depressed and empty, but I’ve managed to pick myself up a lot faster than I did a year and a half ago. It comes down to working out what triggers that and then staying away from that kind of thing – I don’t really drink a lot of alcohol now. I’ll have a few drinks here and there, but I try and stay away from toxic things that trigger me to spiral down. ‘Who Am I’ inspires me more to continue to try and live a positive life and look after myself.
You’ve spoken about using alcohol to cope whilst performing; was it more nerves of actually performing or more from being on stage?
I think it just became a habit – like I couldn’t step on stage without having at least a sip of tequila. It was then a vicious cycle once I got into that pattern. At the start of Pale Waves, we all went on stage sober for a very long time, but then as the shows got bigger and more people came to the shows, we did begin to rely on alcohol in ways. And it’s so accessible being an artist! You walk into a dressing room, especially at a festival, and there’s literally bottles everywhere, basically saying ‘drink me’! But it’s not healthy to do that. It’s gonna be really interesting when we do go back on tour again because I can’t allow myself to fall into that similar pattern. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m gonna go cold stone sober, I will still have drinks now and again, but I hope to balance it a lot better, and not feel like I have to drink just because I’m going on stage. I have to kind of re-wire my brain. I think it’s a confidence thing as well; going on stage to thousands of people isn’t the most natural thing! Back then when we were touring so much, I didn’t really like myself, so I feel like I needed that fake confidence that came from alcohol. Hopefully, now that I’ve worked on myself, and accepted that when we do play shows, I will see various pictures of myself that I won’t always. It’s hard to look good on stage when you’re trying to sing these really high pop songs!
I feel like your confidence does really show through this album, especially in ‘You Don’t Own Me’. How did you develop into the mindset for that song?
Well, the song originated from a poem that Kelsie had written, which is now the second verse. I read the poem and felt really inspired, and was knew it had to be a song, as it would be so empowering for women, so I took inspiration from that and created a song around it. The thinking process and strength that came behind it was just purely from being a woman in this world and going through sexism pretty much every day, especially in the music industry. So I’ve had years of that frustration and anger building up, which allowed me to write this song. I can’t wait to play it live because I think it’ll be the best moment in the set.
Absolutely. Are there any other tracks from the new album that you’re particularly looking forward to playing live?
I think ‘You Don’t Own Me’ the most, cause I feel like that’ll really thrive in a live environment and people are gonna go fucking mental. And then ‘Wish U Were Here’ because it’s a really soft moment, and for once I won’t have to really belt, so it’ll be nice for me to just relax my vocals for that song! I’m gonna have to do severe training for this album tour! I’ve set myself up for it though, it’s my own fault.
Watch the latest video and stream the new album here.