OTwo Interviews: Heather Baron-Gracie of Pale Waves

Image Credit: Pale Waves

Isabella Ambrosio speaks with pop-punk icon, Heather Baron-Gracie from Pale Waves.

Pale Waves started between Heather Baron-Gracie and Ciara Doran while attending BIMM Manchester. In 2017, along with the current bassist Charlie Wood and second guitarist Hugo Silvani, signed to the independent record label Dirty Hit. Since then, the band has gone to play a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden supporting the 1975. Matty Healy of the 1975 even directed their “Television Romance” music video. Baron-Gracie and Healy then went on to cover NME together. Since 2017, Pale Waves have won awards from NME and signed to Interscope Records and have opened for Halsey on their UK tour. In a very short amount of time, Pale Waves went from being a band from Manchester to a world known band.

Pale Waves has been floating around the pop-punk scene for quite some time now, their debut record catching my attention back in 2018 when “My Mind Makes Noises” was released. Baron-Gracie’s vocals and lyrical talents are hard to ignore, the instrumentals taking a back seat, in the best way. Pale Waves plays to their strengths.

I had been trying to get an interview with Pale Waves since February when they released their second album “Who Am I?” and, as most people know, all good things come with time. Before I knew it, I was sitting down in front of my laptop with Baron-Gracie’s name flashing at the top of my screen to say she had entered the waiting room. I’ve always adored Baron-Gracie’s style. A revival of 90s grunge with a heavy punk influence. She wore a spiked choker and some chains, her nose ring shining in the light. Her bright red lipstick matched the red in her shirt and her black eyeshadow made her eyes pop.

I hadn’t been nervous for an interview in a while, but I couldn’t deny the nerves tingling in my fingers as I introduced myself and started a small conversation before the interview started. She was incredibly easy to talk to with a quiet voice and a thick English accent. She had mentioned being in Los Angeles at the time for writing of Pale Waves third record, and I had to ask, “How do you think it will differ and how do you think it will be the same from other works that you’ve had?”

She sighs before starting, “Well, it’s not drastically that different from album two. In a way, it’s a bit more aggressive. Album two, I would say, is a bit softer in comparison to what album three is going to be. Album three, I feel, hits harder. I feel like we draw in a bit more of the pop-punk element which is quite interesting. I mean, me and Ciara […] have loved pop-punk since we were like 14. So, I think it was time to pull on those sorts of roots. It’s not a drastic shift. I don’t really enjoy it that much when bands do the polar opposite, like some bands, you fall in love with them, and they completely change their sound. It’s not like they take inspiration from another era or something, they just become a totally different band. It’s nothing insanely different. It’s similar in ways, but different enough.”

“I feel like it’s really important to carry on evolving musically, and as a person, and I feel like we’ve done a lot of that in this past year or so”

Going off the end of her response, I continued further, “Would you say there’s more of an evolution then, rather than a differentiation from the two albums?” Her voice gets a little louder for a millisecond before returning to her quiet tone, “Yeah, one-hundred percent. I feel like it’s really important to carry on evolving musically, and as a person, and I feel like we’ve done a lot of that in the past year or so.” The end of her answer felt as if she was alluding to the pandemic, so I prodded, “How did COVID affect the band? Has it made you closer, has it made you re-evaluate what you want from the band?”

“Well, obviously with me and Ciara Doran being in the States, and Hugo [Silvani] and Charlie [Wood] being unable to come to the States. They live in the UK, and they love the UK, and me and [Doran] love the UK, but we needed a change. And so that has created a divide, we’re not able to see each other every day like we used to, but we’re constantly messaging each other and FaceTiming each other. But I’d say with this third record, it’s been prominently me and [Doran]. Which has been nice because on the second record, me and [Doran] weren’t writing together as much. And on this third record, it’s been refreshing to be intertwined again. Because that’s how we are naturally.”

“You guys met in BIMM Manchester, right?”

She smiled at my comment, “Yeah, exactly. We started the band in Uni, and it was mine and their idea, and it’s really great to be able to intertwine again and create again.”

The question and answers fell quickly into a conversation, “So, with creating, you’ve cited the 1975, Prince, and the Cranberries as your influences. Are you bringing new influences into the band or are you reworking previous influences?”

“I feel like those influences are embodied in us, but I’m actually listening to a lot of musicals,” she says with a sly smile, almost kind of laughing at herself, “It’s quite new for me, obviously. But there’s something so melodically amazing about musicals. That’s what I’ve been listening to a lot, but I would say the new album is more pop-punk driven, in a sort of way. So, a bit more like Paramore.”

To me, Paramore’s Hayley Williams has some theatrics with her high notes and powerful voice. I could see where Baron-Gracie was coming from. But I asked a question about her pop-punk influences, “Would you say you’re taking some influence from All Time Low, because I know you recently did a collaboration with them.”

“I feel like the pop-punk vocal is very distinctive, very American, very whiny. And I don’t think I could even do that vocal if I tried, it’s not naturally my vocal character”

“Yeah, I love All Time Low. They’re just a classic band, aren’t they?”

I laughed, “Yeah, I’ve seen them live four times.”

“They’re amazing live, they’re so solid. You can tell that as a band, they’ve been playing for years. It’s so impressive. But, yeah, of course that influenced this next record because I saw a lot of people online saying they liked hearing my voice on a more pop-punk, rock track. Which was kind of interesting because I grew up singing that kind of music. I was in a punk band before I was in Pale Waves. It didn’t go anywhere, obviously. It’s refreshing to take more of an aggressive approach.” I homed in on her vocal style, “You said that you love the Cranberries and took a lot of vocal influence from the lead singer, how did you kind of stumble across that you wanted to take that route?” 

“I feel like the pop-punk vocal is very distinctive, very American, very whiny. And I don’t think I could even do that vocal if I tried, it’s not naturally my vocal character. But Dolores O’Riordan [lead vocalist of the Cranberries], I immediately formed a connection with her because there was something very endearing and very honest, and not over thought about or overproduced about her vocals. People compare us because we have the high flick at the end of our vocals, the little breathy thing, and I tend to stick to those kinds of vocals because they’re not always being so thought about, or always trying to be so contained and controlled and not naturally singing. And I really connect to that, and I think Dolores was an amazing frontwoman, an amazing songwriter and a very distinctive vocalist.”

So, I asked the one question most artists dread during an interview, “Where do you see yourself going with the pop-punk direction? Would you keep your natural vocals over a pop-punk track, or would you try and fit the aesthetic of pop-punk even though you mentioned it’s not quite in your range?”“We’re taking elements of pop-punk music, but it’s not going to be a full-blown pop-punk record. I think stylistically, I want to go more traditional rock-n-roll, to switch it up. The last era was very 90s and I want to go more leather pants, leather jacket, mullets, whatever. That’s the direction I want to go. And the rest of the band seems to be on board. Luckily, they’re very up for anything.”

I started to wonder how Pale Waves made their decisions based on their attitude with change, “Do you find having a band that is so willing to go with the flow is an asset or a hindrance? Do you find it’s hard to keep structure or do you like to more go with the flow?”

She takes a deep breath before answering, “I mean, I prefer structure. I mean, I feel like too many cooks in the kitchen, you know, the dish ain’t gonna come out too good. That’s how I feel anyway. Like I said, we’re all a unit, we’re four best friends, everyone has their voices and speaks up when they need to. But I would say, there has always been a clear direction within Pale Waves and that’s myself and that’s [Dolan]. And [Wood] and [Silvani] are so great that they’re up for anything and they love all the new music. And four of us have a lot of similarities. And we love a lot of the same music. It’s not like I was going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to completely change the direction of the band, we’re going to go metal, or something.’ Then, they would be like ‘Heath, you’ve gone too far, you need to reign it back,’” there’s a smile in her voice at the last part, thinking of the bassist and guitarist. “You know, so we circle around, check in, see how everyone’s feeling and how everyone’s doing. I feel like it’s a positive. I wouldn’t want so many conflicting opinions because it would drive me insane, and I wouldn’t get anything done.”

The end of her answer leads well into my next question, “So, do you find that the separation of you and [Doran] in LA and [Wood] and [Silvani] in the UK has been beneficial in the writing process?”“Well, the writing process has never been [Wood] and [Silvani]. It’s never been a four-piece system. It’s always been me and [Doran], so nothing’s really changed, honestly. In the writing essence, but I also like being on tour when I’m writing, too. Because we can write something and we can try it in soundcheck, I think that’s really cool. And people naturally do cool things, but obviously, we’ve not been able to do that, and we’ve not been able to tour for so long. It’s not been that drastically different. [Doran] is literally ten minutes from me. And we get in the studio, and we write, and we do what we’ve done for years.”

“I guess this is such a cliché question, and I always try and stay away from cliché questions, but what do you miss most about touring? Besides the ability to try new ideas and having a certain creative freedom you don’t necessarily have in the studio?”

“I miss engaging with everyone, seeing people, meeting people. I think that’s what I miss. I feel like at a Pale Waves show, we have a very distinctive fan base. It attracts certain kinds of people and the best kinds of people, and I automatically find common ground with them, and I feel like if they like the music that I write, we must have a lot in common already,” Baron-Gracie says with a bright smile on her face, “We’re a unit, it feels like your sort of people are in one room at once and that’s very heart-warming. I miss that.”

We continue discussing the aspect of live music and her desire to be back on stage and meeting fans, creating connections and being around her kind of people. We discussed the safety of being at a gig, the feeling of having the same understanding as the person standing next to you in the crowd.

The connections that Baron-Gracie talked about, and meeting fans who are on the same page as her, and her love for that was very apparent in our conversation. It was like talking to, using Baron-Gracie’s own words, ‘her kind of people’. She was open when discussing sexuality towards the end of the interview and warmed my heart when talking about her role as an activist and wanting to be a role model for young kids as she didn’t have one when she was a teenager. She was an incredibly humble, sweet soul and it’s going to be incredibly interesting to see her aggressive side come out on the third album.

You can catch Pale Waves in Dublin on February 20th at the Academy. Tickets are on sale now. Don’t miss out on seeing Pale Waves doing what they do best – playing good music and creating a safe place for all those who need it.