We’re backstage with Pale Waves and the band have just found time to catch their breath.
The Manchester band are closing in on the end of their latest British tour – once again, it’s completely sold out; once again, fans are queuing hours before the show to get prime spots at the front, to get that bit closer to a group rapidly becoming their idols.
Not that the band feel any pressure. Crowed into the dressing at North London’s Garage venue, they chat amiably amongst themselves, swapping gossip and keeping up to date with friends, family, and a mountain of well-wishers.
As the rest of Pale Waves head out to check their equipment and confer with the tech crew we’re left alone with singer Heather Baron-Gracie, and she seems utterly at ease to the point of serenity.
Gazing around, she starts to chuckle: “I’m surprised how small this dressing room is for the venue!”
It’s an icebreaker, for sure. We start to chat about the NME’s decision to go digital-only – announced mere hours before – and recall mutual school experiences of spotting that tell-tale logo poking out of someone’s schoolbag, a bag of authenticity for an outsider.
“It’s about having that connection!” she says, a factor key to the band’s own rise. “So many people have come up to us and said that they’ve made best friends through coming to our shows and meeting other fans, and that’s so nice.”
“I feel like us as individuals are outsiders as well,” Heather explains. “Especially me. I don’t really fit in to social norms.”
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With her stark black hair teased out into dizzying lengths and startling make up delivered with pin-sharp accuracy, she certainly stands out from the crowd. It’s a freeing gesture, though; outside, dozens of girls wait outside the venue, using Heather’s dazzling appearance as a prism to view their own potential, as a means to their own pop empowerment.
“I love pop,” the singer explains. “I feel like we were doing something different. Our image doesn’t necessarily work with pop music, as some people feel. I wanted to create a Pale Waves world for everyone to come in and just be themselves and wear what they want to wear and not feel judged.”
She sighs, and then shrugs her shoulders: “There shouldn’t be any rules anyway, in this day and age… but there still is.”
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I wanted to create a Pale Waves world for everyone to come in and just be themselves...
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Pale Waves’ catalogue to date may be slim, but it’s extraordinarily effective. Just a few singles and that solitary though sublime EP, their outsider pop vision is gothic, but streaked in glorious 21st century colour.
The band’s sudden rise, though, belies Heather’s deep music roots – ‘The Tide’ for example, is actually “one of the first songs we ever wrote”, composed when she was still in her teens.
“I went through a stage of being this typical songwriter, thinking: oh, I’m never playing it again! Cos I got excited by the new songs,” she says. “And then the fans were really disappointed, so we had to listen to them, and we brought it back, and put our modern twist on it as writers now. But it’s still the same. I fell in love with it again. And now I really enjoy playing it every night.”
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There shouldn’t be any rules anyway...
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Right from the start, Pale Waves have been marked by an incredible work ethic. So far in 2018 they’ve already toured across Europe, completed a full UK nationwide run, and by the time this piece reaches fans they’ll be soaring across the United States.
“It has been pretty intense,” she admits, her voice lowering itself slightly. “We did the European tour and the UK one in a van, and that’s when it really affects you as you have no room to spread out all your stuff and write.”
“I guess when you wake up in the morning you think, I’ll try and write here, and then when I get to the venue I’ll get my acoustic out, and ask everyone to leave me for half an hour. I’ll try and plan it out instead of being a scatterbrain.”
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This is all we’ve ever wanted, so we don’t want to ever let it go...
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Seizing snippets of time to sketch out fresh ideas, Heather continually wants to better herself; each day is an opportunity, but it’s also a target. “You do end up having a lot of spare time on tour. Which I don’t think a lot of people realise,” she explains. “It makes me really sad when I feel like I haven’t done anything. I feel like, maybe I’m not doing as much as I can to receive everything that I’m receiving, so it makes me sad to think that I’ve not tried as hard as I could today.”
“There’s been times when I really haven’t wanted to write anything but I’ve forced myself because we have things to do, the train has to keep moving… and then I’ve wrote something that I’ve fallen in love with.”
“I try and write something everyday,” she states. “Just one line. Whatever I can get. Or some chords. As long as it’s something.”
It’s an approach which seems to be paying off. Pale Waves are aiming to release their debut album in August, and so far that schedule looks within their grasp. “We’re quite strict as a band, and sensible,” she explains. “We love this so much, we’re so driven – this is all we’ve ever wanted, so we don’t want to ever let it go. We don’t want to backtrack ourselves or disappoint anyone.”
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I feel like if I was performing the songs that we do to strangers I wouldn’t be able to do that...
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Largely left to her own devices on tour, Heather is a voracious reader, regularly curling up in the back of the van to lose herself in a new book. Her current recommendations include a John Pilger tome on eyewitness photography.
“I’m going through a phase at the moment where I like taking pictures,” the singer tells Clash. “Nothing serious or professional, but what I find really interesting is that he picks out cases and then really digs into why the photographer has chosen that exact moment to take that picture. I find it really interesting… what they see, what makes them feel that that’s a special moment. And I like dissecting that and getting in their heads.”
“Usually, to inspire me, it won’t have to be a story as such I just have to read words,” Heather continues. “It might not even make sense but it would inspire me just because it’s words. Sometimes I find it quite hard to get out what I’m trying to say on paper, so when I read it helps.”
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Clash wonders what she holds in those reams of notepads, scattered around her clothes, and flight cases. “Maybe not stories because I’m so severely dyslexic, I would make no sense!” Heather laughs. “But poems, definitely. Songwriting is quite close to poetry, and it could be seen as poetry in some sense. I like dipping my fingers in all sorts of artistic routes. Like photography, production, writing, videos.”
A key aspect of Pale Waves’ individuality are those stunning music videos, with Heather playing a key role in each. “Oh God, definitely,” she agrees. “I’m getting more and more involved with our music videos, and I feel like that’s helping me… I’m gaining a lot more knowledge on it, and I really love that.”
“Luckily we had (record label) Dirty Hit who could invest in us to really get our ideas and invest that into the video. We’ve made these really strong videos that have their own identity, and I’m really happy about that.”
Dirty Hit is rapidly becoming a pop powerhouse; new groups tour with established acts, creating a familial feel that even extends down to the fans themselves. “I think a lot of people love the label Dirty Hit,” she smiles. “And you don’t really get that with record labels. They have a fanbase themselves as a record label and I think that’s great. It allows new artists to be displayed to a new audience instantly. They have this following.”
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I like dipping my fingers in all sorts of artistic routes...
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It’s a following that adds a feverish edge to Pale Waves’ live shows. The precocious pop songwriting that makes their music so irresistible is rendered in three-dimensional glory, with fans crowding to the crash barriers, screaming each and every word.
“As a live performance it can be quite daunting,” Heather admits. “But at the same time bands give me that reassurance and I can see them pouring their hearts out to the songs that I wrote. That really encourages me and makes me come out of my shell a bit more. I feel like if I was performing the songs that we do to strangers I wouldn’t be able to do that as well. At all.”
It’s curious to hear a musician describe their fans as friends. “I do!” she beams. “A lot of the time it’s the same people who come to a lot of shows. And I love that.”
“When I see someone singing their heart out to our songs I almost feel a connection to them, so they don’t feel like total strangers. It’s weird. It’s a weird world!”
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Photography: Zac Mahrouche
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