What do you get when you cross a tonsillitis-ridden journalist with a touring band fresh from a five-hour flight? As it turns out, a contemplative interview matching a third studio album of straight-to-the-point self-discovery.
Pale Waves‘ ‘Unwanted’ is one such record. A high-energy body of work exploring a plethora of emotions, the album showcases a fresh musical direction for the band by leaning toward a deeper pop-punk sound. Yet, Pale Waves have been a staple in the alt-pop community for some time. The band began in Manchester whilst at university, cutting their doc martens-clad teeth in 2014 as 80s-inspired indie outfit, Creek. They eventually signed with the independent record label on everyone’s lips in 2017: Dirty Hit. Since then, Pale Waves have toured the world with two top-ten albums and assembled a loving fanbase.
It’s this fanbase that has followed the four-piece to Philadelphia. Donning mall goth garb, fans are excited for Pale Waves’ supporting slots on pop troupe 5SOS’ US tour. Before the show, all four members have huddled on a couch six feet away from a laptop screen to discuss their upcoming release. Despite energies feeling low, spirits are high as the band gear up for the night ahead. They may be a long way from home, but Pale Waves still ooze with a hardened edge forged in the creative atmosphere of Manchester.
Heather Baron-Gracie is the lead singer of the band and also appears as the soft-spoken Northern mouthpiece. When mentioning the polarity between US and UK crowds, she’s first to respond: “I feel in general, American crowds don’t go as hard,” she explains, “But they’re super sweet, this kind of audience, they’ll scream at anything. And they scream LOUD.”
Audiences will certainly have plenty of material to scream to after the release of ‘Unwanted’. The band had already teased glimpses of their upcoming project, most recently with poignant single ‘The Hard Way’. The record’s overall sound is best described as dark but accessible, utilizing simplistic lyrics and noughties musical references for an emotive, at times captivating, body of work. “This third album I would say is darker in a way. It’s angrier. We wanted to go heavier with the instrumentation,” explains Baron-Gracie. The writings of Avril Lavigne spring to mind: “She’s just infected me in like everything I do.”
Yet ‘Unwanted’ also offers a lighter pop-leaning respite in tracks like ‘Lies‘. The slow-burner is just under three moments of “fuck you”, starting the record off as it means to carry on: blunt and buoyant. “For me, ‘Jealousy‘ and songs like ‘You’re So Vain’ is like the deep end of the pool,” clarifies Baron-Gracie. “‘Lies’ and ‘Without You’ is the short end of the pool. We didn’t want to throw everyone into the deep end immediately. We wanted to ease them into this record.”
The aforementioned ‘Jealousy’ is the record’s third single, playful yet honest. Accompanied by a black-and-white performance video reminiscent of an haute couture advertisement, the track is Baron-Gracie at her most candid. “Everyone gets jealous…I like a bit of fight,” she admits. The song certainly fights for listeners’ attention, with in-your-face rhythm guitar propping up an addictive portamento in the chorus’ lyrics: “Look at the shade of my eyyyyyyeeeeees.” The video positions Baron-Gracie front and centre, reflected in the reality of her jealous nature that the rest of the band poke fun at. “I like jealousy! I wanna know that they get jealous…is that so bad?” Guitarist Hugo Silvani accedes: “we wouldn’t have the song without it.”
This lighter side of the record feels only natural considering the band’s recent favourites. Everyone enthuses: “We love MUNA. They’re so good.” MUNA is another band offering queer representation to their listeners, and both bands view their identity as an important addition (rather than definition) to their music. “We are queer, so in a way, it is queer music. But I wouldn’t want to solely be labelled as that. I just want us to be known for the music that we make and who we are as people,” shares Baron-Gracie.
Fans have watched drummer Ciara Doran document their transition, following their recovery from gender-affirming surgery through content shared on social media. The importance of representation is shared throughout the band. “I mean, everyone needs representation in this world, especially now,” explains Baron-Gracie. “When you meet someone who’s queer, there’s just that instant connection and that understanding both of you just get, which is really nice.” Their latest album definitely ramps up the queer content, with Baron-Gracie writing more openly about her relationships with women.
A portion of Pale Waves’ fanbase is thriving with young queer admirers, and the band are more than eager to share advice with those coming to terms with their identity. Doran, rather wholesomely, advocates for self-love: “The worst thing humans go through is putting too much energy into what other people think about them. It can hold you back. If you like yourself, and you think you are who you are, that’s all the love you really need.” Baron-Gracie points to the difficult side of self-expression: “When you express yourself, you’re putting yourself out there for everyone and anyone to just open it up and dive through it and to know things about you. It is intimidating, but we signed up for this when we started the band.” Doran affirms this: “You have to expect it. If you’re a painter, [your painting] is going to be hung in a museum. People are going to interpret it in any which way that relates to their brain. That’s the same with music.”
Letting go of the fear of perception wasn’t an easy process for the band, though, no matter how eloquently their lyrics suggest. Baron-Gracie confesses her journey to self-acceptance has been a long one: “The amount of shit that we said yes to at the start of our career. I would never ever do those things again. Only recently have I started to really value myself, and understand that I’m entitled to say no. In the past, we would just push ourselves to the absolute limit because we thought if we didn’t, then our dreams wouldn’t come true.”
An air of self-reflection permeates the ending of the album: ‘Act My Age’ looks back on the past in favour of pushing forward into the present, whilst ‘Numb’ provides a sonic representation of the realisation of sinking into a depressive state. Stripped-back instrumentation underpins oh-so-relatable lyrics: “it’s the downfall of me and my mind.” The album’s closer, ‘So Sick of Missing You’, features Wheatus-esque guitar yanked straight from a coming-of-age movie. Another song about letting go, Baron-Gracie describes it as the “the perfect ending” to an album smothered in visuals. “It just kind of felt like the end of a movie when [a person is walking] away from the camera. That sort of track would play as the sunset comes down. It felt like the perfect ending to a movie. That’s why it’s at the end. Nothing else felt right.”
Pale Waves’ UK headline tour is kicking off in November.
Words: Gem Stokes