Pale Waves’ front woman chats to DIVA all about the band’s long-awaited second album and her journey to coming out publicly

WORDS BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGES BY JORDAN HUGHES

Ever since Pale Waves’ first album My Mind Makes Noise, I’ve been yearning for more melodic alt-pop – oozing with 80s synths and dripping in dance-worthy drums. Although album number two has taken more of a pop punk turn for Pale Waves, I’m definitely not mad about it. If there’s one thing we can always rely on to take away the pandemic panic: it’s pop music that features proud portrayals of queer love.

If you’re new here: Pale Waves are a Manchester quartet made up of Heather Baron-Gracie (lead vocals, guitar), Ciára Doran (drums), Hugo Silvani (guitar) and Charlie Woods (bass).

Since their first album was released in 2018, lead singer Heather has publicly come out as gay, after being inspired by drummer Ciára who identifies as non-binary, opening up their music to a whole new audience of LGBTQI fans.

Who Am I is an album dealing with universal themes for the LGBTQI community and the deep, emotional connection Heather has with her partner, Kelsi Luck. Heather’s newfound liberation shines through on Who Am I and in a recent chat with DIVA, Heather had lots to say about the band’s fresh sound, the lessons learned and representations of queer love.

DIVA: What themes does the new Pale Waves album focus on?

Heather Baron-Gracie: There’s a few different concepts on this album. It had been quite a long time since album number one, so I needed to come back with a really strong message. The first album was slightly diluted because I was so young and I didn’t feel comfortable talking about a lot of subjects. This time around I wanted to come back with a strong voice. I talk about mental health, body image, what it’s like to be a woman, being in love, being in the wrong relationships. Theres a real variety of themes on this album and that’s what I intended. I wanted there to be a song for everyone.

What was the process like for creating the album this time around?

I wrote this whole album in L.A. Me and Ciara spent some time trying to write the album together when we were on tour and all the demos just didn’t feel like Pale Waves’ second record. They lacked confidence and I didn’t feel super excited by them, so we took some time apart. I stepped away from the touring environment to gain clarity on the second album. I went to L.A. to visit my girlfriend and just by chance my manger was like: “Hey, do you want to do a session with a producer?”, which I’ve never done before. It all poured out of me and in a few months I had the album fully written. It all came really naturally as soon as I stepped out of that touring environment – nothing could stop me. 

What was the reaction to the singles you released in the lead up like? 

People really liked it. I think people were shocked when we came back with Change. We had been away for a while and I don’t think people expected us to come back with a different sound at all. They were expecting us to rewrite the first record and I was like, “Hell no, I’m not doing that”. They like the switch up and they’re connecting with the music more. The songs mean so much more to me now. I’ve grown up a lot and the message is so much stronger than our previous material so it’s meaning a lot more to the fans. 

There’s such a big gap in time between your albums. What would you say has changed for you and the band in those three years? 

We’ve all really grown up as people and experienced so much more. We’ve travelled around the world, we’ve met a bunch of people and in this past year every member of Pale Waves has found other loves that aren’t just the band, which I think is really healthy. Ciara is producing a lot of other artists and they’re really honing in on that craft. I know Hugo is producing other artists, too and Charlie is DJing. I think when you’re totally consumed by something, you can get lost in it. If anything I’m consumed the most by Pale Waves because I fell like I have to be. It’s my message at the end of the day. But I do like to just step aside and take a break from it for a minute in the day and do yoga or read a book. 

Was there a moment that sparked your decision to open up about your sexuality in your music? 

I’ve felt more comfortable in myself over the last year and a half and I’ve really worked on myself as a person and reflected a lot. I learnt to love a lot of parts I used to hate about myself and I owe that to my girlfriend, Kelsi. She taught me how to love those parts and become my own best friend. I’m definitely not perfect, I’m still working on it. But it’s allowed me to open up and be more vulnerable because I’m more comfortable in myself. 

A lot of people didn’t understand She’s My Religion at first, or took it as a negative song trying to be a love song. If anything this is the ultimate love song! It’s more of a love song than Easy because it’s basically me saying: “I love you, entirely.” People tend to only focus on the positive parts of a person or a love story. As a society we always try and pretend everything Is perfect and it’s not, nobody is perfect. To love someone completely, you need to love them entirely. For me, it’s the biggest love song on the record. 

What was Kelsi’s reaction like when she heard She’s My Religion? 

Kelsi was the first person who heard it. I played it to Kelsi in the car and she was like: “What are you singing in the chorus?” I told her not to take it the wrong way and to listen again, but she wondered why I was calling her cold, dark and cynical. Having explained my thinking and the process behind the song, she was fine with it. Kelsi is really artistic herself and she understands that when you’re with someone who is artistic, you are going to get written about.

Was she keen to be in the music video? 

No, she’s very much a person who loves to be the master mind behind it all but not in front of the camera. That’s why we work so well. We directed the music video together and she’s helped me think about all of the music video concepts. We have a really creative relationship which I absolutely adore because there’s very few people in my life that I entirely respect their creative vision. I know what I want and a lot of the time I don’t want to compromise. But with her, she tends to make things one hundred times better. She’s very much the boss but I like to be the informer. It did take some convincing for her to be in the music video but I couldn’t do it with anyone else. It would be such a shame if it was just a boring band performance music video. This song is so powerful, and visually, we made it even more powerful. 

What’s your favourite track on the album? 

I would pick Wish You Were Here, which actually has Kelsi on the track. She wrote a poem about me and I said, “Hey, can you read that poem you wrote about me a few months ago?” and I was secretly recording her on my phone. I put it in the track which she wasn’t too pleased about at first, but she came around. 

What makes pop music so great for you?

I love pop music because I love a chorus and a hook that I can remember. I don’t tend to like songs that I couldn’t sing back to you after listening once or twice. I don’t actually listen to a lot of songs that are on the radio or are super mainstream, I love songs that are dressed alternatively but at it’s core is a pop song. I just love a song that will stay in my head. 

What’s your goal for 2021? 

For this album to do really well and for people to connect with it and find themselves in it. I feel like I’ve worked so hard on this album that seeing people connect with it and seeing it change peoples lives will mean the world to me. Besides that, I hope we can go back to some kind of normality.

Who Am I is out now. Check out our March issue, available 26 February, for some extra content from our interview with Heather Baron-Gracie. 

Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.

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