Heather Baron-Gracie is the lead singer of Pale Waves, an indie rock band that rose to stardom after supporting The 1975 on their North American tour in 2017. They then released their debut EP ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID and album My Mind Makes Noises, with their debut album reaching number eight on the UK Albums Chart. The band’s influences are broad, with Heather’s vocals often resembling Avril Lavigne’s, but having a musical style comparable to eighties acts such as The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Prince, and many more. The band’s second album, Who Am I? was set to release in 2020, but due to the pandemic has been delayed to the 12th of February this year.
Another result of the pandemic was the circumstances of our interview. Conducted over Zoom, a platform I’m sure everyone has had to tolerate over the last almost-year, Heather and I discussed the album itself and the process of making it, as well as the music video for ‘She’s My Religion’.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF RECORDING IN LOCKDOWN
After introductions, I asked about the difficulties recording during the pandemic. The band had ended up being split up during the pandemic, with Heather and drummer Ciara in LA and the rest of the band returning home to record from their bedrooms.
“For the majority of the second half of the recording of the record, it was mainly just me and the producer. And that was a difficult part, trying to manoeuvre around, you know, recording whilst being under all sorts of restrictions.”
On the other band members’ experiences, she offered some insight as well. “It was only Charlie that recorded from his bedroom. Hugo didn’t need to because he didn’t really need to record guitar because I play guitar, and we also have a professional guitarist called Joel, who used to play for Alanis Morissette to come in and record some of the really technical guitar parts.”
“Charlie had a really cool experience. He set up a little mini studio with his friend, his best friend from back home who liked producing, and they basically did all the bass parts and then sent them over, so it was pretty easy. I think they were just thankful to be back home.”
THE SURPRISES OF WHO AM I?
Turning to the topic of the album itself, Heather hinted at the potential surprises it might hold. “I think overall as a piece and a body of work, it is going to surprise people because it’s a completely different direction, musically, and lyrically. But you know, that was a conscious decision of mine, I wasn’t going to just rewrite the first record. And I also am so over the eighties era that it’s just not natural for me to write a song that belongs there anymore. I wanted it to be alternative. I wanted it to be sort of a throwback, but then also have key pop elements because I’m a sucker for a big chorus.”
“So I think as a collective piece of work, people are going to be shocked, and I feel like the fan base were shocked with ‘Change’ when it came out because I don’t know what they were expecting to be honest, it’d be interesting to know the thoughts. But I think we shocked them with that because going from a heavily eighties influenced album being dressed in a lot of production and arpeggiators and twinkly synths and like five different snare samples, then going into a song where it is mainly me and an acoustic guitar. It is a drastic change. But we had to make that change. And I wasn’t just gonna rewrite music that I’d already written.”
On my listening of the album, the title track stood out to me most, so I asked Heather a little about it. “I had probably like half of the album down and I was being asked for a title, and I just didn’t have it. I thought of a few different ones. But I sort of know, I know when I know with something, I get this sense, I guess a feeling in my gut. I just didn’t receive that feeling with any of the titles already on the track list. There had been sort of pressure for an album title, and it just wasn’t there, but they weren’t going to force anything.”
“Then I was on tour on one particular day, I just felt really sort of washed up and drowned out and I’d really sank to the bottom, because touring, in general, can be really so physically straining, and mentally straining too. It’s amazing, playing shows, but it does require a lot of maintenance, aand if you sort of abuse that or forget about it, which, at the time I was, I was neglecting self-care, it can really overwhelm you. One particular day, I was feeling those feelings even more. I just took myself into the bathroom of a dressing room, locked the door, took my acoustic in there, and I wrote ‘Who Am I?’ and felt like it really summarised the album. It felt like the album title for me. I got that feeling.”
CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM AROUND TOURING
Keeping on the subject of touring, Heather expressed her cautious excitement. “I try to be positive about the situation, but also realistic. I don’t think live shows are going to start again until the end of this year. A lot of people are sort of thinking, optimistic people are thinking July, but I just think that’s daft, thinking that we’re gonna be playing shows in July.”
“I mean, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I mean, when the day comes that we can play live again, it’s going to be a moment for the whole band, and even for our whole entire fanbase, because I know, it brings a lot of people and a lot of comfort and a lot of pleasure coming into a Pale Waves gig because you feel a sense of community and you feel like everyone in that one room has something in common. And that’s, you know, music and we sort of attract people that tend to feel like outsiders, so I know they find a Pale Waves show to be a safe place.”
‘SHE’S MY RELIGION’ AND NORMALISING LGBTQ+ RELATIONSHIPS
The second single from the album is ‘She’s My Religion,’ a track that paints a raw and honest picture of the relationship between two women. It has an intensely personal music video, directed by award-winning filmmaker and photographer Jess Kohl and starring Heather herself alongside her partner, Kelsi Luck. On the song itself, Heather said: “the song is all about normalising LGBTQ+ relationships and representing them in a healthy way, rather than playful or experimental or overly sexualized.”
“When I was growing up, I felt like I didn’t really have anyone that was in that community doing that, that I could sort of look up to and find comfort. And so for me to be able to have somewhat of a platform to be able to do that and represent it in a healthy way, and in a way that is authentic and honest and pure and real, I think that’s really comforting to a lot of fans of ours. I know this song in particular, and the music video, impacted our fan base so much– the most that I’ve ever seen anything impact them.”
The video itself has garnered over three hundred thousand views since its release on the 22nd of December, with the chemistry between Heather and Kelsi being highlighted by many publications. Heather was enthusiastic when talking about the video and getting the chance to work alongside her partner: “It was really amazing. We have such a creative relationship. We’re creating something every day, like, right now whilst I’m on the phone to you, she’s planning a music video for ‘You don’t own me.’ We’re so absorbed in our relationship that it was really natural and really exciting and felt really fitting that we were both in the video for ‘She’s My Religion,’ it couldn’t have been any other way. It wouldn’t have worked as a full band performance. It just had to be her and I just being natural.”
A CREATIVE RELATIONSHIP
As well as starring alongside Heather in the music video for ‘She’s My Religion,’ Kelsi was always there to offer feedback and support during the process of songwriting. “Oh, yeah. Kelsi is the most opinionated person in my life when it comes to, you know, the art of things, which I value the most. She’s actually someone that I truly respect as an artist and her creative vision is very on par with my creative vision. Of anyone, Kelsi has had the most involvement, you know, it’s me, and then it’s Kelsi. It’s great that you can be in love with someone and have a relationship, but then you can also be so creative with that person, too. It’s the perfect relationship.”