Groove and Emotion: A Conversation with Pale Waves

Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida
Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida
article by Maggie McHale and Nicole Almeida

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“I feel like some people, because our songs are quite poppy, they don’t think that our songs have any thought or meaning, and they definitely do,” Heather Baron-Gracie firmly states of her band, Pale Waves. “We almost think too much about them, and what they should sound like, and what they should mean.”

All The Things I Never Said - Pale Waves
All The Things I Never Said – Pale Waves

Maybe it wouldn’t be initially explicitly obvious, but Pale Waves are nonetheless pure pop perfection to their core. The Manchester, UK-based four piece – comprised of Baron-Gracie, drummer Ciara Doran, bassist Charles Wood and guitarist Hugo Silvani – have seamlessly crafted emotionally provocative, sonically sanguine pop gems that essentially define the term earworm. Blending together a variety of influences, Pale Waves have uniquely curated a fluid sound that has garnered rampant praise and adoration. Through it all, they’re just making the music that they want to make.

“…[T]hat’s what we want our sound to be…groove and emotion,” Doran notes.

Importantly, Pale Waves are not only transforming pop music, but they’re doing it their own way. They have taken total autonomy over their sound and vision, independently producing their four-track EP, ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID, (released 2/19/2018 via Dirty Hit), and writing and directing a variety of their own music videos. Pale Waves are getting straight to the point, and it’s paying off tenfold.

Pale Waves poignantly tap into fraught love, something so perennial to Millennial culture. Their songs contain emotionally honest lyrics, sugar-coated with glowing instrumentals, from glistening synths to flamboyant guitar licks to punchy drum hits, and define ubiquitous sentiment through palatable sounds. It is pop music for the emotionally elevated soul. It is pop music that we didn’t think we needed, yet so desperately deserve.

Watch: “Television Romance” – Pale Waves


Atwood Magazine: What, usually, is the songwriting process like? Talking about progression and everything, do you go into every song – going into writing every song – with a similar mindset? Or do you kind of try and spread it out?

Heather Baron-Gracie: It varies, really. It can start by myself starting the song, or Ciara starting the song; like, she’ll write a lot of the music, or like, I’ll just come to her with a song on my guitar. Like, “New Year’s Eve,” you [Ciara] started that like –

Ciara Doran: Yeah, I started that like, last Christmas [2016], that whole bridge bit.

Perfect, right around the holiday season.

CD: Yeah, most of it was written on Christmas Day, like, musically; which is pretty cool. I don’t know, as soon as I sent it, Heather was like, “I want this to be about New Year’s Eve.” So, it always kind of had an idea around it. I find that songs that already have like, a really strong idea, turn out really good; and they’re really fast to write as well.

Listen: “New Year’s Eve” – Pale Waves

Do you usually do the instruments first, and then the lyrics?

HBG: A lot of the time, yeah, but sometimes not. Well, the guitar always gets put on last, really, doesn’t it?

CD: Yeah, but the rest of the music is normally there.

So you at least have a bass line, and then whatever else.

HBG: Yeah, a bass line, then drums. Ciara usually writes the drums, then the bass line, then synths and stuff.

CD: Then Heather will listen to it, and if she doesn’t like it, then we won’t do it.

HBD: There’s this one song that Ciara never got over, but I just can’t write to it.

CD: I wrote in on the last North American tour, and it’s like a whole, finished song, and Heather’s just like, “Eh.” Maybe this tour she’ll come around to it.

Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida
Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida

It’s okay! So when you’re writing a song, and getting the lyrics down, do you – are you inspired by...personal experience?

CD: Heather does write about personal experience.

It sounds like it! The lyrics have a very narrative quality about them.

CD: That’s what we want.

HBG: That’s what usually happens.

Do you have a favorite lyric that you’ve written?

CD: I’ve got my favorite lyric [tattooed] on my arm, but that’s a song no one’s ever heard before, but it’s my favorite Pale Waves song, and it’s my favorite thing she wrote.

HBG: I can never change that lyric now!

It’s alright, you can release it as a B-side if you do change it.

HBG: I think probably my favorite lyric is probably “Noises” or “My Obsession.” Or, are you asking for a specific line?

Well, do you have a specific lyric that you can share?

HBG: It’s probably from “My Obsession.” “When death comes, you’ll sure be heaven’s obsession.

Listen: “My Obsession” – Pale Waves

Super cool. Do you have any inspirations that would be kind of surprising to people, based on the type of music that you make? Is there anything that you listen to, if you told somebody, they’d be like, Oh, I would never have guessed that.

CD: I listen to a lot of R&B. You’ll probably hear that a lot in the new stuff.

HBG: I listen to a lot of like, really depressive stuff.

CD: I don’t.

We want it to be emotional, but also like, making it fun.

It’s good to bring your influences together!

CD: Heather’s a bit more emotion, I’m a bit more like, funky. I’m into like, beats.

Technical stuff.

CD: It’s a good mix.

HBG: It’s like groove, and then emotion.

CD: And that’s what we want our sound to be! We want it to be emotional, but also like, making it fun.

HBG: Not like, super sad.

Your genre is emotional groove.

CD: Yeah, exactly!

HBG: Like The Cure, but groovy.

Nice! That works as a brand for you guys.

CD: She’ll be writing a song, and she’s like, “Oh shit, it’s supposed to be happy!

HBG: Recently I’ve been writing happy songs though! Which, I’m quite shocked by.

And your artwork—you have such a defined aesthetic, with your pictures and stuff, but your artwork is just black. How and why did you make that decision?

HBG: It’s not like, too pretentious; it’s just like, you know when you click on artwork, if you seem something on Spotify—

CD: It kind of defines the song straight away.

HBG: There’s like, an expectation. So, there’s no expectation, it’s just music.

Take it for what it is!

HBG: It’s just purely music, then, and there’s nothing to be distracted by. It’s kind of cool, actually.

Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida
Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida

So what has been the best part about the successes that you’ve seen so far? What have you enjoyed the most?

CD: Seeing what the music means to people. And we’ll meet people, and they’ll go to Heather and be like, “Your lyrics have helped me emotionally,” and that’s crazy for people to say that to her, because like, what the songs are for is to share emotion with people, that people will also –

HBG: Relate to. And it makes them feel better their own situation, or experience.

CD: That’s really nice, to know how much that means to people.

HBG: And a lot of people have become friends through the band, which is the cutest thing.

CD: It’s lovely. I think a couple got together.

HBG: I think that’s happened a few times now. So that’s pretty cool.

That’s so sweet! So talking about, making connections with people, why do you think music matters? What makes it so important to you – or just in general?

HBG: For me, I need music to express myself.

CD: Heather’s not a big talker, so everything she feels is put into songs.

HBG: I think it helps people express themselves, really.

CD: And even if you don’t write music, you need music.

HBG: People who don’t listen to music, it’s like – you’re fucking weird. It’s like saying you don’t like food.

It’s like one of those basic necessities in life.

HBG: 100%.

You said you’re writing happier lyrics now—do you think that your melodies will become a little mellower?

HBG: Nah, we’ve got to stay poppy.

CD: I don’t know, she only writes fucking pop anyway.

HBG: I love pop music.

Do you think there’s an expectation that you’re trying to meet, just based on people knowing you through Dirty Hit? Do you think you’re trying to break away from that and prove yourselves in a different way?

HBG: What do you mean?

People have some sort of idea of who you are based on your tour that you did with The 1975.

HBG: Totally. We’re definitely trying to prove ourselves.

Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida
Pale Waves © Nicole Almeida

Yeah, and you’re so new – you’re doing a great job, by the way. Not diminishing that fact at all; you guys are doing wonderfully.

HBG: Yeah, we definitely are trying to prove ourselves. Like, this EP we’ve done completely ourselves. We shot music videos that we did ourselves. From “New Year’s Eve,” this is purely us. People can’t really say that someone else has done this.

CD: And I mean, it was scary for us to release a song that wasn’t produced by George [Daniel] and Matty [Healy]. It was a big leap, you know what I mean? It wasn’t a comfort anymore.

HBG: Because people are so obsessed with them, so like…

CD: Exactly. I don’t know, Matty and George are receiving it well.

HBG: I think it’s the best received song yet. And Matty and George have expressed how much they like it, so for them to like, say they loved this song, is a really nice feeling. It’s nice for people to see us as pure Pale Waves, because no one really knows how much involvement The 1975 have. We know.

We want people to realize how much we put into the songs. 

You guys absolutely deserve to stand on your own, because you’re so talented.

CD: It’s been like, special for them to be involved in the first two songs, and how they produced it, but you know—

HBG: We’re ready to be on our own now.

They gave you guys so much experience as well, like with the tour, and MSG.

HBG: That was sick.

CD: They’ve helped us so much, and really supported us at the start.

Everyone needs a mentor! And going off of that—what do you want people to know about you, and your music? If you could sum it up, what would you want people to know about you as a band?

HBG: I feel like some people, because our songs are quite poppy, they don’t think that our songs have any thought or meaning, and they definitely do. We almost think too much about them, and what they should sound like, and what they should mean. I don’t know. We want people to realize how much we put into the songs. These days, people think that pop is really easy to write, and doesn’t mean [anything], and that’s absolute bullshit.

And what do you have planned for the future?

HBG: We want to do an album. A really good album. And we’ve got loads more tours, and festivals.

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All The Things I Never Said - Pale Waves

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