As the weather turns colder and harsher in Boston, there are a few things keeping us warm this season. One of those being Manchester, England’s own Pale Waves, a band that has resonated exponentially in their short year in the spotlight thanks to infectious and meticulously crafted indie pop songs. Lush electronics fill the space between tight rhythms, buzzing guitar riffs, and intoxicating vocal melodies to paint their sound. The band’s first two singles, “There’s A Honey,” and “Television Romance” were both produced by Matty Healy and George Daniels of The 1975. Pale Waves was even given the opening slot to The 1975’s recent North American tour, an experience that surely rocketed the band to higher audiences, but has also infused listeners with the idea that the band can be billed as “the female 1975,” something the band doesn’t dwell on too often.
Speaking with singer/guitarist Heather Baron Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran, it can be felt that this typecasting and constant association to The 1975 will not define them, especially with a new EP expected early this year. When asked about the constant association with The 1975 and if it is disingenuous to Pale Waves’ own identity, Gracie states, “It sometimes is when an interviewer only asks about that, which is fine. Maybe interview them then, I’m doing questions about something else.” Doran adds in that she guesses “it will get filtered out anyway because we have done the EP now. [The 1975] have wished us the best and we’ve gone our separate ways because we are both so busy. It kind of works for the first two singles, to have them work on it, but now like, it’s been a different way. We’ve shown more of ourselves and are just developing in general.”
The band’s third single released, “New Years Eve,” was the first song listeners have heard that wasn’t produced by Healy and Daniels, though it may be difficult to tell since all the primary aspects of what Pale Waves do so well are there, front and center. “They would produce it without us even being there,” Heather notes on the process of recording “There’s A Honey” and “Television Romance.” “Matty and George,” she continues, “they were so busy, we are so busy, with them it worked differently. We would record the songs and make it how we want it, and they would work on the technical side of things.” Regarding the debut EP, she says, “We’ve been there for the whole process, it’s been a lot different, but a lot more rewarding. It’s been really great to get this EP done and we are really proud of it.” Her voice is pure when speaking on this, it’s easy to feel the excitement, the admiration, the pride behind Gracie and Doran’s words. Pale Waves are just getting started.
Asking about a thematic presence on the EP, Doran notes that some of the songs on it are “the first songs we wrote.” Gracie adds, “Having them on the EP is really special for us. It’s like the start of Pale Waves. I think there is a bit of everything. It’s like there are a lot of different sides to Pale Waves on that EP.”
With the first three tracks, there was a graphical theme of being bare with the art. A black background encompasses the artwork with simply the text of the song name and band name at the bottom. When asked about it, Gracie says, “These days, I think, we do it ourselves. But we judge the song on the artwork, or we get a first impression of a song based on the artwork, and we just thought it be really cool if we didn’t come out with really dramatic artwork and just go straight up pretty much all black and white with our name on it and the title of the song. Then people haven’t got much to get a first impression, or judge the song. They kind of more focus on the song then.” Doran adds, “It’s a blank canvas, we can go anywhere from there.”
When Substream spoke to the band in late 2017, they were fresh into their first U.S. headlining tour. Speaking on how it had been thus far, Gracie said, “It’s been great, it’s been amazing. This is our first ever headlin[ing] tour, we could not ask for better reception really.”
Ciara, speaking on the turnout, notes that “in Washington, DC, where we’ve never played before, it’s weird how many people are turning up when were so far from [home].” A long way from home indeed, for the dynamic of the band’s set at that point in time as well. At the time of the interview, Pale Waves only had three songs released. Dreams of an EP and even further out LP were far off for those desperately desiring more of the band. “It’s nice playing songs people know, because it’s more of a vibe,” Doran says. “Playing songs people don’t is cool, I don’t know, it’s like…” Gracie excitingly chimes in: “There’s more of a reception when we play [the singles]. There’s surprisingly a lot of people in the crowd who have done the research, and gone onto YouTube and listened to a lot of live videos, so there is always pretty much someone, or a handful singing along to new songs.”
On the anatomy of what makes these songs so enticing and alluring, we wondered what it was like constructing these songs that have made listeners so apt to scour for handheld phone videos on YouTube. “I guess they just sort of develop, it just happens,” Gracie replies. “Well, it doesn’t just happen.” Doran laughingly adds, “It starts with music, but then it’s about making the songs absolutely amazing. Heather can write about five different choruses and all be really good, but we know when the right one is done. We take quite a long time to write songs.” Gracie adds, “We are so particular.” Doran affirms, “It’s got to be perfect at the end of the day.”
When listening to the band, it’s easy to note that practically everything has a purpose. Guitars aren’t overbearing, drums are contained, yet irreplaceable when aligned with the bass, giving room for electronics, sparse guitars, and Gracie’s vocals to breathe. In a piece from NME, Gracie was quoted saying, “I just love pop music, and when it makes you feel something, it’s even better.” We inquired about this, because it’s easy to romanticize various aspects of their songs—be it a hook in the chorus, or a random line in a verse that oddly stuck. “Yeah, mainly about the lyrical content, really,” she responds. “I want the artist to be honest, I think sometimes in pop music you can of see through whose singing it, and you don’t really believe them. I want to believe them when I can hear it.”
Honesty seems to be an important factor for the band. We asked Gracie about her Vox 12-string guitar, and the conversation grew into how the band’s image is awkwardly commented on. Regarding her guitar, Gracie admires, “They are not as popular as you’d expect, it’s quite different. They are not very popular, the 12 string is used a lot in music that I love—The Cocteau Twins, The Cure. I just love Vox Phantom guitars. I think they are so cool, and the body shape is almost like a coffin, it’s perfect for Pale Waves.”
Continuing with the notion of using a generally unpopular, but niche instrument, we asked if it was important for the band to do things differently. “I don’t know,” Gracie responds. “We just kind [of] do our thing. We never purposefully try to do anything. We never do anything consciously. We just dress and write music the way we want to.”
“People think that has to connect and it doesn’t,” Doran adds. “I don’t know what people want us to wear.”
Both Doran and Gracie are passionate about the attention to their image. In fact, Gracie proclaims that, “Just because we wear dark shadow on our eyes doesn’t mean we are goth baiting them…These days you can wear and dress whatever you want. It doesn’t attach you to anything else. I think people need to realize that.”
The honesty of their responses indicates a romance with creativity and keeping things in the band in their control, even with their meteoric rise. Gracie and Doran both don heavy dark eyeshadow for their sets, and while their image may incorrectly instill a thematic presence on their sound, seconds into any of their tracks will shatter preconceived notions and prove that Pale Waves are here to do whatever they want and are doing it with purity and ease.
A version of this interview ran in the current print issue of Substream Magazine