Pale Waves want to be the biggest band in the world, but you probably already knew that. Their ambition has been clear since the opening shimmer of their signature banger ‘There’s A Honey’ dazzled into view back in February 2017. Their drive has been constant, from fearlessly supporting stablemates The 1975 on their trek across American academies and arenas with only one song to their name, through to releasing a steady stream of stone-cold pop classics, doused in red, black and blue. At every turn, they’ve commanded the spotlight and asked for more. They’ve been relentless, uncompromising and constant in their need to be heard. It’s why they’ve spent the past six months almost always on the road. It’s why their name is on the bill for pretty much every festival happening this summer.
All that, though, was leading to this - their debut album. Titled ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ and released on 14th September, the fourteen tracks come just a year and a half after that debut single, but the difference is huge. Pale Waves don’t just dream of being the biggest band in the world; they’re doing everything in their power to make it their reality.
“It feels crazy,” starts vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie. “Even when I’m listening to it on my phone, it’s still so odd to picture us with a full-length album of Pale Waves music. We’ve worked so hard for this to happen and now it’s actually, finally here,” she grins. Excited and nervous, but not in equal measures, you can tell the next few months are going to be tough for them, but the record is done, and now, they just have to wait.
Pale Waves have constantly been writing, eager to make sure they got their biggest, best and brightest ideas onto ‘My Mind Makes Noises’. A lot of songs were started “but we haven’t finished most of them,” Heather admits. “We’ve got loads of ideas, but we were strict. We knew what vibe we wanted to go with, so it was easy to figure out which songs were going to work and which ones weren’t.”
“People have got this idea of us writing the same song but with a different title, which I think is funny,” she muses. “It’s just that we love major chords. We love pop music.” No song on ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ sounds like another. Not really. Sure, they’re all massive, immediate gems in pop’s crown jewels, shaped with that same magical Pale Waves toolkit, but each one has its own glimmering charm. “At the end of the day, we could do whatever,” she continues. “As long as it’s got my voice on it, then I guess it is Pale Waves, isn’t it?”
“We wanted to dive into different aspects of our sound,” Heather continues. “We wanted to show different personalities to our writing,” but none of that came from simply wanting to prove people wrong. Their world expanding at each twist and turn, every song still sounds like Pale Waves. “You shouldn’t listen to those people. We write pop music, and we want to sound like the same band. I’m sorry if that offends anyone. We have the same writers. We’re going to have a consistent sound. And I think that’s a good thing to do. We want to be recognisable. I wouldn’t want to throw some jazz number on the album... not yet anyway,” she smiles. “We’ve got a lot of groundwork to settle in before we start throwing those crazy shapes.”
“‘My Mind Makes Noises’ tells their story so far. You’ll recognise ‘Kiss’ as well as slightly reworked versions of ‘There’s A Honey’ and ‘Television Romance’, but apart from that, it’s all shiny and new. It’s looking towards a future where the name Pale Waves is up in lights. There are hints of what’s to come; whispers of a world bigger than even they could imagine.
“With this record, it’s going to display what we’re going to do on the next album and in the future,” says Heather. “We’re always growing as artists, growing as people, and that’s going to influence our writing.” The band are also ever-growing. “It’s going to be even more different on the second album, but it’s still going to sound like Pale Waves,” she promises. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
Pale Waves had a pencil-sketch plan for what their debut album should be before they started. The reality “is better”, says Heather, and not just because it actually exists. “We got to the studio, and I had a mini breakdown because I didn’t think we had enough songs that were good enough. Pressure really helped me. I needed the pressure. We got to that mental state where we all started to go a bit insane. We’d been in the same building for over a month, every day from 10 am to 11 pm, and as you can imagine, we were all going a bit mental.
“At times it was really hard. Not just hard on me, but I could see it taking its effect on Ciara [Doran, drums]. We all heavily depend on her. She essentially writes the music, and she helped produce the album [alongside Jon Gilmore]. I was feeling stressed, and I could see it in her eyes as well, but you know what? It’s just so worth it now. That’s all part of making an album. We knew it was going to be stressful, but I never expected it to be as stressful as it was.”
No matter how hard it got, the band never thought about tapping the brakes. They’ve been hurtling forward since day one, always been in control of their ridiculous pace. “We knew our album had to come out around September or we’d be leaving it too late. I see a lot of bands doing that nowadays, and I think it’s a big mistake. You need to push yourself. At times, when we were recording the album and things got tough, I had to take myself aside, walk around outside and ask myself, am I really going to push myself this far? And I did. Every time. Because it’s the right time for us.”
Every song on ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ is vital. Lyrically, musically, cinematically, they all have something to add to this ever-growing always-exciting world. If one was to be the record’s beating heart, though, sort-of-title-track ‘Noises’ shimmers with extra weight. “That’s such an important song to me,” offers Heather. “I wrote it when I was going through a difficult time. I was struggling with how I looked and how my body was. A lot of our fans are young, they’re growing up, and they’re figuring out who they want to be. It was important for me to write a song on self-esteem and mental health issues because I know people struggle with that. They need a reason to escape that nightmare in their head. They need someone else to say, ‘You know what? It’s okay ‘cos I’m feeling the same’.
“I know how some people see me onstage,” she continues. “They see how I dress and how I am sometimes, and I know they think ‘You know what, she’s confident and believes in herself’, but I think the people that try and present themselves as the most confident are always the ones that lack that assurance and self-esteem. I’ve struggled with that growing up and still do to this day. It’s slowly getting better, but I wish I had somebody to say,” she pauses. “I wish I had ‘Noises’ as a song in my life when I was seventeen. It would have helped me.”
Heather wrestles with self-doubt throughout the album. There’s uncertainty. There’s confusion. There’s loss, and feeling lost. One track, ‘Drive’, she describes as “part two of ‘Noises’”. “That’s where I am right now,” she explains. “I’m twenty-three, I don’t feel quite as sad, but I still feel the same. I needed to make that bold step because it’s going to serve my songwriting in the future. I do believe that the older you get and the more songs you write, you allow yourself to open up more. The easy thing to do is write about love. I feel it’s a lot more difficult for me to write about myself, how I feel, what I struggle with, what my flaws are and what my insecurities are, rather than talking about another person and how I feel about them.”
That soul-baring honesty lets people latch onto Pale Waves as they head to the stratosphere. It’s never been success at any cost, though.
“I’ve had so many messages, and I’ve seen so many people online really thanking us for ‘Noises’. That absolutely melts my heart because I write these songs because I need to express myself, but I also want to be there for other people.”
It’s the most personal song Pale Waves have released to date, and it comes at a time where they’re going to new places, playing to fields full of people who are basically strangers to them. Rather than hide it on the album, they’ve put it front and centre so the world can find it. Fearless but also coming from the gut, “it just really felt like the right time to release it,” says Heather. “We’d previously released a lot of songs that were about romantic relationships and I wanted to release a song that wasn’t just about that.”
And obviously, having learnt all the words, you know the title of the record comes from the song. “Ciara got ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ tattooed on her arm and to me, that put the nail in the coffin. The album had to be called that; it means so many different things to me. There are so many things going on inside my head, good and bad. My head just constantly feels like it’s a train that’s going full speed ahead. Sometimes that can be bad, sometimes that can be good, but that sentence just summed up the album. ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ is basically my world, my diary that you’re stepping inside. It’s all the noises that my mind has made.”
The record starts with ‘Eighteen’. A pulsing, heart racing megahit in waiting, it opens with the line “this city depresses me.” A lot of this album, this band and their journey so far started with Heather wanting to escape her surroundings.
“I grew up in Preston, and that’s quite a small town. I felt like an outsider. I always felt like I stuck out because I didn’t dress how they dressed. In college, I didn’t want to socialise with loads of people. I didn’t want to exchange awkward conversations because I was so tired of that. I’d done all that in high school, so I took myself off to the music department and played piano for the whole thing. For most of the time, I was alone. That comes back to ‘Drive’ and the line ‘I like to be alone most of the time, talking to myself’.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love company, but I choose my company so wisely. To be a close friend of mine, I do put people through hell. A typical Capricorn. I don’t trust a lot of people.”
She wasn’t even going to be in a band. Sure, she’s been playing guitar since she was a kid. Encouraged by her dad who also played, she had lessons, took the exams, wrote her first songs on it and uploaded covers to YouTube. She always intended to do it by herself and believed that she’d be a lone star. Then she met Ciara.
“I’d met so many people that let me down with music; I felt like Ciara was going to let me down again. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and get them shattered. She proved me wrong, though. She made me start a band with her. She’s the reason Pale Waves exists now. Without Ciara or Charlie [Wood, bass] or Hugo [Silvani, guitar], I couldn’t have done this. It would have just been me on my acoustic.”
But there’s one song on ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ that sees Heather all alone with that guitar. ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’ will break your heart again and again.
“Everyone kept coming up to me and saying you need to write an acoustic song for the album,” starts Heather. “And I knew I did; I just needed to finish the album first. I had an acoustic track ready to go, but I didn’t believe in it, so I ditched it and started again. I wrote ‘Karl’ in a day, and recorded it the next. Karl is my Grandad. He had a very traumatic life and well, I don’t like to say he killed himself because I’m in two minds about whether he did it on purpose or not, but he went too soon. Just seeing the effect it took on my mum’s life, her sister, her brother, and everyone around us... You know when you lose someone so close to you, and you feel like the world’s ending, and everyone is collapsing around you? That’s how it felt.”
The closing track of the record, it’s one of those stop-in-your-tracks moments that would fit nowhere else.
“You catch me at my most vulnerable on that song, so for me, I had to show you the other tracks for you to get to this point and see me at my breaking point.”
Pretty much everyone Heather has shown it to - Ciara, Heather’s mum (“It’s about her dad, so I felt like I had to get permission to use it”), her brother, Hugo, Charlie, her managers Mark Hayton and Jamie Oborne - cried when they heard it.
“I remember Jamie sitting down, stopping the track, looking at me and saying, ‘Heather, that’s a pretty fucking traumatic song’.” Her response was just what you’d expect. No fear, no hesitation. “Well, you’ve got to be real, especially with those sorta songs. It’s the most honest song I’ve ever written. I feel like I’ve been building up to it for the past seven years.”
There’s not a moment of ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ where the band pause, retrace or look around with uncertainty. Your favourite song could be any of them. Even then, it’ll probably change. The most surprising? Again, there’s a lot to choose from. Heather lists: “’Karl’, ‘Drive’, because it sounds so The Naked and Famous with the distorted guitars, ‘Loveless Girl’ because it’s so RnB, ‘Red’ because that’s so electronic pop, but it’s also really weird. The chorus sounds like it could be a club track but then it goes and explores this electronic influence.”
There’s also the shimmering daydream of ‘When Did I Lose It All’, the restrained haunt and wicked snarl of ‘She’ and the fizzing self-belief of ‘Black’. Once upon a time known as ‘You Don’t Love Us Anymore’, it growls: “I’m not changing, I’m just waiting to figure myself out.”
“There are a few tracks people won’t expect,” grins Heather, but as always, ”it’s still us. It’s still pop.” It’s still gigantic.
At this exact moment, jetlagged and off the back of a weekend that’s seen her band support The Cure at Hyde Park, play Belgium’s biggest festival Rock Werchter and take three flights to end up in Australia, the song that Heather is most excited by is ‘One More Time’.
“It’s a really assertive track. The song knows what’s it doing; it knows what it’s there for. We knew straight away what we wanted to say, how we wanted to say it, and how we wanted people to feel when we heard it.”
But even that only lasts for a second.
“It depends what sort of vibe you’re going for. If you asked me, what’s you’re biggest pop banger? I’d say ‘One More Time’ or ‘Eighteen’. If you asked me what the most reflective song that explores me as a person? It’s ‘Noises’ or ‘Drive’. What’s your most personal song? ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’.”
Going into this record, there’s a lot of pressure on Pale Waves. There’s expectation from every angle and Heather feels it more than most.
“I do feel like there’s a lot of pressure on the singer in any band to be the sole character, to be this person shouting, ‘Give me all the attention’. Don’t get me wrong; I am like that sometimes. Seriously, give me all the attention you’ve got. But sometimes it’s like, don’t even look at me for a second, please, because I can’t handle it. Sometimes I don’t understand myself. But then again, most people don’t, do they? That’s what music is for. That’s what art is for.”
‘My Mind Makes Noises’ is Heather’s life so far. “It’s a journey of my life, up until now.” The ambition has been a constant, unflinching partner in crime. “I’ve always had that ambition since I was a young child, not just since I joined Pale Waves. I’m Pale Waves’ biggest fan but when I was a young child, my family members, they would always ask me what I wanted to do when I was older. Did I want to follow in my mum’s footsteps, did I want to become a nurse? No, I want to be a musician. And a lot of the time, people would laugh at me. ‘There she is, dreaming again’, but I kept a steady faith. No, I’m serious. This is what I want to do, and this is what I’m going to be. And now look at me. I’m doing it. I’m living it. These days, you have to have ambition. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. It is tough sometimes.”
The band’s sudden rise has attracted criticism, an easy target for people who just see their super shiny exterior and nothing more, but there’s always been more to them than that. ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ takes that heart, that passion, that desire to be something new and something important, and makes it supersized.
The record exceeds every expectation. It reaches higher, digs deeper and uncovers shapes you didn’t even know Pale Waves could pull. It’s the sound of a band comfortable with everything that’s happened so far, ready for whatever comes next.
“I feel like we’ve been slowly preparing ourselves for it. I can feel it getting busier and busier because I can feel myself getting more tired,” she laughs. “We’re ready. We’re definitely ready to take over the world. I want everyone to listen to us. And you know what? If they don’t like us, that’s absolutely fine. You can’t please everyone.”
For Heather, the record is about her life. Her doubts, her dreams, her nightmares. For those on the outside, it’s about finding the things that make them feel alive, even if that’s painful at times.
“A lot of the time I do things, and I’ll say things just to feel something, just to feel excitement or something different. Sometimes I want to scream, but everyone wants to do that at some point. Sometimes I feel dull all the time, and that’s why I have to make music.”
“I want people to have this record. I want it to make them feel better,” she continues. “I want them to grow up with it, I want them to find comfort in it. That’s what I do. I find comfort in music. I find comfort in hearing other people say that they feel the same way as me. I want it to help them, and I want them to enjoy it.”
Pale Waves have achieved so much so soon, but really, everything starts here. It’s the first look we’ve had at just how big this band can be. It sees them pushing at the walls, bracing against the ceiling and hurtling towards the horizon. It’s full of spotlight superstardom, gleaming ambition and quiet moments of heartbreaking truth. It goes all in, all the time, just like Pale Waves. And they’re not stopping now.
“Hopefully it never ends. Never, ever ever. Hopefully more people join our world, hopefully they feel safe in it and have a great time, and hopefully, the world of Pale Waves just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Taken from the August 2018 issue of Dork. Order a copy below. Pale Waves' debut album 'My Mind Makes Noises' is out now.
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