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Pale Waves’ Heather Baron-Gracie On The Power Of Art, 2021 And Avril Lavigne As A Feminist Icon

Nieve O’Donnell

As the release of the glittering forthcoming record Who Am I? looms, Pale Waves’ brazen skipper, Heather Baron-Gracie, talks creativity, COVID, and crushes with Impact’s Nieve O’Donnell. 

Having “lived with these songs for so long and listened to them countless times for various reasons,” it is clear that releasing the long-awaited LP, Who Am I?, is an electric prospect for Pale Waves’ Heather Baron-Gracie. “I’m just so excited to get it out there and for it to be other peoples, and them get the satisfaction of all the hard work and emotional breakdowns I’ve had over this album,” she explains with a lopsided grin. 

Reflecting on the potential musical shift between Pale Waves’ beloved 2018 debut and the shiny new Who Am I?, the Mancunian singer notes that “it’s really hard to have a perspective because I’m so involved. It took me a while to see how different it is to the last record. People who heard the first demos said ‘it’s so different from the last album, everyone’s going to freak out,’ and I was like, ‘nah, it’s not that different?’”, “I didn’t want to play with makeup or dolls, I wanted to play on my skateboard and with my electric guitar”

“I didn’t want to play with makeup or dolls, I wanted to play on my skateboard and with my electric guitar”

Having taken a step back and re-listened to the first album, for Baron-Gracie, the evolution was natural – “as an artist you have to evolve. I didn’t want to write the same record again. Some people are a bit upset that it doesn’t sound like an 80’s record again but I wasn’t going to do that. You already have the first one!” Suitably steadfast in her songwriting abilities and with seven years of experience now under her belt, she finishes: “I wasn’t going to make or mould something to satisfy other people.”

The December release of lead single, She’s My Religion, was a vital part of the record’s artistic process, but the singer speaks gratefully of the way things fell into place: I knew which singles I wanted to release first, and it all just luckily fell in my favour!”. “It felt so natural to me, I already knew the order instantly because that’s just what it needed to be,” she smiles. The single offers the first teaser of the album artwork, which, like each song on the LP “serves a purpose” and “has its own different identity.” 

Inspired by Lavigne’s artwork for the iconic Let Go, Baron-Gracie explains that the Canadian singer “was such a big part of my life and a massive hero of mine, still is, but especially when I was growing up”. “That album cover, to me, was one of the best album covers of all time so I wanted to do something similar – “it’s the album I’ve listened to the most throughout my life”. Perhaps explaining her music’s unapologetic sentiment, she continues thoughtfully, “back then I didn’t want to play with makeup or dolls, I wanted to play on my skateboard and on my electric guitar with my hair that hadn’t been brushed in a week”. “She gave me the reassurance that it’s good to not conform to social norms,” the front-woman deduces thoughtfully, “she was like, nah, I’m just going to be me, I’m going to be a tomboy”.

With mention of the glaringly obvious pandemic, Baron-Gracie, whose mum is a nurse working for the NHS, and tells “[her] everyday how stressful it is,” notes that “you need positive things in your life more because they bring some positivity when you can’t see your family and you can’t see your friends”. Music, she fittingly states, “has always been there for people,” and acts as “a comfort blanket of reassurance that you’re not alone and someone feels the same way you do”.

“When gigs go back to what they once were, I feel like they’ll be appreciated even more!”

“Art is a really important thing and people are relying on it even more at the minute,” she muses, and with the stark absence of touring, live shows have been unable to lift people’s spirits in their usual, euphoric way. When Pale Waves eventually get to take the album out on the road however, Heather promises that “the live shows will be even more exciting”. “When gigs go back to what they once were, I feel like they’ll be appreciated even more,” she grins optimistically, and with tracks like She’s My Religion in the wings, it’s near impossible not to believe her.  

Continuing on the topic of Pale Waves’ prodigious live show, the plucky front-woman reminisces fondly on her favourite tracks to perform live. “My Obsession has a breakdown towards the end and it’s a sort of heavy moment and we don’t really have a lot of those, especially on the first album,” that moment “where everyone just kind of loses their shit and people really look forward to it”. With the new LP promising more of the sort, along with the kind of formidable choruses that the band have become renowned, it is looking certain that there is more carnage to come.

Image of the band Pale Waves

The absence, if anything has, “taught us to appreciate things more,” Heather concludes in earnest; “maybe this is the pandemic teaching humanity not to take things for granted because I feel like we do, in many ways”. When asked about her hopes for 2021, the young singer pines not for musical megastardom or a sell-out arena tour, but that “the world goes back to normal in a way, that’s what I hope for the most.” “I hope the album goes well but, ultimately, I want people to be healthy again and to be able to go back to living their lives”. Gracious, discerning and defiant, Baron-Gracie is amongst modern indie’s most titillating figures, and with a formidable new record on the horizon, the only way is skyward.

Nieve O’Donnell

Featured and in-article images courtesy of Pale Waves via Ian Cheek Press. Images granted to Impact by their owners.

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