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'Everyone is fragile' - In conversation with Pale Waves

Epigram speaks to frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie on her hatred of being called an indie band, mental health and sexism in the music industry ahead of their headline UK tour.

By Jake Paterson, Co-Deputy Music Editor

In charting human emotion at its most celebratory and vulnerable, Pale Waves over the past five years have established a community demonstrating that internal darkness can lead to such glittering beauty.

Darting away from the romantic shimmer of indie pop that made their name, their latest album Unwanted takes a stab at the pop punk of the noughties whilst remaining grounded in contemporary alt rock. "We wanted to kind of shake things up a bit" Baron-Gracie tells me over Zoom, a couple of days before the band leaves for a headline tour of Japan.

"We wanted to stray away from that indie association that we had. We weren't a fan of being called an indie band" she suggests, highlighting the onslaught of pigeon-holing and comparisons to other Dirty Hit label mates that at some point have shared a similar vein in musical direction. Carving out an identity though jealousy, anger and trauma for this record holds their ambition of turning darker and more alternative to perfect light, and provides substance to their visual aesthetic that is inseparable from the music itself.

“It sounds a lot cooler saying rock band” she jokes.

Taking this record on the road almost non-stop since February, including a stint supporting 5 Seconds of Summer, I ask how the return to the live setting has been, particularly having released their sophomore album in 2020. "We got to a point where we were kind of sick of touring [before lockdown] and we were desperately in need of a break" she says. This pre-pandemic touring also included a near-fatal tour bus crash in early 2020 where everyone in the band but Baron-Gracie were on board. The surmounting intensity surrounding touring was therefore palpable.

"Now that we've had a break we all just appreciate it even more" she says "we don't want to stop".

"I feel like everyone appreciates live music even more now because you realise what it felt like not to experience that". Queer anthems like 'She's My Religion' grew from bedrooms and the online community alone, and now in the space of shared experience in the live setting breathe more violently than ever before. What was once an area of vulnerability in solitude grants power within a live audience.

“When you sign up to be an artist you sign up to give away a lot of your personal life and a lot of your trauma and that’s just part of it and you have to accept it” she tells me, touching on the barriers between being a visible and ever-present beacon for expression and retaining a private life alongside that. “I feel like you need to keep part of yourself for your own sanity” she notes of the demand for her sense of online visibility. “I find the internet a bit exhausting to be honest. You just have to keep connecting with [the audience] and giving them content and that’s what we try to do”.

Drawing on inspirations from the likes of Avril Lavigne, I'm also keen to ask how Baron-Gracie approaches how she is represented as a frontwoman in the media and the industry itself. "I feel like the industry is more progressive than it was back then especially towards women" she says, "I do feel like there's a long way to go in terms of equality. I still see it today in the music industry and the live environment - I still see blatant sexism and it frustrates me so much".

This draw between the visible and the internal is especially pertinent on the new record, particularly through the lyrics on a track like ‘Numb’. “I always want to address mental health in some kind of way when we create a record” she says, “I go through finding myself in very depressed phases. They usually only last a few days but when you do it’s so horrible” concluding that “I just want to lie in my bed and barely exist”.

“So it was really therapeutic for me to write a song like ‘Numb’ because it’s a release of how I feel”. “I think it’s really important to speak about these things and normalise people being able to talk”.

Pale Waves / Katia Temkin

Many of these themes are also picked up in the single ‘The Hard Way’ which addresses the suicide of one of Baron-Gracie’s classmates at school after a period of bullying. “I think everyone is fragile” she says, hoping for us to “be kinder to one another and just not be a d*ck!”

Review: Pale Waves @ Rough Trade

Unwanted is out now. Pale Waves' headline UK tour starts 25 November.

Featured Image: Pip / Ian Cheek Press

Have you listened to Unwanted?