Mind Over Matter: Pale Waves' Meteoric Rise to Pop Majesty

Pale Waves make their third trip to Phoenix alongside The 1975
Pale Waves make their third trip to Phoenix alongside The 1975 Brian Griffin
As of this moment, Pale Waves are enjoying the last days of the longest break the members have had in two years. Ever since the British pop group released their debut single “There’s A Honey” back in February 2017, the wheels have turned faster and faster, accelerating with each subsequent release. Eighteen months, four continents, and nine music videos later, Pale Waves’ full-length opus My Mind Makes Noises arrived with a bang. Now, after near-endless touring and so much work to reach their present state, it’s easy to imagine that things feel a touch slow for lead singer and guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie.

“I’m sort of bored,” says Baron-Gracie in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “It’s so strange being constantly around people and being on stage and having that routine, and then just going to not being around people, being in your own space, and doing your own things. Even not just having a tour manager telling you where to go and what to do … I’m very eager to get back on the road.”

In January of this year, the four-piece of Baron-Gracie, drummer and producer Ciara Doran, guitarist Hugo Silvani, and bassist Charlie Wood toured the UK for two and a half weeks in support of The 1975. Here, they played some of the biggest venues of their careers and walked in the footsteps of their heroes. For the woman who once sang “I like to be alone most of the time,” the world is now at her doorstep.

“The venues were just huge, insane,” Baron-Gracie says. “We’re playing on those stages, where like, I watched The Cure there. I stood where Robert Smith stood … It’s really inspiring as well, inspiring us to want this for ourselves.”

On Monday, Pale Waves kicks off its North American cycle in support of The 1975, starting here in Phoenix, then make their way up the west coast, playing headlining dates in California along the way. The show here at Comerica Theater will host sixteen times the capacity of their sold-out gig at The Rebel Lounge last spring. Where so many pop acts can coast on a well-manicured online aesthetic, Pale Waves is fueled by the carnal adrenaline of the live setting.

“Playing live is our favorite thing to do,” Baron-Gracie says. “I prefer it to the studio. There’s nothing like being on stage and playing these songs that mean so much to you. It’s a really special moment, because every show is different ... We meet people after every show — especially our first shows in America, going out and meeting as many people as we can. They are the reason we can afford to do this and why I don’t have to get a 9-to-5, which is my worst nightmare.”

For many, a typical 9-to-5 might be a less strenuous option. Between their Rebel Lounge gig last year and now, Pale Waves played over 130 gigs, averaging one for every two to three days of living existence.

“It’s definitely a full time job,” Baron-Gracie says. “It never stops. We’re constantly writing and going on tour and in rehearsal. We live and breathe Pale Waves.”

Inasmuch, three months at home has lent itself to creative output, and Pale Waves are well on their way in planning their next move.

“We’re all in a new house [in London], writing for our new EP,” Baron-Gracie says. “Our new music is a lot different. As writers, we’ve broadened our vision a lot more, and we’re a lot more creative. From the first record, a lot of it was quite similar. And I kind of like how it felt a bit naive, though, since it was our first. With the new [material], I think people will be shocked, but shocked in a good way.”

Shocking is a good way to describe Pale Waves — not in a sense of shock and awe, but in the way they call their audience to attention. Every offering put forward is an arresting display of pop mastery and aesthetic equilibrium. Baron-Gracie and Doran make an unstoppable collaborative force. Add onto that Baron-Gracie’s brilliant intuition for visual accompaniment, and you have a band that cannot be ignored.

“I love visuals,” Baron-Gracie says. “I get such enjoyment out of making our music videos. I think of the ideas and get very hands on. In this day and age, people expect the music but also [more]. It’s another way to compliment the song — more art, isn’t it? More of your ideas. For “Noises,” in particular, that’s just me channeling what that song is about. It’s just diving in even more.”

On “Noises”, the pseudo-eponymous track from Pale Waves’ full-length, Baron-Gracie details the heat of a mental and emotional breakdown, spawning from repeated self-deprecation and self-doubt. On a rare occasion for the band, Baron-Gracie braves the video alone. In a white room, she teeters between emotional states, represented in different outfits, makeup, and even hair color. The woman that emerges on the other side of this maelstrom is a stronger version of herself, knowing the full weight of the burden she carries, empowered in her ability to name it. This balancing act of light and dark through threadbare self-exploration is a mainstay of the Pale Waves bible.

“I want to hear the real stuff,” Baron-Gracie says. “I don’t want anything sugar coated. I want to hear [them] putting the heart out there. I want to hear it in the voice. With our music, my brain is instantly drawn to the dark side of things, but we balance it out surrounding ourselves with pop — upbeat tempos and shimmering guitars and things … That’s just who we are.”

Pale Waves. Opening for The 1975. 7 p.m. Monday, April 15, at Comerica Theatre, 400 West Washington Street; Tickets are $48-$212 via Live Nation.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.