20 Questions With Pale Waves: Loving Avril Lavigne, Breaking Up Crowd Fights & New Album ‘Who Am I?’

Pale Waves
Jordan Curtis-Hughes

Pale Waves

On Friday (Feb. 12), British four-piece Pale Waves have returned with one of the best indie-rock albums of the young year, releasing sophomore LP Who Am I? through Dirty Hit Records. The follow-up to their 2018 debut My Mind Makes Noises finds the Manchester group embracing a crunchier guitar sound while still valuing buoyant pop hooks, as Heather Baron-Gracie refuses to pull punches while singing about relationship frustrations, uninhibited sexuality, self-discovery and striking down misogyny.

As lead single “Change” put Avril Lavigne’s influence on Baron-Gracie’s song construction front and center, Pale Waves has commemorated the new album release with a music video for the standout track “Fall To Pieces.” Ahead of the group’s second album, Baron-Gracie discussed what inspired it, as well as all things Avril, putting an end to fights in the band’s crowds, and the movie that makes her cry (but that her bandmate, drummer Ciara Doran, refuses to watch).

1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

First piece of music that I bought was actually the Avril Lavigne album Let Go. I remember going to HMV and purchasing the CD and it was the best day ever.

2. What was the first concert you saw?

I think the first concert, too, was Avril Lavigne! I'm starting to sound like an absolute stan… Maybe there was another one when I was younger, I don't know. But I'm just going to say that one because I think that's the fondest and strongest memory I have of a first concert. It was me and my friend from back home, we went to Manchester, and it was an amazing night. She did amazing. I just remember thinking I want it to be me onstage. I think it was the Black Star Tour.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?

They still do the same thing. My mom's a nurse, and she sort of worked her way up 'cause she kept getting promotions. Now she's the matron and her job is very stressful, especially the given time. She's doing amazing, though. And then my dad is a foreman, so he works in construction. But his job requires him to travel around, so he's never really been at home that much. He works away from Monday to Friday. In my teenage years, he would actually work away in places like Dubai and it was really cool, because we got to go there and visit him whenever. I just didn't get to see him that often.

4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?

I guess my record label, in a way. When we signed, that was a really defining moment for us as a band. You know, you hope and you dream that you get signed by a record label, that’s the ultimate dream as a band or an artist. That sort of defines that you've made some sort of success, being signed by someone. So yeah, I would say my record label.

But from a personal side, I would say my dad. My dad's always been really supportive and has always really believed in me. He's the reason why I initially got into music and picked up the guitar, because he has such a passion for music and he plays guitar too.

5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?

I would love to headline Reading & Leeds, which is a really big UK festival. That would be incredible for us, a really defining moment as a band. I would love a number one album. That would be incredible, too. I try not to focus on things like that as much, you know, where your record lands in the chart, because I already feel really proud of it. And I already feel like it's a success in my eyes, but that would be very incredible. Just continuing to tour around the world and explore more places and be able to travel to countries that we've never been to and play amazing shows. That's so cool for me as an artist, and as a person too.

6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?

My hometown doesn't have that much diversity. I struggled a lot with finding people that were similar to me. I spent most of my time in college in the music building, which was in the basement. There was a little corridor, and it had seven little tiny rooms with a piano in each room. And you could go in there whenever you wanted, if no one was in there, and I spent the majority of my college time alone in those rooms, just playing piano and music. I don't think, in my whole entire time of being college, I ever went in the cafeteria.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

Oh God, the last song? I think it was Norah Jones - “Come Away With Me.” That album in particular is an album that really sort of relaxes me. It's really soothing, so I put it on whenever I'm stressed out, which is a lot recently.

8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?

I think I would pick the Dixie Chicks, which are now obviously known as The Chicks, solely because they're all flawless at their instruments. I imagine that would make for an incredible concert. I've actually watched a lot of live YouTube videos of them, and it's just insane how good they sound live, it just sounds like the record.

9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?

I've seen a few fights break out to the point where, on several occasions, I've had to stop mid-song and be like, "Hey guys, stop fighting!" That’s not the Pale Waves environment and Pale Waves fan base. This is an environment where people feel safe and they feel like they can be themselves. But I guess people get carried away at crowds and people get a bit angsty because they're being shoved and they're being pushed. And it's happened a few times where people are full-on punching one another and pulling each other's hair. And I've had to be like, "Stop, stop!" and really had to get in the crowd and break up the fight. I thought all Pale Waves fans were peaceful, but obviously not!

10. How has the pandemic affected your creative process?

I feel like it has dampened it, slightly. Because obviously there's a lot of restrictions where you’re forced to stay inside and you have to find inspiration in your own home, which is fine. I enjoy being in nature and I feel like I'm the most inspired when I'm surrounded by nature, so I do feel slightly less creative. But, on the other side, during this time, I've had to be more of a planner in a way, like making sure music videos happen. I guess that is creative, but I haven't been writing as much as I would have liked to.

11. How did you decide on the title Who Am I? for this album?

I didn't have the album title for a while. It was coming to the end of recording, or at least the second half we were recording… We recorded the album in two chunks, because in the middle of it, we had to go on tour in Europe. I was really worried because I didn't want to just give the album a title out of pure nervousness: that I wasn't gonna end up with anything or that it was gonna end up with a random name.

And then one day on tour, I was feeling super vulnerable, and I was upset. We were in a dressing room with a few other people, so I took my guitar into a bathroom. And I wrote "Who Am I?" in the matter of a few hours. I felt like that really summarized where I was at that moment in time. This album is all about me sort of figuring out that I needed to make changes in my life, and I need to sort of progress emotionally. And right then and there I knew instantly what the album was going to be called. Who Am I? just defined it so well.

12. The new album has much more of an alternative-rock feel than the synth-driven indie-pop of 2018’s My Mind Makes Noises. How did that transformation take place?

Very naturally, actually. The first album was really dominated by myself and Ciara, in terms of writing. And with this second album, we approached it with me being more dominant in the writing side of it. I had more creative freedom. I love 80s music, I think it's great, but it's not my favorite genre. I'm a lot more alternative. I have a lot more love for alternative music and characters. This is the album that I’ve always wanted to write.

13. Your single “Change” rules; it’s also reminiscent of early Avril Lavigne. Are you a big Avril fan?

You can look it up anywhere - of course I am! I mean, she's just great. I have an Avril Lavigne tattoo, you know, the star? I did a stick and poke tattoo of the star on my big toe. It looks quite cute actually.

14. Which song on the new album was the most difficult to write?

Ugh, that's tough, because all of them felt really natural for me. None of them felt really difficult, nor did any of them take like a week or a month to write. Literally every single song on this album was written in a matter of a few hours, you know, probably the longest one taking like five hours. It was all a really fast process for me.

I think the one that required the most thought was either "She's My Religion" or "You Don't Own Me," because both of them have such a strong message, and it really required me to sort of analyze each lyric and analyze each sentence. I wanted to make sure that I felt really confident and I was really clear about everything that I was saying throughout both of those songs.

15. Which song are you most looking forward to playing in front of an audience?

100% "You Don't Own Me." It's the most badass song on the album. And I feel like, out of all of these songs on the record, that is the song that everyone is going to go the most mental to live. It's such a powerful song, and the music is badass too. So that is going to be 100% the most fun in the live show. Definitely. Hope no one gets into a fight, though!

16. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?

I have a little tiny secret tattoo. The only person that's ever seen it is obviously Kelsi. It’s at the top of my thigh and it says "love." It's a reminder to myself to carry on working on myself and continuing to love the parts that I originally really rejected and hated so I can sort of become my own best friend. I did it myself, maybe a year ago, in red ink. It was stick-and-poke.

17. What’s your karaoke go-to?

Every single time we're in Japan, they have these amazing karaoke rooms. You literally have unlimited drinks, which is dangerous. It's literally the funnest thing ever. I think there were a few Lady Gaga songs we were doing. “Paparazzi,” that's my go-to.

18. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?

I cry at anything these days, it's really terrible. Literally anything, like a two-minute advert will just have me. I don't know what's going on. It's like the older I get the more emotional I get. I'm throwing it back a bit here, but do you remember that movie Marley & Me, where the dog dies? Ciara refuses to watch that movie. They had never watched that movie because of that exact reason. And if anyone has it on, they literally scream to get it off the TV. It's hilarious. I've watched it, though, and it really got to me.

19. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

I would say don't be so hard on yourself. I feel like I'm learning still to this day. Being 26, I’m still learning to sort of not be so harsh on myself overall. I feel like I set too high expectations of myself sometimes and I need to be more realistic. I am only human, and I am going to make a bunch of mistakes, and I have already and I will continue to. But that’s just called being human.

20. What does a successful 2021 look like for you?

I just really hope overall that this album really connects to people, and it brings people great comfort, and it brings them understanding and representation that they feel is healthy. I hope that this album is really there for them. And for me, that is a successful year so far, because I've worked so hard on this album and I've really put a lot of myself out there and into this album. So, I hope that the hard work pays off.

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