If you caught The 1975 at Express Live in June, chances are good you were introduced to Pale Waves, the lucky Manchester band that caught the eyes and ears of The 1975’s manager Jamie Oborne a few years back. Oborne signed on to manage the young four-piece and through his guidance, and, more importantly, some really great pop songwriting, Pale Waves has become one of THE bands to watch in 2017.
While The 1975’s Matty Healy has lent assistance to Pale Waves by co-producing their first two singles and directing the “Television Romance” video, he tells NME that his involvement has been as a facilitator and editor, not as a co-writer. Still, Pale Waves songs have an air of familiarity, they don’t mimic any particular The 1975 songs but are extremely radio-friendly pop songs that owe a bit of gratitude to ’80s synth-pop while sounding fresh and exciting.
Pale Waves follows a current trend of dropping singles one at a time and building to a full length rather than releasing a dozen songs at once and that plan has proven to be massively successful – just take a look at the numbers on Spotify and YouTube for the three songs Pale Waves has released for evidence.
When the band formally announced fall tour dates (with Columbus band/labelmates The Candescents opening all shows), the Rumba Cafe show taking place on Saturday night was listed as a sell out. At first I was wondering how this was possible but as singer Heather Baron-Gracie told me about the support Pale Waves has gotten from The 1975 fans when we spoke via phone just after she wrapped up soundcheck in the UK, selling out a venue the size of Rumba seems well within reach.
I’ve been known to make wild predictions about bands that don’t come through (um, I thought for sure Five Knives – who I saw open a sold-out Smashing Pumpkins show in 2013 – were on the fast track to sell out their own Newport Music Hall show), but it’s a pretty safe bet this will be the only time you’ll have the chance to see Pale Waves in a small venue in Columbus (that is, if you were lucky enough to score tickets).
I’m not sure those Pale Waves fans who have been on board with the band since being introduced to them via The 1975 will learn anything new in this interview, but I had a great time chatting with Heather who seems very humble and grounded despite the fact that her band is blowing up.
Hopefully I’ve caught you early enough that you haven’t told this story a million times – maybe just dozens of times. How did Pale Waves come together?
Me and Ciara started the band when we both moved to Manchester. And we met up and instantly we just started writing music together and then decided we wanted to make it a band and keep progressing. Hugo, we just met him in Manchester and just instantly clicked with him. He’s really passionate about what he does and then we kind of knew Charlie through mutual friends and then we just got along so well. All four of us clicked as best friends and that’s how it all started.
Have you all been in other bands?
All of us have been in little bands that kind of didn’t do anything. When I was in college, I was in another band but the people who were in the band weren’t really as passionate or as driven as me so it always felt like I was not living up to my full potential.
A lot of bands go through a trial period where you bring people in and out but it sounds like for Pale Waves you found the right combination on the first try.
Yeah, I think that’s so difficult. We meet a lot of people at our shows and they say that they are dying to start a band but they can’t meet anyone. When you’re so passionate and you’re so ambitious, finding the right people who you can create a certain type of music with and you’re all on the same wave length is so difficult so I feel really honored that we’ve all come together as one.
The band comes together, starts writing songs. Were you playing shows?
The start was pretty much writing. I had written a few tracks that I asked Ciara to put drum to and help kind of produce them. That’s how Pale Waves happened. We decided we wanted to make it official, a friendship, we didn’t want it to be just me and Ciara playing drums. We get along so well, we knew that it had to be a band. So we started out writing, then we played a few shows in Manchester that was like sometimes playing to like 5 people. But playing those shows make you appreciate what we have now so much more.
How were you discovered?
We released two demos and we played a show in Manchester for XM radio. It was for John Kennedy, who was a presenter on that radio show. He saw us live and instantly connected with us and he invited us down to the office to meet Mike Walsh, who is the head of that station, and Mike just said “Anything I can help you with, just let me know.” We needed a manager at that point. We made a list of managers that we really respected and Jamie was on there. Jamie got in contact with us and we instantly hit it off and ever since then we signed to Dirty Hit and carried on working with Jamie.
Your tourmates The Candescents are from Columbus, where I’m from. I’ve seen them a few times and was so impressed that I contacted a friend of mine who manages bands to come see them. He was really into them but they ended up signing with Jamie. It’s fascinating to watch how things have been happening for them. They went from playing house shows and Tuesday nights at 11pm at local clubs to signing with a manager from the UK. Have you met them yet?
Yeah, we actually met them when we played the LA show with The 1975. They came down to watch us and we hung out for a bit afterwards. I can’t wait to see them live.
Last time I saw them was about two years ago and my understanding is they were given the advice to stop playing out and instead spend a lot of time writing songs. Were you given that same advice?
Yeah, 100%. We spent a year and a half, nearly two years just being not discovered by anyone, just playing in a basement of our practice room. Just writing and getting better at what we were doing. And I think that has really helped us get where we are now. We just appreciate everything so much more because now we’re actually doing everything that we wanted to do but we didn’t rush into anything. I feel like that’s very important within this sort of industry, to not rush into anything and just take your time and figure out how you want to be seen and what music you want to create rather than just diving in straight like. We figured out so much more about ourselves and about the band within that year and half and it’s benefited us so much.
Does it make you anxious to get stuff out there?
We’ve started, when we released “There’s a Honey”, everything happened at once. It was kind of intimidating because we were used to just staying in our bedrooms and writing and practicing and rehearsing to no one and then all of a sudden we’ve got everyone watching us. It was a bit intimidating but nothing feels as good as showing the world what you’ve been working on for so long.
Are there bands that you’re fans of or friends with that you can see that maybe they rushed stuff too quickly?
I have a few friends in bands that I wish that they didn’t run straight away. Once you put something on the internet, you can’t get it back. So, I think a lot of artists have kind of regretted … you get excited and that’s just anyone’s natural reaction that you just want to get on with it straight away and a lot of people have said to us that they wish they had waited for a while.
I’ve interviewed a few bands recently who haven’t rushed to put stuff out. Instead, they are slowly releasing songs and taking it slow, building it up, letting people hear one song at a time and get used to that song.
Doing it the way we have has benefited us so much. The demand for new music is so intense right now that when we do drop more music, people are going to be there waiting and instantly going watch the videos and listen to the tracks. I think not throwing 5 tracks on them at once has helped us in so many ways. We played it safe but it was definitely the right thing to do.
How did you grow up listening to music? I grew up buying albums and cassettes but your generation grew up downloading and streaming MP3s. My kids don’t buy full albums, they’ll buy a song off iTunes or make a Spotify playlist where they get to pick the songs they want.
I grew up with quite a lot of albums but I also listened to music on line. My dad is a musician himself, he doesn’t do it full time, but I grew up with him playing a lot of records around the house. Me and him used to stay up really late playing on our guitars, just going through a book of songs that would drive my mom insane. I think he’s had a big impact on my music career. He was the inspiration for me starting music because he was the one who has played in so many bands and is a musician himself. He got me to go to my first guitar lesson, bought me my first guitar.
What stuff did he listen to? Was it stuff that you liked too?
When I was younger, I used to listen to a lot of things he listened to like Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Prince. We just listened to so much and played so many songs together.
Having played some pretty massive shows with The 1975, did that spoil you on how life on the road is?
That was absolutely mental. That was our first ever time in the U.S. I had never been to the U.S. before and then being able to go on tour and play in the venues of that size supporting such an amazing band with such an amazing fan base. We couldn’t ask for anything more. We feel very special that we’ve been given that opportunity because so many bands would kill to do that. We just had the time of our lives. We grew as a band, that tour helped us so much. We got confidence and we became a lot closer just being on that tour together. Ever since that tour, we’ve pretty much spent every day together. I’ll never forget that tour, some of the best times of my live was on that tour. The shows were just incredible.
What did you take away from that touring experience that you’ll use when you’re out on your own?
Interaction with fans, like, every show we went out and met as many people as we could. That has benefited us so much because it’s really important, I think, especially at such an early stage where you can do it, to interact with those people who are listening to your music. Jamie and Matty have always said that to us, that it’s really important to do that. There was just so many different positives things that we learned from that tour that we’ll take with us forever. It was such an intense and busy tour.
When I was a teenager, the idea of meeting bands that I went to see live seemed impossible. I would never think I could meet these artists but now I think it’s part of what new bands have to do.
Those are the people that are investing everything in to you. Your band can make them feel so much better and, if you’re not doing anything, you should be out there talking to them and meeting them. It’s so important for them but when I meet them, it makes me feel so much better. You can’t really explain it, it’s just an instant connection.
When you were younger, did you have a chance to meet any bands you were a fan of?
I didn’t actually get to meet the artists that I would have wanted to meet. I would love to meet Robert Smith but I don’t know if that’s possible. I saw The Cure live last year and that was amazing.
What about since you’ve been in a band and you’ve gotten to play some festivals, have you gotten to meet some bands that you’re a fan of?
There’s a lot of upcoming bands that you think are great and you just become friends with them. It’s really strange in this industry, you bump into so many faces all the time. There’s this band called In Heaven from London and we went on tour with them – we heard about them prior to going on tour with them and thought they were great. Ever since that tour, we’ve been friends. We get along with them so well and we see them when we’re down in London and doing festivals. That’s such an amazing thing of having this job. You kind of make such strong relationships.
I read where you saw Wolf Alice at a festival you were playing.
They are great. We hung out with them. That was the Leeds Festival this year. We had an hour to spare and they were doing a secret set and we ran off to go watch them and then we saw them afterwards. They are amazing people, it was really great.
I guess to wrap this up, is there anything you’re looking forward to either seeing for the first time when you tour the U.S. or anything that stuck out the last time you were here that you’re looking forward to?
When we toured with The 1975, there was a bunch of girls – like one group – that came to nearly every show and we met them after every gig that we did. I can’t wait to see them again. They are coming to pretty much all of our shows now so seeing them again will be really nice. We kind of became friends with them because we saw them so much. There is such a special connection, so I can’t wait to see them again because it’s a nice memory of a certain time. It’s just great how they were so passionate about The 1975 and they are so passionate about our band now.
America is so big and it’s so different, the culture is so different. Everybody seems really positive and optimistic. It’s really nice to be surrounded by that, I can’t wait to be back.