Q&A: Pale Waves Guides Us Through ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ Debut Album, Track by Track

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Photo: Brian Griffin

Pale Waves is a bit of a contradiction, and that is just part of what makes them such a dynamic act. They look like the disciples of Gerard Way and Joy Division, but sound like the offspring of The Bangles and Carly Rae Jepsen. They’re huge fans of modern pop acts like Charli XCX, but they could have easily shared a stage with Madonna in the ‘80s. They have amassed over 25-million Spotify streams since the release of their debut single, “There’s a Honey,” in Feb. 2017 and have played huge milestone venues like Madison Square Garden. Yet, they have just released their debut full-length album, My Mind Makes Noises.

Their meteoric rise based on a collection of singles solidifies that Pale Waves has what it takes to become the next big thing, and their success comes down to one simple fact: no one else is doing what Pale Waves is right now—nor as well. Not only has Pale Waves championed the difficult task of successfully walking the line between pop and rock, but they have introduced a universe of tender emotion with their lyrics as they wear their hearts on their fishnet covered sleeves. Combining elements of different genres, decades, subcultures, and emotions, they craft dream-like pop that still has two feet firmly planted on the ground. With their dichotomous existence and evocative lyrics, Pale Waves’ success ushers in the return of female-fronted pop-rock in an era that’s sorely lacking thereof.

After a year and a half of cultivating their rapidly rising fame, today marks the release of My Mind Makes Noises. The album is filled with enough diverse pop bangers and guitar-driven melodies to throw the Manchester-based outfit further into the spotlight, while drawing new listeners into their emotionally cinematic world. Frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie’s lyrics entangle you in their strikingly raw nature as she presents her most vulnerable self, while the production of drummer Ciara Doran creates lush gardens of whirling melodies and skies of twinkling synth that makes this album one to be kept on repeat, or risk leaving their beautifully melancholic world.

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Despite the fervor surrounding My Mind Makes Noises, as well as their accompanying headlining tour, Heather and Ciara are surprisingly calm as they make themselves comfortable on the sofa of the small lounge we’ve met in. “It’s kind of like a timeline of our band from basically three-and-a-half years ago to present day,” Heather explained as we begin talking about the debut album. “We started the band because I had all these songs on my acoustic and when I met Ciara I was like, ‘Can you put drums to my songs?’ We did performances where she was just drumming, and then we decided to just become a band.” 

Though they were the heart and soul of the band, when the duo met Hugo Silvani and Charlie Wood a year later, Pale Waves would finally begin to take shape as they began to plan for world domination—something that My Mind Makes Noises will undoubtedly help them achieve. “It feels pretty surreal. It feels like our whole journey’s been pretty fast and really exciting. A lot of people are really emotionally invested into our band at such an early stage, which is great because it means we’re really connecting with people. It’s just everything you could ask for and I want the album to be what people expected,” Heather stated.

In honor of the release of My Mind Makes Noises, we spoke about each of the 14 tracks on the album to hear the stories behind the music, and get a feel for what’s next for the band.

OTW: The opening track “Eighteen” is an absolute earworm that truly seems to channel what it feels like to fall in love. What can you tell us about its creation?

Ciara: “Eighteen” was written fully on tour.

Heather: Yeah, I wrote a lot of things to the instrumental and then in Denver I finally got it. Everyone we showed it to was like, “This is gonna be a big song” so, that’s why it’s first on the album.

Ciara: Lyrically, it’s really nice as well.

Heather: I had that first verse written for ages, and then Ciara wrote the music around it.

Ciara: That was actually a song that like I watched Adventureland and wrote to. Vibes from films can really give you inspiration for sound.

OTW: There are new recordings of your first two singles “There’s a Honey” and “Television Romance” making the cut. What was it about these songs that made them, as opposed to the others on your EP, essential for your debut record?

Heather: Well, “There’s a Honey” just had to be on the album because it was the first song that we put out there. It really made our fanbase, and it set something up for us. And then “Television Romance;” those two just sort of work together as a duo, and it felt weird to have one without the other.

Then when we were listening back to the demos it was pretty clear that we had to re-record them. We wanted it to sound like they were all recorded at the same time in the same studio and having the demos on the album just wouldn’t have worked.

OTW: “Noises” is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tracks as it tackles image insecurities and expectations. Did the track come from a purely confessional standpoint?

Heather: I thought about how the fans would react to it, but I knew I had to write it for me. I didn’t even think that much about how they’d relate to it until I got loads of messages thanking me. I feel it’s the most important track we’ve put out so far—we have quite a young fanbase and when you’re growing up that’s when you really think about what you wanna be and how you look. I’m just glad that I wasn’t too scared to write about that because it’s the song that’s now been there for so many people.

OTW: And what can you tell us about the video?

Heather: That video was a last minute thing but it was just so obvious that it needed to be a performance video from me. We spoke about having different Heathers that weren’t truly me: punk Heather is more exaggerated, the fashion look is stereotypically socially acceptable, and the doll look is a really sort of childish, vulnerable me. The one with the plastic sheet over my face, it’s basically like: what is beauty and who considers it? It plays on plastic surgery as well like, “Am I still beautiful under the plastic?” For the flashes of text between scenes, I wrote a paragraph of all my thoughts, and then we spoke about the ones that stood out the most. One, in particular, is “Does everyone feel this way?” I wanted to put that in because I wanted it to be like a sense of comfort for people who are really insecure as well, to know they’re not alone.

OTW: “Came In Close” and “Loveless Girl” are definitely two of the poppiest songs on the album. What inspired the tracks?

Heather: Those two tracks are really influenced by Ciara. I feel like we work so well together because I’m quite dark and she’s quite light so that’s how we get our sound. The lyrical content is quite meaningful and sad, but then Ciara sparkles it with pure pop elements, which you can really see on those tracks.

Ciara: “Came In Close” is really new. I was listening to Aretha Franklin’s “Jump To It,” and then I just sat down and wrote that bass line. It just turned out to be a really dancey song.

“Loveless Girl” originally sounded quite different, and I was so unhappy with it. I had to literally force myself to rework it cause it didn’t have the right vibe.

OTW: “Drive” is a larger than life track that smacks you with a guitar driven alt-rock sound and some truly dreamy synths. What can you tell us about the track?

Heather: We kept coming back and kept referencing The Naked And Famous, especially with the guitar sounds. I imagine when we play it live, it’s not going to take a lot for it to sound massive. It’s a really dramatic track as well; lyrically it’s like the sequel to “Noises.” Like “Noises” was when I was 16, and “Drive” is where I am now at 23. I do find writing songs about myself is hard, but I’m really glad we have tracks like “Drive.”

Ciara: You know that line “I drive fast so I can feel something?”

Heather: She would listen to that on repeat!

Ciara: Because I would cut it and put a delay on it and it made it like the best part of the album, I think.

Heather: Everyone we’ve played it to has been like, “Oh my god, this is something else!” We must be doing something right.

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OTW: “When Did I Lose It All” is a breathtaking ballad that is just pure emotion. How did you approach writing the track?

Heather: Well, Ciara actually helped me write the chorus, and it’s about basically having somebody who’s “the one,” and you know that they’re right for you but you just don’t work in that moment. We were writing that chorus and Ciara came up with the “I want to marry you, but not now.”

Ciara: It’s the saddest thing.

Heather: I thought it was a really strong message. When I’ve shown the album to people, I’ve noticed that the older audience sway to that song.

Ciara: They find it really powerful; it’s a really powerful song. The guitar line was written on the tour bus. I feel like the next thing we do is going to be that vibe.

OTW: Similarly, “She” uses its power as a ballad to create a slow build into an absolutely epic guitar solo that has become a fan-favorite at your live shows. How did the track come to be?

Heather: “She” is quite an old song. I wrote, “My baby don’t touch me like they used to” first in my bedroom ages ago. It’s one of those songs that Ciara really just let me be all emo about. And the guitar solo—I love playing it live. A lot of the time I give all the lead riffs to Hugo but with this, I was like, “I can’t give you this, I’m sorry I have to play it.”

Ciara: I think it’s also the first song that I started doing a lot more of the music.

Heather: And now Ciara pretty much owns that whole area. I feel like the album has much more personality than the EP because when we did the EP that was all my really old synth songs except “The Tide.”

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Photo: Danny North

OTW: The following song “One More Time” seems to be the formers’ upbeat sequel that features an addictively timeless rock hook, making it one of the fullest sounding songs on the record. What shaped the creation of the track?

Heather: This was one of the moments where we were sitting down in the studio, but we needed more sort of “pop bangers.” We weren’t trying to write it for the radio but that’s just how we are.

Ciara: We just didn’t feel satisfied without it though, because we love pop so much. We wanted a song that was really just straightforward and would sound really good with Heather on guitar.

Heather: Really simple and dry all the way through, but you don’t really get a break in it. When Ciara showed me it musically for the first time ever, I just stood there and started singing the chorus.

Ciara: She sang that, and I was like “Fuck!”

Heather: Usually we’re perfectionists and we’re like, “If it’s the first thing it can’t be right,” but with this, we were like, “You know what? That’s it.” I feel like everyone goes through it when you break up with someone and you have that doubt in your mind. You like to know you could still have them—you want that power and that’s what this song’s about.

OTW: As we touched upon “Television Romance” earlier, let’s talk influence. Considering how many of your tracks are cinematic enough to be suited for a John Hughes movie, and “Television” is a frequently used word lyrically—how much do TV and Film influence your songs?

Ciara: It influences us a lot, I mean that’s how we used to start off writing songs like “Kiss.”

Heather: Yeah like The Breakfast Club—I had to do this assignment for Uni and it was like, “Write a song to a film.” I caught a trailer of The Breakfast Club and that’s how “Kiss” became a song. So like I think it influences us a lot more than we think.

Ciara: Movies are like songs: like they all have a flow and a vibe and a story. So, like I feel like it can go hand-in-hand and just inspire you a lot. Especially when you can go, “I want to make a song that sounds like it belongs in that movie.”

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OTW: “Red” is an incredibly modern pop-rock classic that seems to channel the likes of Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen. How did the track come to be?

Heather: “Red” actually started as an acoustic track. I love playing acoustic, and it was how we started the band, so I wrote “Red” acoustically to be that song. When I showed it to Ciara she was like “Oh my god that’s far too good.”

Ciara: It wasn’t right, the tone wasn’t right, the lyrics weren’t enough for an acoustic song.

Heather: It’s completely different now—the chorus is like a club track

OTW: “Kiss” is akin to a “Friday I’m In Love” moment that’s effortlessly feel-good. What inspired the track, and on that note, what was it like playing the Robert Smith-curated Meltdown Festival this year?

Heather: That was amazing, so good. We didn’t get to meet him but knowing he was the one who gave us that slot and kind of likes our band is pretty amazing. I think Robert Smith is an amazing songwriter and just a fantastic icon. I’ll probably dress the same when I’m old. “Kiss” is so old. It started with The Breakfast Club and that riff. It’s such a naive song, and I wasn’t half as honest as I am now. It’s a fun song to play live—the main thing about it is that it goes down really good live, and it’s just really energetic.

OTW: “Black,” your most recent single, is your most diverse. It plays with R&B beats and intensely catchy guitar riffs. What shaped this track?

Heather: “Black” we’ve had for ages. I actually wrote the first verse ages ago, then I showed Ciara and it always just stuck with her, so she was like “Please, please make it into a song.”

Ciara: That was written on tour as well.

Heather: It’s been the most problematic song that we’ve ever wrote. It just had a lot of different versions.

Ciara: When I stupidly put an R&B chorus in there we were like “Ugh, how are we gonna do this now?”

Heather: Cause like, when you listen to it the verses are really frantic and really rock, and then the chorus is relaxed R&B.

Ciara: It’s a juxtaposition.

OTW: Closing out the record is “Karl”—a deeply personal acoustic track that is beautifully haunting. What was it like writing the track destined to end your debut record?

Heather: Well, after I wrote “Red” and needed a new acoustic song Ciara was like, “You need to write an acoustic track about something a lot more personal… Why don’t you write it about your granddad?” I’d been trying to write about him for ages because he’s such an important person in my life, so then I sat down in the studio and really, really focused on him while writing. It took me a day to write the song and the next day we went in and recorded, so it’s as real and raw as it gets. Ciara cried when I first sang it to her. Everyone has nearly cried when they first listen to the song.

Ciara: You’d be a monster if you didn’t cry to that song.

Heather: I think that’s a track that’s really going to impact some people. I wanted it to be like a conversation more than a song so a lot of the lyrics are like if I could talk to him now the things I would say. It’s definitely the song that I’ve listened to the most. It’s my most vulnerable self, and it’s really quite scary, this going out into the world, but it’s as real as it gets.

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