BBC Sound of 2018: Pale Waves interview

By Ian Youngs
Arts & entertainment reporter

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Media caption,
Get to know Pale Waves, who've taken fifth place in the Sound of 2018

Manchester goth-pop group Pale Waves have kicked off the BBC's Sound of 2018 countdown, which showcases new music talent for the coming 12 months.

The band take fifth place on the Sound of 2018 list, which has been compiled using tips from 173 music experts, including critics, DJs and musicians.

We're revealing one artist from the top five every day this week, with the winner to be announced on Friday.

A longlist of 16 acts was published in November.

Pale Waves are led by singer Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran, who became soulmates as well as bandmates after meeting on the first day of university in Manchester four years ago.

Since that fateful day, they've built a fanbase thanks to songs filled with melodrama, sadness and longing, dressed up with jangly hooks and catchy choruses.

They've been helped by fellow indie heroes The 1975, who have produced their songs and taken them on tour in the US.

You met at uni - but you "met" online before that, didn't you?

Heather: There was this big group chat on Facebook and everyone was metalhead boys. And then Ciara popped up like an angel and caught my attention straight away.

Then we moved to Manchester, and that day, a few hours later, we met up and have spent every day together so far.

Ciara: I feel like we've known each other a lot longer.

Heather: We stayed up till 5am pretty much every night just listening to music and talking about everything. We knew everything about each other within…

Ciara: days.

Heather: I've never connected with such a person before.

What did you do in Fresher's Week?

Heather: We didn't go to a lot of Fresher's events.

Ciara: The first night, we went to [Manchester venue] Sound Control and Heather passed out and I had to take her back.

Heather: I was a bit tired. And drunk. You took care of me straight away, though, didn't you?

Media caption,
Pale Waves perform Heavenly for BBC Music Sound of 2018.

What did you study at uni?

Both: Music

Ciara: But it was a terrible uni. That was just a way of us meeting.

Heather: We finished it for our parents and that's it. Outside is where we came to life. If anything, going into that building just sucked the life out of me. You can't teach someone how to write a song. It's within you.

Ciara: They didn't even like us anyway. They like us now.

Heather: Yeah, they love us now. It's like dumping someone and then, when they get a bit popular, you're like, "Oh, I want you back!", posting loads of pictures online about you.

You have a flat in Manchester, don't you?

Heather: We did. Apartment 319. That was our first place together. But when we started getting really busy we moved out of there and just made a little base in Ciara's parents' house because we were never home.

What do your parents think of their house being the Pale Waves HQ?

Ciara: They love it. They're always like, "Have you got any new music to show us?" They're always the first people to hear the new music. All our families are really supportive, which is really cool.

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Is there much of Manchester in your music?

Ciara: People ask that and I don't know. We definitely don't sound like The Courteeners or Blossoms but I don't think our music needs to sound like it's from anywhere. We want it to sound like it's from a new world.

What did The 1975 see in you?

Ciara: Jamie, our manager, played them Television Romance and There's A Honey and they loved the songs. [The 1975 singer] Matty said he wished that Television Romance was his song, so he wanted to have some involvement.

What does their production bring to your sound?

Ciara: They enhanced our sound. They took what we had and made it sonically bigger.

Heather: They're really good at listening to something and picking out what it needs.

Ciara: A lot of people assume that they write the songs but they didn't. It's a bit annoying that people are undermining us that much.

Heather: People are just silly these days. Like they've got time to be writing songs for other bands.

How was it touring the US with them?

Heather: It was wild. We went from playing Ireland, when there were about 10 people there, to playing Texas, the first time ever in the States, playing to 8,000 people. That was absolutely manic.

Ciara: You don't really prepare for that. But now we're fine. We can do anything now.

You've said listening to your album will be like stepping into "Heather's World" - what will it be like?

Heather: The songs we have out now are very influenced by romance. The album is me talking about a lot of my darker issues. I talk about a lot of things that go on in my mind rather than in my heart.

What types of things?

Heather: I talk about a lot of my insecurities, which I think a lot of people will relate to and will find really comforting. There's a lot of content which I think will strike a chord with people, who will think it's really honest.

Which song best sums you up as a person?

Heather: Probably a new song. It's called Noises. Ciara's actually got it tattooed on her.

[Ciara rolls up a sleeve to reveal a black heart on her arm, with the words "My mind makes noises" written on a white band across the middle]

Ciara: It's my favourite lyric. That's the most personal song she's ever written. I love that song. That's all about Heather's world.

Heather: It's about dealing with how you look, you feel, the pressure of everyone else these days telling you how to look, what to say, don't make a wrong move.

It's about a lot of things and a lot of my issues that have been thrown into one. It's a very, very dramatic song. There's A Honey and Television Romance are like candy floss compared to this.

Image source, Pale Waves

Heather, I gather you injured your back when you were younger - do you want to talk about that?

Heather: I don't want it to really become a thing.

Ciara [to Heather]: But people might get helped by it. But you don't have to talk about it.

Heather: I broke my spine. I had a spinal fusion when I was in high school, so that took me out of the start of high school.

Ciara: That's how you got into music.

Heather: I was always into it because my dad's a musician, so when I was younger he was always playing the guitar and encouraging me to play it.

But when that happened, I was staying in my house and wrote music loads. And ever since that, this is what I want to do. But it does get bad sometimes. I have to take care of it.

How did you break it?

Heather: It wasn't anything in particular. It just went one day.

Ciara: But she wasn't supposed to be able to walk, so the fact that she's the frontwoman of a band is crazy.

Heather: I was on the edge of being paralysed. They caught it in the nick of time. I'm fine.

Ciara: She's so stubborn.

Heather: I am a very stubborn person. I wasn't going down without a fight.

Ciara: That's basically the start of Pale Waves, because Heather's situation led into music.

Heather: It's worth all that pain.

Image source, Chris Martin

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