Pale Waves Explained Why It's Important To Be "Obvious" About Sexuality In Music
"I feel really confident writing about my sexuality now."
Hello! Welcome to Listening Party, a new BuzzFeed series where we'll be interviewing artists about their latest musical projects. This week, we chatted with Heather Baron-Gracie, from the British indie pop band Pale Waves, to talk about their new single "She's My Religion" and their upcoming album, Who Am I?
So, what inspired “She’s My Religion”?
My girlfriend inspired it. On the first album, there weren’t any pronouns — there might have been love songs or songs that were kind of about love, but they weren’t so obvious. In the period of time [since], I became more comfortable with myself, became more comfortable with my sexuality. And I also met someone who I think the world about, so it made it really easy to write about. I feel really confident writing about my sexuality now.
The song is basically depicting the dark sides of somebody. I feel like to love someone, you have to love them entirely, not just for the positives. You need to love them through the rest of the shit.
What's your favorite lyric from the song?
“Made me feel like I was finally enough,” because she definitely makes me feel like the true me is exactly what she wants. I could lose absolutely everything and she would still love me just as much. We could disappear to a cabin in the woods, drop everything, and our love would still be as strong as it is.
Is there anything on the song — lyrically or production-wise — that people might not notice when they first listen to it?
I feel like maybe people will not understand that it is actually a love song. The lyrics are quite dark: “She’s cold, she’s dark, she’s cynical.” There's a lot of love songs out there. I wanted this to have a twist to it, especially when it was obviously about another woman. There's so many songs out there that are playful or experimental — there needs to be more songs like this, talking about loving someone entirely, even for the negative side of things.
If you could get any one person to listen to "She's My Religion," who would you pick?
Avril Lavigne. She was my childhood hero. She still is, totally.
If I were to listen to the first time you played through “She’s My Religion” versus what we hear on the record, what would be different?
Not that much, actually. Most of the demos for this album stayed pretty much identical, because I felt like they were already so strong. Parts of me still prefer the demo — I'm really happy with this version, but there's this magic to the performance in a vocal when you first sing a song that you can't replicate.
"There's this magic to the performance in a vocal when you first sing a song that you can't replicate."
What was it like making the music video?
The music video is me and my girlfriend, Kelsi. It was very natural. At the same time, it's quite intimidating for me, because, as an artist, you give up a lot of yourself for the internet and for the rest of the world. But I want this video to be a comfort and I want it to be a good representative of the LGBTQ+ community, because I feel like there's not a lot of videos out there which are real and honest. This is a real-life relationship between two people, and a lot of videos are just playful or overly sexualized.
Where’s your head at when it comes to releasing new things?
I get excited. I don't get super nervous. I feel like that's what I wanted to do as an artist — if you don't like it, then you don't like it. If you do like it, amazing!
Your second album, Who Am I?, is coming out in February. What can fans expect?
This album is more influenced by the '90s and '00s era — a lot more vulnerable and raw and stripped back. It's the kind of album where I could pick up my acoustic guitar and just play every track on there. Lyrically, it’s more unapologetic. It speaks about important subjects, because I had that time to develop as a person and find out what I want to speak about. It talks a lot about society, what it's like to be a woman, mental health, and the positive and the negative sides of love.
I read that you largely wrote your upcoming album alone in LA. How did that affect your songwriting process?
I love LA. I feel like it's more inspiring, probably because of the weather and the fact that it's a very industry-based location. The ocean’s really close — I love the ocean, it brings me a lot of peace. I really worked hard to make this album amazing, and LA definitely did encourage that.
Has the pandemic affected your creativity at all?
I think it has, because I've been feeling not very creative recently. I don't know if it’s the pandemic, or if it's being back in London — where it's grey outside and it makes me miserable. I love creating something in this room that I'm in right now, but then being able to play it on stage. But I try to see the positive side of a lot of things, to think that this was meant to happen. It taught me another positive lesson.
I know that you've worked with Matt Healy from the 1975 before. Who are some of your dream collaborators?
Michelle Branch or Shania Twain — I want to write with a country artist because I love country music. The Chicks, because they're just incredible. They are masters at their instruments, it would put me to shame.
What was one thing that you learned while you were on tour with Halsey?
It shows you what can happen if you carry on working really hard.
Do you remember what the first album you ever bought was?
Avril Lavigne, Let Go.
What’s your favorite gig memory, back when gigs were a thing?
When we played the Ritz in Manchester. It was a really incredible moment for us, because we'd been there so many times and hoped that we could headline.
Who's an artist that you've been loving right now?
I've really gotten into Hole and Courtney Love. It feels so raw and so strong, but delicate at the same time.
What's a song that you wish you'd written?
“Hit So Hard” by Hole. That song is so good. I love how she makes it pop, but because of the guitars it’s so grungy. We plan to do an EP after this and I feel like I'm gonna go more grunge. Actually, I'm torn between country and grunge. I think the safer option is grunge, and then I’ll do something country later down the line.
Do you have a story with a fan that sticks out to you?
Recently, a girl messaged me and said that she came out to her mom as gay. Mom didn't like it at all, disowned her, and said, "You can't stay in my house anymore." She was sleeping in the back garden. I tried to be there for as much as I could — I would reassure her that she shouldn't feel shame because of her mom, and [I told the girl] how amazing she is.
Now, social services are getting in touch and finding her new home, but those stories are happening every single day and that's what's so sad.
From putting out songs that are so obviously [queer], like “She's My Religion,” to the music video, I hope someone can come to it and find comfort and reassurance.
What advice would you give to young queer artists?
Sexuality is a very confusing thing, and it takes time to sort of discover that, own it, and be proud of it. There are going to be a lot of obstacles, but that journey will make you a stronger person. They might not fit the norm or what tradition says, but they aren't weirdos or people that can't be loved. They deserve love just as much as anyone. Stay hopeful, even though it can be hard.
What are you hoping 2021 has in store for you?
I hope the pandemic’s gone. I hope that people connect with the new album, find comfort in it, and that it makes people feel better about themselves. And that we can start playing shows again, because I miss it so much!
You can watch Pale Waves' new music video for "She's My Religion" here.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.