This article was first published to The National Student on 18th December 2017
Remarkably, considering how inscrutable their cultural presence is, Pale Waves sold out their first headline tour.
Everything, from their interviews, to the two songs with black space artwork available in October, and their all-business social media presence, is small and unassuming.
Besides their background (singer-guitarist Heather and drummer Ciara met in 2014 while studying at the University of Manchester, soon connecting with bassist Charlie and guitarist Hugo), the most frequently discussed aspect about them is their relationship with The 1975, one of the most assuming bands of the decade. So how did they feel about that so consistently discussed link?
“It’s because of who they are. They’ve only produced two tracks and we’ve gone on tour with them, it’s not like we’re a different part of their band” said Heather, with matter-of-fact resignation. “Because The 1975 are so popular, people wanna mention it all the time. If we worked with someone else for two tracks, why would it be such a big deal?”
Ciara, with telepathic timing, added “we don’t resent it, we love those guys. It’s just that when people give us criticism for kind of leeching on them-” before Heather takes over: “that was never anyone’s intentions. We just love them, and they love us, and we wanted to make some art together.”
“Our EP is finished basically, it’s just being mixed, we’ve recorded all of it. And we’ve wrote like half of our album” said Ciara, answering the hanging question of when that art’s coming. “We’re going to release our album next year fingers crossed, we just need it to be perfect. We’re not going to wait too long, because it’s in quite high demand. Somehow!”
Given their stint in America, their own headline tour, and the downtime in-between, they must have found inspiration for dozens of songs. How would they choose what went onto the album?
“I like watching a band grow, watching the music develop and change” Heather tells me. She continues, “obviously when you write a song you get really excited about it, and so you want it to be everywhere-”, before Ciara cuts in “-But if you hold onto those songs that you think are better than the old ones, wait until the second album ‘cause then you see progression and better writing.” It’s important that they show who they were when they started, as well as where they are now.
This self-awareness comes out on multiple topics: one is what advice they’d give to students who wanted to start a band. “Don’t rush anything… figure out what you want to do, how you want to be seen. And just spend the time on getting it right” Heather tells me, getting straight to a principle that appears to consume Pale Waves: managing expectations.
So why next to no interactions with fans or idols on their twitter page? Why only announcements and PR pictures. “I like mystery, I don’t like it when people know every single thing about you” answers Heather.
“They know a lot about us just through our music… I don’t feel like you have to create conversation with every single person, because when someone goes to your profile, all they see is this conversation, and you’re not instantly impacted by what they look like or by what they’re doing.”
It’s a rare position on social media to see a new band take – instead of showing delight at the creator-audience relationship it creates, they’re concerned. Not that they begrudge it: they would rather “connect with people in real life-”,says Ciara, before Heather finishes that new train of thought “- [it’s] a big thing for us, like we love it. Every night when we can go out we just will, and talk to them”.
Heather and Ciara seem uniquely observant. When asked about how their listening habits stretch beyond their obvious affinity for 80s music (“It’s the best decade for music”), Ciara launches into a passionate defence of listening in general:
“If you listen to a variety of music, you’ll be so much more creative. ‘You could listen to people talking on a tube, or you could watch a film, and get inspired by anything. You can get inspired by the door making a noise… People have ears but sometimes they don’t use them…[To] actually take things in that could really be useful to you, not even in the music industry, just in everyday life.”
Since discussing music, even with musicians, is often esoteric or repetitive, how would they feel if asked about politics. It comes up often in interviews discussions with many artist, but usually only with those that write songs about it.
Heather hesitantly began “Yeah like… we try… we’re here to talk about the music more than other sort of issues really.” before Ciara took over animatedly: “Stuff like “Labour” and “Conservative”, stuff like that I would not be interested in talking about, because I’m more interested in society, and how people treat each other, and the way people are viewed. Because, to me. that’s more personal, and we really care about that, especially being girls in the music industry.”
As if summing up, Heather added “We wouldn’t bring up politics if we wasn’t asked.” Which is fair – as they quickly confess, people don’t ask them those questions. Maybe because they don’t expect answers – despite the chips on his shoulder, nobody asks Ed Sheeran about his thoughts on taxes. With Pale Waves, their strength in emotional observation hasn’t transferred into anything fiercely political. Even when it feels increasingly vital to have a stance, stating their politics makes an artist stand out. Despite their distinctive gothic-grunge make up (black hair, bright eyes), neither Heather and Ciara are completely comfortable with being seen.
“We don’t wanna give it all away live, and all away on social media” Heather told me. “We’re quite restricted people.”
People should listen when they start talking more. Their earlier inscrutability won’t last, once debut EPs and albums are behind them. But that won’t have been a marketing choice; the heady youth in their music is being written by canny adults full of empathy, and fresh perspective on their own origins.