By Carson Mlnarik
Pale Waves have never been better. The English indie-rock band are spending their summer opening up for 5 Seconds of Summer on their North American tour and putting the finishing touches on their highly anticipated third album, Unwanted. Frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie has officially traded in her dark locks for a bleach-blonde bob, setting the tone for their new record of breakneck pop-punk ahead of its August 12 release. All things considered, it’s ironic that their latest single “Reasons to Live,” a euphoric, arena-ready love song, was inspired by one of her darkest moments. “I was lost. I didn’t even know if I wanted to do music anymore,” Baron-Gracie tells MTV News. “Then my partner Kelsey came into my life and just completely changed that and gave me a whole different view on life, and thankfully, saved me in a way.”
Over pounding drums, crunchy guitars, and soaring belt notes, Baron-Gracie has her “Hayley Williams moment” singing about finding someone who “showed me how to love myself a little more.” “I hope that a lot of people can relate to this song and I hope a lot of people find their Kelsey,” she says. Written alongside Pale Waves drummer Ciara Doran and producer Zakk Cervini, “Reasons to Live” might be an optimistic and romantic track in the same vein as past singles like “Easy,” but Baron-Gracie calls it an outlier on what is otherwise a very “intense” record. “I feel like overall this album in particular touches upon subjects that we’ve never touched upon before, like loss, vanity, anger, jealousy, hopelessness,” she says. “It’s very dark. It’s very personal.”
The result is a collection of infectious ear worms — rounded out by performances from guitarist Hugo Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood — that lean fully into the group’s harder rock influences like Hole, Avril Lavigne, and Paramore. Trading in synths for throbbing basslines, chunky guitars, and cranking the volume up to 11, the heavy instrumentation is the perfect complement to the darker subject matter. There’s no love lost on lead single “Lies,” an ear-splitting and biting dis track evoking hissing guitars in the name of karma. Meanwhile, the title track is similarly deceptive as jubilant production underscores lyrics about an all-consuming anxiety that comes with feeling worthless.
“It couldn’t be called anything else,” Baron-Gracie says of the album’s title. “The piece was missing until that song was finished.” The rawness extends into her performance, as she notes that most of the new record’s vocal tracks came from early sessions with Cervini when the emotions were fresh. “I feel like when you do demos for the vocals, there’s a magic within them that you can’t replace,” she explains.
Crafting a followup to 2021’s Who Am I?, which debuted at No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and garnered critical praise, sounds like a tall order. But Baron-Gracie speaks with an air of calmness and peace as she details its intimate songwriting process. “[It] was the first time where I felt relaxed, in a state of not panicking or a state of not second-guessing everything,” she says. Written with a close group of collaborators in Los Angeles during the last few months of 2021, the “guarded” environment allowed for a creative flow unlike anything Baron-Gracie experienced in the past, especially after the stress of recording and releasing their sophomore album at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It just overall feels very natural for us and consistent,” she says. “We just didn’t think about it too much, and I think that really made the album what it is. It speaks for itself.”
The upcoming album’s visuals showcase a “complete opposite” side of the band than they revealed in the nostalgic, Britpop-inspired clips for Who Am I? “For the second album, it was very ’90s, casual, baggy clothes, whereas I wanted to completely shift it up,” Baron-Gracie explains. “This next campaign is very glamorous, very chic, very expensive.” In addition to the jagged lighting, dark hues, and glam-goth looks of their “Lies” music video, the group has also planned a treatment for yet-to-be released track “Jealousy,” a fan-favorite that they debuted on tour earlier this year. “[It’s] one of my favorite videos that we’ve ever done,” Baron-Gracie says. “It could be like a Helmet Lang or Calvin Klein advert.”
Fans can expect to hear new tracks from Unwanted as well as a handful of old favorites as the group accompanies 5SOS for their Take My Hand World Tour. As a band that found its footing touring for five years straight before COVID protocols shuttered live music, Baron-Gracie says Pale Waves are more than ready to return. “We love being on stage,” she says. “I think that’s where we all come alive, all four of us.” There’s something unique about the atmosphere Baron-Gracie, Doran, Silvani, and Wood create at their shows – one where weaknesses are embraced, members of the LGBTQ+ community can love with their whole hearts, and misfits have a home.
In addition to Doran, who identifies as queer and nonbinary, Baron-Gracie came out in 2018 and began embracing her sexuality on their sophomore album. The response at concerts to her most intimate love songs — namely “She’s My Religion” — has been “insane.” Baron-Gracie recalls seeing a tweet about a fan who lit up and burst into tears upon hearing it live. “It’s just so sweet to look out into the audience and see couples embracing and screaming it to one another,” she says.
It’s no surprise the group has found a community at a time when pop-punk has seen a staggering resurgence, as we look for emotional honesty, an outlet for angst, and some blaring guitars in our playlists. “I’m living for it, honestly,” Baron-Gracie says.