Arriving in the bar of the Oxford venue where Pale Waves are due to perform later, I walk straight past singer Heather Baron-Gracie. She’s sitting on a sofa with a glass of white wine, talking to some young folk who look like fans of the band. With her pale face, black hair and panda eyes, I assume she must be one of those superfans who dress exactly like their idol. Baron-Gracie gets a lot of those, she tells me, once I’ve realised my error.
“Sometimes when I look out into the audience I do a double-take because someone will look like my twin,” she says. “They call me Goth Queen, Goth GF, Mum – I get that all the time. It’s funny.”
In the streaming era, when music lovers can be more likely to have a deep and committed relationship with a Spotify playlist than a band, Manchester’s Pale Waves have had no trouble finding followers. “I’ve really noticed a difference on this tour. A lot of people are so much more passionate and invested than they were last time around,” says Baron-Gracie. The striking looks of their 23-year-old singer, plus drummer and similarly made-up co-writer Ciara Doran, also 23, have helped them to stand out, as well as sharing management and a label with one of the hottest bands in the world: The 1975. Despite only releasing their first EP this month, they’ve already toured America’s arenas with the bigger group.
Matty Healy and George Daniel from The 1975 produced the first two Pale Waves singles – There’s a Honey and Television Romance – and Healy also directed the video for the latter. “I was just so excited to hear a band that was positioned in the left, an alternative band, that was so in tune with pop sensibilities,” Healy told the NME last October, helping to launch the newer group with a joint interview. Although she sings higher, there’s a clear similarity between the yearning phrasing of Baron-Gracie and Healy’s vocals, and the mix of light indie guitars and melodic synths isn’t far off either. “We’re both pop bands,” Baron-Gracie tells me. “We love pop music but at the end of the day we are a guitar band.”
Now, although her attire suggests she likes the shadows, she’s understandably keen to step out from this one. “They’re just our friends that helped us to produce our first singles. People love to connect us as much as they can, which I totally get – it’s just human nature – but we are in our own bands doing our own thing.”
This month’s headline tour of UK club venues will be followed by a jaunt around North America, then another London show in May, at Heaven, which will be the band’s biggest gig anywhere to date. After that it’s “pretty much every festival in the UK. I can’t believe how many we’re doing.” Somewhere in the middle of all that, they’ll be recording a debut album. The first half has been written on the tour bus, in hotels and dressing rooms, but they need some more songs. Doran skips our interview to get on with writing new music.
Guitarist Hugo Silvani, 21, and bassist Charlie Wood, 20, complete the group, but Baron-Gracie is happy to be the sole spokesperson. “It’s everyone’s band, but me and Ciara started it and are the driving forces,” she says. “We’ve aways had the vision and the clear direction and the boys are happy to follow us. They really believe in us.”
It’s been a long journey for her to be at home in the spotlight. Growing up in Preston, around the time she made the transition to secondary school, she broke her back and had to have spinal fusion surgery. “I didn’t have an accident. It just happened,” she explains. “I was complaining for ages that my back was in pain, but people just thought I was just growing. I was doing sports with a broken back for ages. Look at me now and you’d never think I was on the verge of being paralysed.”
She didn’t go back to class for a year. “I missed those important early days. I’m not a very social person so it was even more nerve-wracking to go into a school where everyone had already formed their friendships.”
Even now that stardom beckons, she says: “I only have a handful of friends and I’m fine with that.” She and her best friend from school have jigsaw piece tattoos on their wrists which are a matching fit. Just before arriving for a Songwriting degree in Manchester, she scrolled through the members of the course’s Facebook group and decided straight away that Doran was the pal for her. “It was all heavy metal lads and preppy girls. Then Ciara popped up dressed in this tropical shirt with dip-dyed hair, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, who is this!’ And she was a drummer. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better in the world. She’s perfect for me.”
Looking at the photo on this page, it will come as no surprise that they bonded over mutual love of The Cure. If Robert Smith needs any more support bands at this summer’s massive Hyde Park show, consider two hands excitedly raised. “When I got together with Ciara we wanted to be as big as those bands that we were listening to. My passion for music is so intense and hers is as well. We wanted to take over the world. Then when Charlie and Hugo came along it felt like it’s a family now, and it’s really happening.”
A new single, Heavenly, ups the energy and volume levels of their output to date, and will sound fantastic on stage in London next week. Baron-Gracie also promises “our best video by far” to be unveiled around the same time, but won’t tell me what it entails.
That should increase her recognisability once again. She’s well used to being shouted at on the street. “People yell ‘Emo!’ or ‘Goth!’ when they drive past. It’s a compliment to me. A lot of people think I must be unhappy. I’m just really into the dark, cold, vampire look. I’m not dead weird or anything, but people think I’m this crazy bloodsucking girl that eats babies.”
Now, anyone who spots her out and about is more likely to be an admirer. “The fanbase is so strong at this point. People are willing to pour their hearts into our band, which is exactly what I’ve always wanted.”
There’s no room for her to be an introvert now. “Life has totally changed compared to two years ago. It is how I expected, but I didn’t expect it to move this fast. It does overwhelm me,” she admits. “But seeing your band and all your hard work get recognised – it’s perfect really.”
March 7, The Garage, N5 (0844 847 1678, thegaragehighbury.com); May 24, Heaven, WC2 (0844 847 2351, heaven-live.co.uk)