Who Am I?
When Heather Baron-Gracie looks back at Pale Waves’ 2018 debut album, My Mind Makes Noises, the singer and guitarist feels like it was a period when she didn’t really know herself at all. The Manchester four-piece achieved breakthrough success with their coming-of-age anthems and jubilant, ’80s-influenced synth-pop, but behind closed doors, the group’s leader was going through an internal struggle. “I was still growing up at that point,” Baron-Gracie tells Apple Music. “I was 23 years old, but I felt a lot younger when it comes to maturity.” It’s led to the sense of self-discovery that runs right through Pale Waves’ exhilarating second record Who Am I?. Produced by Muse and Biffy Clyro collaborator Rich Costey, it mixes alt-rock dynamism with razor-sharp pop hooks and marks a huge leap forward for the quartet. These are songs that tackle personal, intimate topics in a universal way, their themes taking in sexuality, society, sexism, mental health, and love. “I wanted it to connect with people,” explains Baron-Gracie. “I wanted it to bring them understanding and comfort, be a piece of music that will be timeless to them.” Heather Baron-Gracie has put every inch of her soul into Who Am I?. Here she guides us through it, track by track.
Change “I didn’t really know this was going to be the opener at all, but most people around me in my life did, and I felt like, ‘OK, maybe I should listen to other people for once.’ I had the majority of the album written and I realized I didn’t have a song about heartbreak. Personally, I feel like I’ve never truly been completely heartbroken, so I channeled two emotions. I channeled frustration from my life and being disappointed and frustrated with people in general and having high expectations of them and them never delivering. Then I spoke to people in my life about their experiences of being heartbroken. I combined the two and that’s how it came about.”
Fall to Pieces “At the start of the relationship I’m in, my mental health was really all over the place and I was having a tough time with a lot of things in my life, and I was sort of putting my partner through it. Luckily, they’re amazing and they stuck by me and they pulled me through it. But it had an impact on our relationship. I created this argument and we went through it again and again, because at the time I wasn’t completely stable. Anything that troubles me, I feel like I need to get out.”
She’s My Religion “I’ve been open about my sexuality for a while, but I’ve never put it into a song. I wanted to do it justice and I needed someone to write about. I didn’t want to just write a song that said ’I like girls’ or something. It’s basically me saying, ‘To love someone entirely, you have to love every inch of them and take the bad side, take the darkness to them.’ So the chorus may say, ‘She’s cold, she’s dark, she’s cynical’—well, for me, you have to love every single part, and I do for my partner.”
Easy “It’s just a feel-good little song. I feel like love is the most universal and most powerful emotion we experience. Love can drive you to do crazy things. It’s about how euphoric and uplifting love made me feel. I wanted to put that into a form of a song because I wanted people to experience that if they haven’t already. I just wanted to talk about how good love can be when it’s right.”
Wish U Were Here “We finished the album and I had 10 songs on there. And then Rich Costey said, ‘Oh, we have some extra time in the studio if you want to try and do another song.’ So I did ‘Wish U Were Here.’ It was half-written at that point. I’m really grateful that it’s on the album because it is my favorite now—maybe because I knew it wasn’t going to go on there. It was fate that it was meant to be on this album, and for me there’s something so raw to this song in comparison to anything. I said to Rich, ‘I want it to sound like I’ve recorded this in my bedroom,’ and I think we captured an element to that.”
Tomorrow “‘Tomorrow’ is the first song I wrote for the album. It paved the way for this record, and I wanted a song that was there for fans, because I see a lot of our fans online and they struggle with mental health or they struggle with their sexuality. Life is tough. Life is hard. So I wanted a song that represented strength, and sometimes you do need that voice to give you the strength to persevere through whatever you’re going through. You do need someone to say, ‘Carry on going because you are loved.’”
You Don’t Own Me “This is a really powerful song. It’s so tough trying to summarize what it’s like to be a woman in this world within three minutes and whatever, but it was a subject that was really important to me. I feel as women we’ve come a long way over the years, but there’s still not complete equality and this is still a journey that we have to go on.”
I Just Needed You “This is me realizing that I realigned a lot of my priorities within this last year and a half. I look at social media and society and the conversations that I’ve had with people and realize that sometimes we get it so wrong in life. The Ferrari is not going to buy us long-term happiness—we can get caught up in the materialistic things as people. You have to find happiness within, you have to learn to love yourself, you have to find the right sort of people that love you for who you truly are.”
Odd Ones Out “‘Odd Ones Out’ is me watching a lot of people’s relationships fall apart. I find it really interesting how a couple can be so obsessed with each other and then, a few months later, they hate each other and go from knowing everything about each other to complete strangers. This song is me saying, ‘Hey, I want to be the odd ones out. I don’t want to fall into that pattern. Can we please be different, because I don’t want to ever become that. And I will always fight for us.’”
Run To “This is a letter that I would write to my mum. It’s basically me saying, ‘Hey, I know you worry, you probably worry too much, but I am OK. Life can be hard, but I know that you’re always there for me and I know that that love as a mother that you give to me as a daughter will never die and I can always come to you for anything and I appreciate that. But you don’t need to worry about me 24/7.’ I wanted it to be like a really thrashy song, a bit messy. It doesn’t sound perfect. I wanted it to sound real and quite rough around the edges.”
Who Am I? “This came at the very end. We’d started recording the album and then we took a break and went on tour. I didn’t have the album title at that time. Whilst you’re on tour, you really need to get away from that environment and go on a walk by yourself. I’ve learned that now, but I didn’t at the time, and on this one particular day, I just felt super low and upset. So I took my guitar to the bathroom and wrote ‘Who Am I?’ Within an hour and a half, it was done. It summarized the album completely. The album is all about emotional growth and finding your way in life and finding what makes you truly happy. I knew it had to be the album title and I knew it had to be the closing act.”