It's early Friday evening in Camden Town and everything looks exactly as you're picturing it. Crowds are jostling around stalls selling fluorescent belly button rings. Tourists are taking photographs with stock image punks holding signs. People are clocking off work to sip from frothy amber pints, glinting in the sun. And then there's Pale Waves – Heather, Ciara, Hugo and Charlie – in head-to-toe goth-like gear themselves, sprawled outside the mainstay Camden pub, the Good Mixer.
“Shall we go shopping?” someone asks. Heather wants to take a stroll around. We decide to go to a few stalls, followed by Cyberdog, followed by the Hawley Arms. Which is pretty much what a first date might have looked like for myself in 2012.
Pale Waves don't get stopped while we're out and about, surprisingly – over the past few years, the band have garnered quite an intense online fan base, particularly in the UK, but also in the US too. The day we meet, they've just come off a North American tour with 5 Seconds of Summer and are lugging wheelie bags and guitar cases. “What's in there?” I ask Charlie, pointing to his luggage. “My whole life,” he replies, yanking it across concrete.
As for not being noticed on these hectic streets, it's probably because here, among the throng, they look yet like another touring band in leather jackets, chains and boots. It doesn’t help that Heather has recently dyed her hair platinum blonde and wears sunglasses; resembling something of a movie character on the run.
The past few years have not been without adversity and evolution for the Manchester four-piece. In 2020, Pale Waves were involved in a near-fatal bus crash – except for Heather, who was on a plane at the time – while on their way to support Halsey in Berlin. It was a traumatic event for the band, who were then forced to stop touring due to the pandemic. But it was also an era of self-discovery and openness. “It was the first time I didn’t want to die for a while,” Ciara told the Forty-Five in 2021. “Afterwards, I came out of my shell more. It woke me up. I realised that life can be good now.” They came out as non-binary, meanwhile Heather leaned into her queerness more publicly, using female pronouns in her songs and releasing videos like “She’s My Religion.” This was a band no longer in the shadows.
They’ve moved on musically, too. When they first signed to Dirty Hit back in 2017, they were often aligned with The 1975 (not a toootally wild comparison, seeing as Matt Healy regularly worked with them in the early days, and they made similarly synth-laden, 80s-adjacent indie pop). Since then though, they've outgrown their origin story and their music has taken a different direction. Second album Who Am I? was much more pop punk; very Avril Lavigne; very early 2000s. Even the cover – in which Heather wears flares and stands in a hallway with her arms crossed – resembles a CD you might have picked up from HMV back when that was a thing.
New album, Unwanted, out on the 12th of August, moves even further into rock guitar territory. It’s also a little less throwback – but still pretty emo. Think Paramore and My Chemical Romance; a bit Pretty Reckless. Album opener “Lies” is like something you’d listen to after getting over your first heartbreak and realising you were actually dating a little shit. In the video, the band perform in a glowing cube while Heather shouts into the camera. It looks like a classic MTV-era clip – no narrative, just vibes.
In person, Pale Waves are chill and easy. It’s hard taking all four of them on a date though. They tend to talk over each other, hijacking each other’s anecdotes with other anecdotes, in that way that old mates tend to when they’re at the pub and/or are used to being in each other’s company. Out of all of them, Ciara is the most quiet and unassuming. Heather is intense and thoughtful, often pausing for a second before answering. Hugo is a softie and Charlie is the loud baby bro of the group. After settling on the Hawley Arms roof terrace, here’s what we spoke about.
VICE: So, what would you consider to be the perfect date? Apart from this one obviously.
Charlie: I've never been on a date before. Like, a first date.
Hugo: Yeah, I haven't you know.
Heather: Yeah, I've never been on a first date.
Really? Is it harder to date people when they know who you are? Or do you choose to date people who don't?
Heather: More people in England tend to know who we are. But you soon figure out… what's what.
I hear you. If you were to invite someone over for dinner, what would you cook for them?
Heather: I'd cook pasta. Pomodoro. Charlie, you'd be terrible…
Charlie: I'm not a terrible cook, I just don't do it. People do it for me, or I order stuff.
What's a book that you've read recently that you really loved?
Ciara: I don't read books, to be honest. Unless they're about serial killers. I'm dyslexic, so…
Heather: I really like reading the School of Life books. They're self help books. I told my mum to get one of them and it had a section that was like “why you should do anal.” I was like, “Oh shit.”
Ciara: She was like, “Your dad and I have been really happy lately.”
Heather: [Laughing] I liked An Emotional Education. That's the first self help book where I actually took something away from it.
I’ll have to read it. What's a song that tends to make you cry?
Ciara: “Smother” by Daughter.
Charlie: The first song slash film that I ever cried to was from Highschool Musical 2. “Gotta Go My Own Way” – That really made cry.
Heather: I cry to any Rod Stewart song because it reminds me of my granddad.
Do you cry quite easily?
Heather: I used to, but I think I've hardened up recently.
I wonder why?
Heather: If it's anything to do with family though, I'm like [makes crying sounds]. Like, if a mum dies.
Hugo: Wait… is that shit? [points to shoulder]
Charlie: That's shit! That's shit, mate. Why have you got shit on you?
Hugo: I don't know!
Heather: Here, have a tissue.
Charlie: To be fair, I got shat on at the train station and got upgraded. And then I got a flight with Hugo and we got upgraded again!
Yeah, it's good luck! I wonder what will happen to you today… Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, date questions. Do you have any weird hobbies that people might not know about?
Heather: I like watching random videos on YouTube of things like “Scariest moments ever” or “Top weirdest places in the world.”
Hugo: I used to really like gardening as a kid. I was obsessed with it. We had quite a big garden at home and every summer I'd spend nearly five hours a day just gardening.
Heather: I would like to start rock climbing. I would like to ride motorcycles as well.
Ciara: Yeah, I want to get a dirt bike when I have the money!
Same. So I've been listening to your album a lot this week. It's a lot darker and more angsty than your previous albums… Why do you think that mood prevailed this time around?
Heather: I think we just wanted to embrace moods that we've never embraced before. In society, some of those moods, women are not allowed to project and if they do they get labelled as a crazy bitch, or as a psycho. So I wanted to have a record where I'm using that voice and I'm using it with confidence.
Like “Jealousy”. Do you think you're a naturally jealous person?
Ciara: This is a big topic of debate among us, because we're all different. I'm not a hugely jealous person and my girlfriend isn't jealous at all – which I do like.
Hugo: Do you get jealous?
Hmm, I used to get more jealous. But now I'm older, and after being in therapy for a while, maybe not as much.
Heather: But are we meant to cure jealousy, though? I don't think we are…
Hugo: You love it.
Ciara: Yeah, she thrives on it. You and Kelsi [Heather’s partner] thrive on it.
Heather: I think a healthy amount is good. If someone was really hitting on me and my partner wasn't jealous or didn't say anything I'd be like, “Do you not care?”
Ciara: But if you trust someone…
Heather: It's not about trust.
Ciara: No, I love seeing people try and hit on Colette [Ciara’s partner]. I like it. Especially men. I'm a bit weird like that.
Heather: Each to their own.
Charlie: [Doing an Ian Stirling impression] Hugo's crackin' on with Colette.
Wait… have you been watching Love Island?
Ciara: Oh yeah, I fucking cried at Love Island. Wait, if you had to get with any girl on there who would it be?
Ciara: No waaay, for me it's Tasha.
Hugo: I just coined a term… Ekin-Supremacy.
Haha I swear I've heard that before! So I'm getting a lot of Paramore on this new album. If you could collab with anyone – other than Hayley Williams – who would it be?
Heather: Robert Smith. Let's go with Robert Smith. I would be scared singing on a track with [Hayley Williams] because she's next level. She has absolute pipes. You know she's only 5"2 as well. She's tiny. Like me.
Charlie: Heather's favourite band is Måneskin.
Heather: They're so fucking cool. Imagine if they featured on “Jealousy.”
You've got a track on the album called “Act My Age” as well, which made me think a lot about how much you change throughout your 20s.... Do you have any life advice for those years? I think your mid to late 20s are quite a transitional period, at least it was for me.
Ciara: I don't feel like an adult yet.
Heather: I think it started shifting for me when I hit 26. In a good way. But I'd say, “Don't be so harsh on yourself.” When you're younger, you really critique everything you do and you analyse everything and when you get older you're more relaxed and less harsh on yourself. Love the parts that you tried to hate when you're younger.
Yeah, I agree. I'd say you stop caring so much for sure.
Heather: Yeah and I think you become more… accepting.
Ciara: Things feel so serious when you're 25 and below. Little things feel like a big deal.
Charlie: I feel like I'm critical of myself now. I always feel like I'm so far behind where I should be.
Heather: Nooo. You'll get there though. You're just about to go over the 25 line.
Ciara: You're still so young. Especially for a man, you mature later.
Heather: You're a wee baby.
Hugo: When I was a kid, if someone said they were 26, I'd be like… that's a fully-formed adult. It's mad isn't it.
Charlie: People say they feel like that in their 40s and stuff.
Ciara: The world is so ageist. I feel like The X Factor did that to a lot of people. It made anyone over the age of 27 feel like they were irrelevant.
The “Overs” category was wild! Especially because some artists don't blow up until their 30s, like Peaches or M.I.A. Do you know anything about your Saturn Returns?
Heathers: What's that?
It's the astrological change you go through at your age, in your mid to late 20s. When you astrologically become an adult. It's supposed to be quite transformative. Sometimes difficult.
Heather: What is it called again? [Heather gets out her phone and starts furiously Googling.]
Ciara: Are you joking? I thought we'd only just got through the hard part. What happened to you?
It didn't feel that dramatic for me. But you usually go through some sort of change…
Ciara: Is my girlfriend going to dump me, is that what you're saying [laughs]?
Haha, no! It could be anything. As long as you're open to it. The secret to getting through your Saturn Returns is to not fight it.
Ciara: I'm going to embrace it.
What are you going to do for the rest of the day?
Heather: Probably sleep. These last few days have been so busy. I haven't had any days off in a while.
Are you excited about your album coming out?
Heather: Yes! Are you coming to our album release party?
Yeah! See you there.