Image isn’t everything when it comes to music, but there can be little denying that several artists have parlayed their music to wider audiences through their iconography and styling.
The mop top is near-synonymous with the Beatles; the jagged Halloween corpse-paint is entwined with the legacy of Kiss.
Whole genres are built around ‘the look’, as it is – striking visual cues that, through their storied history, almost prepare you for certain sonic landscapes before a note has been played.
There are those however who buck the expected trend and create an alternative dichotomy between sound and vision. The Cure remain one of the more famous examples of this duality, so given their self-professed admiration and debt to Robert Smith, it is perhaps not too surprising that indie-pop foursome Pale Waves confound in a similar way.
Formed by university friends Heather Baron-Gracie and Ciara Doran, their idiosyncratic look already marks them out from the crowd – and the calibre of their earworm melodies already have them primed for big things.
“You can definitely spot a Pale Waves fan down the street, if we’re in the city playing a show,” Baron-Gracie notes when asked about their visual influence.
It might feel like a big step, but this band has been cutting its teeth for four years or thereabouts now. We’ve played loads as unknowns and we’ve had some absolute shockers!Heather Baron-Gracie
“There’s a certain fashion with our band. It’s an identity, in a way. I think that it’s really cool that we can inspire something like that.”
With her warm accent and chirpy demeanour, Baron-Gracie very much exudes the air of an individual still in awe of their success, somewhat taken by surprise.
Though Pale Waves have existed, in some iteration, since 2014, it has only been in the past 18 months that they have taken off following debut single There’s a Honey, with their first album proper My Mind Makes Noises released this week.
“It feels like time has gone so fast, especially this year,” she confesses. “These last months just feel like they’ve gone by in a flash.
“It’s all happening so quickly; it feels like we’ve waited forever in a way for this album to come out and now it’s literally around the corner.”
She gushes over a recent tour to Australia for a pair of sell-out headline shows too.
“For us, that was such a big moment; it’s the other side of the world so to be able to play our music so far away from home to packed venues really means something to us.”
With arena dates on the horizon in support of The 1975, and a likely step-up in venue size themselves due imminently, their autumn run of dates represents what may be the last time they play smaller venues.
To Baron-Gracie though, any further ascension feels like natural progression.
“For people who only turned onto us with There’s a Honey, it might feel like a big step, but this band has been cutting its teeth for four years or thereabouts now. We’ve played loads as unknowns and we’ve had some absolute shockers!”
She spins a tale about a blackly comic night in Stoke. “We were playing in this Hawaiian bar and, for some reason, we had to hold up Ciara’s drum kit with a brick,” she laughs. “I’d be playing and singing up front, and then I’d have to periodically step back and kick the brick back in under her so that she could keep the beat!”
She pauses before continuing. “I’m glad we did all that though, the small shows where things went wrong or we had to adapt to situations on the fly. That’s really influenced how we are now; it’s made us appreciate every step up that we take, and I feel that the reason for that is we’ve experienced those rock-bottom mishaps like playing to an empty room. They were definitely important for us, those shows.”
Baron-Gracie attributes her working relationship with Doran as the effective engine room of the band’s creative output, describing them as like “the sun and moon in that we need each other to work”, and aside from their obvious, proud debt to The Cure, namechecks numerous pop-punk artists among her influences (“A Day to Remember, The Story So Far, Sum 41; I love them all,” she states).
That their music continues to confound expectations when contrasted to their image brings her a sense of joy is an added bonus; she admits that she takes some pleasure from creating an obvious contrast.
“I sort of like that we really surprise people, that they listen to our music and are then shocked by our appearances,” she notes, with a touch of fieriness.
“People say that we’re goth-bait, which rather gets me; it’s as if you’re saying that those who wear dark fashion are not allowed to write pop music.
“To me, that’s bonkers; in this day and age, you should be allowed to dress however you want, and write whatever kind of music.”
My Mind Makes Noises is out now. Pale Waves play at The Foundry in Sheffield on Sunday September 23. They support The 1975 at the FlyDSA Arena, Sheffield on January 25. www.palewaves.co.uk