Pale Waves gig @ The Westgarth Social Club – review

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Pale Waves. Photo by Dean Chalkley

Pale Waves are a four-piece band, hailing from Manchester, mentored by the highly revered indie-rock band The 1975. I remember when I first discovered Pale Waves’ music; I was listening to 80’s new wave bands like The Cure on YouTube when I saw the thumbnail for their song “Television Romance” as a recommended video. The picture was of a woman with short black hair, dark grungy makeup and gothic attire (which I later learnt was the lead singer, Heather Baron Gracie). I prayed that their music would be just as captivating as their style.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but felt that it was safe to assume that their music would be slow, melancholy dark wave, similar to that of bands like Lebanon Hanover. Instead what I heard was something completely different. I was beguiled by how they had blended dark atmospherics with pure synth pop. Pale Waves are clearly the sort of band who delight in subverting expectations.

I was surprised to hear their announcement of the ‘DIY Class of 2018 Tour’ so early on. At the time of the announcement they had only released three songs: ‘New Year’s Eve’, ‘Television Romance’ and ‘There’s a Honey’. It seemed like a risky move to go on tour before releasing the full album ‘All the Things I Never Said’, however, I could tell from those three songs alone that I was going to like whatever else they produced so I bought myself a ticket.

Given the sudden surge in their popularity with the release of ‘Television Romance’ gaining them over 4 million views on YouTube, I was surprised and extremely excited to hear they were coming to a small, local venue: The Westgarth Social Club.

On the day of the concert I bagged myself a spot at the very front of the stage on the left-hand side so I would be directly in front of their keyboardist/guitarist Hugo Silvani. The full line-up for that night was Bloxx, Our Girl, and headliners Pale Waves, with all three of the bands being fronted by women.

 

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Pale Waves on stage. Photo by Janine Lewis

Bloxx kicked off the evening’s proceedings including a mix of released and unreleased music in their set. Standouts from this band were their angst-filled song ‘Coke’ and exuberant ‘Your Boyfriend’. Their latest single ‘Novocain’ even had people dancing. This was impressive for any support act as I’ve often seen situations where the bands are booed from the stage. It was a pleasant change to see a crowd enjoying a lesser-known band so much.

Brighton rock band, Our Girl, were up next and opened their set with ‘Being Around’. I have to admit I thought they were extremely talented and I thoroughly enjoyed the lead singer Soph Nathan’s hypnotic and heartfelt vocals. After this second stellar act the stage was prepared for the band we had all been waiting for – Pale Waves!

I was in awe of Heather Baron Gracie’s outfit, she was sporting a leather jacket, blue checked trousers and creeper shoes, and played what looked like an almost coffin-shaped guitar. The audience also seemed to be in deep admiration of her.

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Pale Waves lead, Heather Baron Gracie. Photo by Janine Lewis

Ciara Doran’s punchy snare leads us into their debut single ‘Television Romance’ as the opener, occasionally drowned out by the rapturous audience as everyone sang along. This was followed by their upbeat number ‘The Tide’. Although this track had only been released a couple of weeks prior to the gig everyone knew it well from their older demo before it was reinvented with more catchy, twinkly riffs for their EP.

The fans couldn’t get enough of Heather’s eye-rolls and puppet-like vogueing but there is still a freshness and vulnerability to her. Her vocals soar over the power ballad ‘My Obsession’. This was my favourite song from their set; its emotional lyrics cut deep. The song deals with the darker aspects of love using romantic, yearning lyrics like ‘You’ll always be my favourite obsession’ and ‘I’ll die by your side if you want me to’. The song felt honest, reflective and endearingly open. Their recent single ‘New Year’s Eve’ is an earworm of a melody capturing the teenage naivety and angst of an overhyped party.

Pale Waves ended the night with their final track ‘There’s a Honey’. This track pretty much sums up Pale Waves sound: dreamy synths, cheery nostalgic guitar and a bouncy bassline. At this point the whole crowd was jumping along, and I was wary that being on the second floor in a room this packed might result in the whole floor caving in under us. Luckily it managed to withstand the craziness of the crowd.

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Photo by Janine Lewis

I felt like the show didn’t last nearly as long as I had wanted it to. Before the crowd left all the bands were kind enough to greet everyone. I was one of the first to rush over to Pale Waves to ask for a picture with them before a long queue formed across the entire room as people waited to meet them. I was pleased to find the bands were engaging with the audience as it’s accustomed for artists to rush off after their set to avoid being swamped by fans. It was clear these people were still extremely down-to-earth and grateful for the support they were receiving. By the end of the night I was exhausted, ears-ringing, but on a high from the amazing performances.

It’s easy to get lost in the dreamlike sound of Pale Waves yet the lyrical openness packs a punch. There is nostalgia running throughout every song and clearly driven influences from 1980s artists like The Cure with a modern twist- the result is mesmerising. In a live setting they are just as intriguing with their black-clad appearances contradicting their dance-friendly sound; it’s an intricate blend of happy and sad. It’s definitely the right time to be making funky, eighties inspired indie-pop.

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Interview With Eric Sparkwood of Foghorn Lonesome

“I have a video of myself crying!”

I was in the middle of one of my usual YouTube binges, when in the background of a Gothic makeup tutorial, I heard some music that really appealed to me. It had a kind of dark wave, electro Goth  vibe to it. Immediately, I thought “I need to know who this band is!” A quick look in the description revealed to me that the song was ‘Svea’ by Foghorn Lonesome, something I later found out is that ‘Svea’ is the name of Eric Sparkwood’s grandmother.

Eric Sparkwood is the face behind Foghorn Lonesome. He started in 2011 as a one-man band in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2016, he played his first show with Jessica Isaksson on vocals and Nikita Smirnov on bass. In 2017, Krzystof Rozwadowski and, long-time producer, Tomas Rosenberg joined the band.

After speaking to Eric Sparkwood I could understand how the music came to be. It was clear he uses his life experiences as influence in his music. Even as someone with such talent to produce this music, Eric revealed to me that he does have his struggles. He came across to me as someone very kind, thoughtful and dedicated to his music and fans.

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From left to right: Krzystof Rozwadowski (Bass), Eric Sparkwood (Lead Vocals/Bass), Jessica Isaksson (Vocals), Tomas Rosenberg (Drums). Photograph by Bo Reinerdahl.

How did you come up with the name Foghorn Lonesome?

“I never reveal that actually. But with a quick Google search I’m sure people can figure that out.”

What made you want to start creating music? Is it something you would like to pursue full-time?

“I started playing bass when I was 16 and joined my first band. I guess it felt like the natural thing to do at the time, since I’d been constantly listening to music as a kid. I have mixed feelings about having this as a full-time thing since the music industry is in bad shape these days.”

I’m curious to know more about how you feel about the music industry. What do you think the main issue is nowadays?

“I think the main issue is that artists don’t get paid. We’re not signed to a label, but usually they tend to make most of the profits. I grew up before the internet and the MP3, so we had to pay for all of the music we wanted. Most people today don’t. But I’ve let go of all that. Sometimes I offer free downloads on the music on SoundCloud. I’m very grateful if someone purchases the music off Bandcamp or iTunes, but it’s fine if people don’t. The most important thing is that people have access to the music. Today’s mainstream music isn’t for me. But I do wish I could write three-minute pop songs. Then maybe I’d be summering in the Hamptons.”

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Foghorn Lonesome’s logo

How did you meet the other members?

“Jessica and Krzystof answered an ad I had online for new band members and I already knew Tomas since he produced all my music. The debut album was done and recorded by the time the band was put together.”

How would you describe your music?

“Melodic, varied and dark I suppose.”

What are the current projects you are working on?

“At the moment, we’re rehearsing for a show in March. I’m also off and on working of two new songs: ‘Strawberry Moon’ and ‘Stockholm, You Have Let Me Down’. There are demo samples of them on SoundCloud. I’m also working on another song, which at the is titled ‘Dumb Boy’, but the song isn’t the priority right now. I’ve also been putting tigether an acoustic rendition of a previous song. But I’m in no rush to finish them. I’m rarely in the mood to work on them.”

Do you have a favourite song you have produced or that you recommend people listen to first?

“No, I don’t have a favourite song. If someone was going to be introduced to Foghorn Lonesome, I would recommend songs like ‘Svea’, ‘Uliecry’, ‘All I Want Is Some Love’, ‘Night & Gale’, ‘Winter Blue’ and ‘Like A Storm’. Choosing just one is difficult.”

Where do you get your influences from?

“I would say my personal experiences are where I draw most of my influences. I think all of the music I’ve been listening to in my life has gone into my musical DNA. But when I discovered Diary of Dreams back in 2003 I was introduced to a new genre that kind of combined electronic music with gothic music. So when I started Foghorn Lonesome I knew that these genres would come together in my music too”.

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Eric Sparkwood (Lead Vocalist). Photograph by Darklark.

Foghorn Lonesome seemed to disappear for a while, but you are back with new social media pages and working on a new gig and some songs, was there a reason you took a break from your music? 

“My girlfriend left me and I hit rock bottom. Then I hit a level lower than rock bottom and did some things I’m not proud of. Eventually, I started working on new music.”

Do you find that writing helps you deal with that? 

“I’m not sure, but usually I would say no. The problem doesn’t go away just because you express it. Sometimes it can make you feel worse. You just get reminded of it when working on the song. Especially when writing the lyrics.”

I’ve listened to your song ‘Like A Storm’, and something that always fascinated me was at the end of it you have a monologue with you crying in it. I wondered if you were crying for real during that recording. Could you talk a bit about that?

“The crying is real. It was the first thing I wrote and recorded for the song. It’s a very personal song, but in that part I took things one step further and let it all out in the moment there. When I recorded that part my sound card wasn’t working because it was old. So the only way for me to record it at the time was through the microphone in my laptop. But the only way to activate the microphone is if you record a video. Then I removed the video part and just kept the audio to use in the song. I still have the video of me sitting in front of the computer crying recording that part which I won’t be showing to anyone.”

What is the song writing process like for you?

“I always start working on the music first. Then the lyrics. Sometimes I have to put some more effort into it. Maybe I’ll go sit at the cafe and listen to the song and try to come up with lyrics and vocal melodies in my head. When I’m really into working on a song I will listen to it a lot. I’ll listen to it when I’m out for a run or on the subway and at the same time be thinking about the lyrics. Usually you reach a point where things just feel done. Then you know it’s time to stop. You can rework things forever if you wanted to.”

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Eric Sparkwood (Lead Vocalist). Photograph by Darklark.

You seem very interactive with fans through social media and I noticed on your Instagram page that you have some fans who got tattoos of your lyrics, how does it make you feel to know that your music creatively inspires and also connects so strongly with people?

“It means I must be doing something right. It’s a great honour of course. James Hetfield of Metallica said it well when he said: “It means a lot to me when my darkness can connect with your darkness and make it ok.” So if my shit can help someone else cope with their shit better then that’s a good thing.”

Do you have other hobbies outside of music that would help rejuvenate your creativity?

“I try and run often. I go running for an hour. I get energy from that. Sleeping is probably the best thing I know. It’s the closest to death I can get.”

You recently became a grandfather, how that make you feel?

“Old.”

What is your ultimate goal as a band?

“I don’t think there is a goal. We’re lucky if we can get a gig somewhere. It’s difficult for all bands to get anywhere. Originally my goal was mainly to release an album and hope some people would enjoy the music. Both of which I have achieved.”

Where has been your favourite place to perform?

“We’ve only had three gigs so far. The first one was the best. It was at Klubb Död here in Stockholm. We might be doing a festival in August.”

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Eric Sparkwood (Lead vocalist). Photograph by Jonas Fransson.

Would you like to travel and perform in other countries?

“We’ve looked into it. Unsuccessfully so far. Again, it’s hard to get gigs.”

How do you think your music has evolved?

“That’s hard to say. Two songs have been released since the debut album, ‘Like A Storm’ and ‘Neon Thighs’. I think they sound like they could’ve been on the album in the sense that they’re similar in style. Now I’m working on some new music. I don’t know. It sounds similar I suppose. I guess I haven’t really evolved. Hah.”

What has been your greatest challenge?

“Finishing the debut album was a long and tiring ordeal. It demanded a lot of patience. Something I don’t usually have.”

More of a fun question: What would you do if you had £10 million?

“Pay off my debts and buy a house far away from everything and everyone.”

Any hopes for 2018?

“A fatal heart attack.”

You can find Foghorn Lonesome’s tracks on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Spotify.

You can also follow them through their social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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