Chvrches on Politics, Playing Big Stages and New Album
The Glaswegian synth-pop band is is scaling up on all fronts and it’s no mean feat
If there’s one solid distinction to Glasgow synth-pop band Chvrches, it’s how they sing about the saddest things over the brightest hues of electronic music. It’s not entirely accurate to say that the trio – Martin Doherty on synth, bassist, guitarist and keyboardist Iain Cook and vocalist Lauren Mayberry – make either happy or sad songs. Doherty says over the phone from New York, “I guess the complete range of human emotions are represented in music one way or another. I think most of them are on this record.”
That’s where the intrigue and allure of Chvrches exists, nodding towards Eighties electronic, pop and modern indie rock on critically acclaimed albums like The Bones of What You Believe (2013) and following it up with the even more charged up Every Open Eye (2015). With their latest, Love Is Dead (out May 25th), the trio is likely to ascend to the top of the charts, going from strength to strength both sonically and lyrically. This time around, Mayberry isn’t just singing about heartbreak. There’s references to politics, sexism and examining truth in the 21st century. That sounds like a lot of harsh lessons.
Working with Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Beck, Foo Fighters) and transported out of their Scottish comfort zones to Los Angeles and New York, Doherty says that they never felt like they were in a different country while they were picking out songs from a longlist of 40 compositions. They spent about a year recording it all. Doherty adds that the major change was his outlook and mindset in the past year. “Depression and intensity was part of my overall life that I used to create [music.] It was when I didn’t feel that way was when I realized I was doing better and more exciting work and had a greater volume when I was happy with the whole band, and we were all working on the same page,” he says.
In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Doherty talks about band dynamics, moving out of Glasgow and music festivals. Excerpts:
This was the first time you guys moved out of your studio in Glasgow all the way to Los Angeles to record this album, right? What was that like?
That’s true. That’s the thing that got us excited. Inside the studio, though, we didn’t feel like anything had changed in terms of dynamics and that was important to us. We always feel tied to the UK in our sound and our heritage, of course. When it came to working with a producer on this record, we wanted to make sure that we worked with someone who really understood UK music on a deep level and Greg [Kurstin] does that. He has a long history of working with UK acts – everything inside the studio felt really good and energetic and really normal. It’s funny, everything outside the studio had changed completely, though. It’s bizarre in some ways.
Did you miss working in Glasgow? I remember reading a 2014 interview where you guys were talking about how the studio was going to get proper tables and a Hoover.
(Laughs) It’s funny – the Glasgow studio is still there. One of the people who works with the band is still working at that place and the other member is Jonny Scott, who’s the drummer in our live band. We’ve kept it in the family. Once we set up shop in New York, we just shipped a bunch of gear to here and just created the same levels on the others side of the pond.
Watch the video for “Miracle”
You’re playing all the huge festivals around the world next – Primavera, Fuji Rock, Lollapalooza. Is it like you’ve heard about them for a long time and now you’re finally playing them?
These stages are no joke. I guess on this album and the albums before this, the expectations were high and I think we always want to over-deliver, in my mind at least. So at these shows we’re thinking about how can you make this music translate, how does this band make sense at that level? Those are the challenges that we deal with. I’m having a lot of fun tackling it, because I think we feel really confident this time.
What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about festivals?
Oh god, there’s a giant list on both sides (laughs). I guess my favorite thing about festivals is just reconnecting with all the people that you meet. Over the course of the summer, you become friends with bands and you run into them over and over again and by the end of the summer, you’ve formed friendships and then you break away and come back and see everyone you remember. ‘Here we are again’. It’s like one big summer camp, I really like that.
The stuff that I don’t like; just trying to get a decent shower, weather, no cell phone reception – all the boring stuff.
Whether it’s about hate or sadness, the point of ‘Love Is Dead’ is to start a conversation, is that fair to say?
That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. That’s the intention from the title [of the album] to every song. Rather than wallowing in the state of the world, it’s more about presenting the fact that we do have opinions as writers and emotions and then saying, ‘Okay, where do we go from here?’ When we say, “Love is dead,” it’s not meant to be a defining statement. It’s supposed to be the beginning of a conversation.
This album has those moments where it talks about hate not just through the lens of relationships, but on that larger scale, almost political. Was it deliberate to not say anything too politically direct, or is that just something you didn’t see fit in with the music?
I don’t consider us to be a political band, but I think it’s really difficult to write songs now, in this day, with the way things are, and be true to yourself as a writer and not talk about this stuff. I think it’s a lot weirder to ignore it. To just make music and say, ‘Oh, I’m a musician and I’ll only talk about music.’ If you’re a real writer that’s connected to yourself in the deepest way, you cannot help but comment on this stuff in some ways. Everywhere you look… Lauren writes majority of the lyrics, so a lot of stuff is coming from her, but to me, this is the most real you can get.
Listen to “My Enemy” ft Matt Berninger of The National below.
A lot of the album this time around came from being in the same room compared to previous records – does something like that help you learn about other members more? Or is that all already figured out since you’re always on the road together?
We’d seen Lauren in and around gigs in Glasgow but we were never friends and never each other properly. I think, though, that something about people will always surprise me. No matter how much you time you spend together – and we certainly have spent a lot of time together in the last six to seven years – but on this record, I did learn more about the two of them. That’s a very positive thing at this point. The dynamic when we were writing this album was a lot tighter than we’ve ever been and that led to much faster and more fruitful collaboration. Every aspect of the machine was working in its full capacity. It isn’t always that way with any band. People go on with their lives and don’t let it get in the way of music and that’s okay because you should have a life outside of music. When you do have that form when everyone’s totally focused and engaged in the process, that’s extremely energizing and galvanizing as a group.
What’s the strangest context you’ve heard one of your songs in?
(Laughs). They’re always popping in the most bizarre places, like supermarkets and hotel lobbies and stuff like that. I think [this] one that isn’t particularly strange, but I do get to hear it a lot in the gym, almost every day. It’s usually some crazy dance remix and I’ll have a wee chuckle to myself while I’m on the treadmill. It’s quite common and I’m thankful for it.
Ever got any offers from India yet?
I would love to come, I’ve never been to India and I don’t know if there’s been any offers. I think this is the first interview I’ve ever done from India. So maybe things will get started and we’ll be there soon. I would definitely love to go.