Interview: CHVRCHES

CHVRCHESIn May 2012, CHVRCHES’ debut single “Lies” was unearthed on Neon Gold’s blog, and like the Passion Pits, Icona Pops and Ellie Gouldings before them, they were instantly personified. Claiming a track to be “a godless hurricane of kinetic pop energy” isn’t exactly insinuating them as pop idols, but it’s close, and it was more than enough to keep the group buzzing in everyone’s ear for a solid 12 months. The Glasgow trio have since brandished their momentum with massive festival sets and are now readying their debut, The Bones Of What You Believe, which will contend against the likes of MGMT, Arcade Fire and the Arctic Monkeys in September. Will they survive music’s most chaotic month? As Lauren Mayberry and Martin Doherty explained a few weeks back, popularity – like the Internet itself – is “a dangerous thing”, and they’re focused on releasing a record listeners will cherish for more than just four weeks.

You guys did that Rage Against The Machine cover…

LAUREN MAYBERRY: Oh, yeah… that’s wrong, sorry. That was with my old band and it’s from two years ago.
Okay, explain this to me – I was looking for it online and it comes up on Soundcloud and other sites under CHVRCHES.

LAUREN: Yeah, that’s not right. Someone must have taken that from another Internet blog. It’s on the Blue Sky Archives Bandcamp and it’s been a free download for like two years, and yeah, it wasn’t something that had always gotten picked up. We covered a number of songs but it was on a free download CD for a children’s charity (Crack In The Road/Youth Music compilation). It’s been up there for a long time but I think some people just found it on Google, and Google started saying it was this band.
Do you think that’s because you guys have become really popular very quickly?

LAUREN: I don’t really know… just because there’s a lot of old songs by some of us when we were in our older bands, so I don’t really know what that was all about. You can never tell. The Internet is a strange place, but hopefully it will get more downloads for that charity thing and that will be good I guess.

How do you feel about being characterized as pop’s “Next Best Thing”?

MARTIN DOHERTY: I don’t subscribe to that sort of thing at all really. We do as much as possible to avoid stuff that gets written on the Internet. I think it has as much of a negative effect mentally as it does positively because you’ll start believing everything that people are saying about you, and suddenly you’ve written a few good songs and then no one cares about you. It’s a dangerous thing.

LAUREN: It’s important to take this stuff with a pinch of salt. Like we’re aware of the fact that we’re really lucky to be where we are right now and so early in our career as a band. Obviously we’ve all been in bands for over a decade anyway but this is quite young for this band, and we’re totally aware of the fact that if people weren’t writing about us, then people wouldn’t come to a show. That’s really amazing, but at the same time if you concentrate too much on that and determine the value of your band based on what people are saying about you in the press, it becomes a recipe for disaster (laughs). So yeah, I think we’re trying to keep our heads down and doing what we’re used to which is writing, recording, playing shows and that kind of stuff. Hype is really great for getting people’s attention but I think the people are pretty smart – you can’t make a crap record and not have people figure that out.
As you’ve all been in different bands previously, how necessary is it to experiment as an artist?

LAUREN: People always talk about how this is a departure from our previous stuff, and I think in terms of the instruments – and the main writing instruments – we don’t write on guitar anymore. There are guitars in the songs but it’s not the primary writing instrument. In terms of the songwriting stuff, what we’ve learned in previous bands has impacted our songs and the structures. Melodies are a key factor in what we do, and in terms of the live show as well, so the fact that we’ve all been in guitar rock bands is helpful. There are a lot of amazing musicians out there that, when it comes to a live show, kind of just push the space bar on a laptop and let it happen. People are famous and that’s what people want to do and it’s not for us to judge, but that’s not something we’d be comfortable with. Basically, other than a drum track and some samples, we’re playing everything live on sample pads or keyboards or, like guitar and bass. I think it’s important for us to make it a life that we’re sort of used to.
What do you think about everybody’s relentless need to remix every single song in existence?

LAUREN: Well, I guess this is the first band that I’ve been in where anyone’s remixed anything we’ve done or we’ve remixed anything by anyone else. I think it’s been really fun for us to kind of give off our songs to other people and see what they make of it. Especially that Cid Rim remix that was on the Recover EP – it was a total re-imagining of our own stuff. I think if anyone is inspired to do anything with something that you have made then that’s pretty amazing. I am terrible at remixes because I don’t have the skills necessarily (laughs) but I think it’s really interesting. Especially with this band that was born on the Internet and was eventually picked up by bigger blogs and magazines and radio because people were telling their friends about it. It’s the same with remixes – if people are passing music around and want to do something with it because they’re excited by it then that’s cool. It’s a bizarre phenomenon.
It’s been suggested that a lot of your songwriting is influenced by ’80s cinema soundtracks. Is that accurate or do you see yourselves influenced by other styles of music as well?

MARTIN: I’d say it’s a very strong influence. It’s sort of the music we grew up with and, like the Recover EP, the music is really fantastic and really atmospheric. In terms of the actual songwriting though, I think our influence comes from somewhere else. Sonically, there’s a large part of what we do that comes from movie soundtracks.

The ’80s was a major decade for women making progress in the music industry – not just in terms of success but also in the kind of things that they could do or say. Do you feel responsible to keep that progress alive as a female artist?

LAUREN: I don’t necessarily think I relate personally to somebody like Madonna because I feel like she’s very unique, and very different from something that I would do. But in general, we’re kind of aware of the fact that we don’t want our band to be seen in certain ways and there are certain stereotypes that I don’t want to reinforce. I think that’s just because of the stuff that interests me in general, but I do think that it’s important for there to be a lot of great female role models in bands. When I was growing up, people like Sleater-Kinney, P.J. Harvey and stuff like that were really interesting to me. It’s kind of shit that people have certain assumptions about certain things, but you can continue doing what you do the best you can and combat those things when they arise. And hopefully, yeah… sorry I kind of tailed off at the end there and I don’t have anything left to say (laughs).
You kind of answered it before but do you think that being able to put music up online so easily is helping or hurting artists?

LAUREN: I guess the Internet and new technology and stuff make it a lot easier for people to get stuff out there. I think it’s really important for people to be able to make records in their bedroom or on a laptop, and I suppose there’s so much more to discover and so much more music available because of the Internet, but for a band like us, we wouldn’t exist without the Internet because we take advantage of those new technologies. We use them in a live setting as well. Also, it helps break down geographical boundaries, as we were featured on Neon Gold – a blog that’s considered to have half a leg in the UK and half a leg in North America – and that’s sort of helped open us up to an international audience so early, which is scary but really cool.
What are some of your favourite bands from back home?

LAUREN: I think Glasgow’s such an interesting place because there’s so many different kinds of music happening. Like there’s some electronic stuff, there’s folk-y stuff, and there’s a reasonably strong alternative rock community as well. There’s a female duo called Honeyblood that I like a lot, and in terms of live shows, there’s a band called United Fruit who just create a really great, energetic, raw alternative sound. I don’t know if they’ve made it out here yet but they’re really interesting so you should check them out.

MARTIN: I guess my favourite Scottish band is probably Cocteau Twins.

LAUREN: The Cocteau Twins are pretty massive. In terms of this band, the Cocteau Twins were a big influence, and Elizabeth Fraser is a really amazing lady so if you haven’t heard their stuff then you should definitely look them up.

MARTIN: I’d probably say Rustie, the electronic producer from Glasgow. He’s on Warp and he’s amazing.
What is originality to you?

MARTIN: I don’t consider any music to be truly original in the past tense of the word. The highest level of originality that I consider achievable now is the people that take lots of different things from the past or lots of different ideas that previously existed, and they infuse that in their own personality to the point that it becomes something new or unique. You know, Jimi Hendrix was original. He wasn’t new necessarily as he was listening to lots of blues people and making it his own. People have continued to do that throughout the years but the thought of being original is drawing from key experiences and not what other people think.

LAUREN: Like what you said about personality, I think you can always kind of tell if a band are writing things because they want to sound like a certain thing. Without sounding cheesy, I think it’s important to be yourself, and that way you’re being original as a person… if that makes sense. I went a wee bit zen on that, but yeah (laughs).

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