If you live your life in hope you always hang on something and keep looking into the future, rather than living in the present.
Of all the hyped pop acts in 2013, looks like Scottish trio CHVRCHES remains one of the more humble ones. Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook und Martin Doherty didn’t force anything to get their shows sold out and their singles into mainstream radio airplay. They are just one of those rare bands that know how to write good pop music. The songs of their debut album The Bones Of What You Believe are not only well-produced, they are instant hit singles. The ones you just can’t resist when all elements go well together.
One reason might be that the members of CHVRCHES are not just random bedroom producers but accomplished musicians who have experience in other bands. Martin was a member of THE TWILIGHT SAD, Lauren also played into smaller bands and Mr. Cook was an essential part of post-rock formations AEREOGRAMME and THE UNWINDING HOURS, two long-time favourites of NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION. This meant there was plenty of potential for a proper talk. We had the pleasure of meeting Lauren and Iain prior to their recent sold out show in Berlin and get some of our questions answered by them.
Since our magazine has its roots mainly in the area of post-rock, the first question goes to you, Iain. How came you took the step towards pop music?
I: It was natural. It more or less came from just listening to more pop music. Not just pop music but electronic music in general. You know, from when we grew up in the 80s. DEPECHE MODE and all that stuff. And basically just getting more into synthesizers. Martin and I played synths in various other bands before and I did a lot of electronic stuff when I was in AEREOGRAMME. So, I bought a lot of analog synths and listened to a lot of JOHN CARPENTER movie scores and stuff like that. Our band is a natural combination of all our influences.
Are there any particular aspects of the post-rock work that CHVRCHES can benefit from?
L: Yeah, I think the final AEREOGRAMME record and the two UNWINDING HOURS records were produced by you, Iain. So this might come in handy.
I: You can hear it on the final AEREOGRAMME album where we did the song The Running Man. Its got that synth arpeggio in it. That’s when we start to take things from all the film scores and everything. In some ways it’s a natural progression but others tend to see it as a big leap.
L: We all took things from our previous bands and created something new out of it.
Do you think there’s a lack of musical substance or skills for lot of pop music these days?
I: Well, not in terms of skills but definitely with the substance. (laughs) If you listen to pop from a mainstream radio station you can definitely see that it’s been made with a lot of skill. You can maybe argue that there isn’t a lot of depth in it. But there are certain types of music who don’t need that. It doesn’t need to be multidimensional. It tries to immediately catch your attention when it’s on the car stereo on your way to work. And that’s what it does and it works. And I always argued that it was a great art to write a good pop song. I know in the past I often dismissed that musical form a lot, looking down on it as well. But it actually is a fantastic skill, to be able to write good pop music.
Was there a certain point during the recording of your album or the singles when you thought: ‘Well, we might have some really big hits on here’?
L: I don’t really know. We’ve been writing songs constantly since we started working together. But it wasn’t like we said: “Okay, we need four hit singles now and care less about the rest.” And we also did this with the record. We didn’t really though about it that often. And within each song you have this exciting moment where you go ‘Oh, this is good. This is the way we’re going.’ And sometimes it happens in a day and sometimes in a month.
I: I guess one of the most important moments was when we wrote The Mother We Share. That was one of the fist times when a song we wrote came together. And were like: “This is new. This could be the sound of our band.” Because before that we were just mucking around. (laughs)
I first saw you this year at Eurosonic Festival in Groningen. I recall you saying it was the first show you’d ever played outside Britain…
Iain: Yes, it was. Indeed
I can only assume how much has changed over the past months. Probably everything. What are the main aspects, you would say?
L: I think we’ve been lucky to play a lot of different shows since then. And this really helped us.
Plus maybe a boost in self-confidence.
I: Yeah, although it’s difficult to get perspective on that ’cause we do it all the time. But people say that to us, yes. In addition to that we were very happy to get a proper lightning production together.
What I like about your performance is a certain amount of understatement. It’s very basic. And you, Lauren, always seem a bit reserved on stage. Was there a certain intention behind this?
L: I think it was just a comfort thing. The basic show is also a logistic thing. We could have done a super theatrical shows with pantomimes and stuff but that wouldn’t be us. It’s not an extension of our personality. And I’m just not that sort of performer. For us it was important to do something that felt right. I’m glad you like it, other people think it’s lazy. (laughs)
Yeah, I heard people saying this.
L: It would just feel weird to, you now, scream “Berlin, how you dooooing?” (imitates rock cliché).
I: (laughs and imitates scream) “Put your hands in the air, Berlin:”
L: That would feel a bit cheesy.
I: Like you said, it should be an extension of your personality and not some kind of weird acting.
CHVRCHES: “Hope is eventually dangerous”
Lauren, your recent article in The Guardian about online misogyny caused quite a stir. This probably goes hand in hand with your performance on stage since you never run around half-naked in videos or on stage….
L: Well, wait ’til you see our show later. (laughs) I’m gonna hang down from a chain…
You should better use a wrecking ball like Miley Cyrus. They are hip at the moment.
I: (laughs) Exactly.
But coming back to the topic – especially with having Miley Cyrus here as a perfect example. Did you think that the ‘sexism’ problem is partly caused by the record industry itself?
L: Hmm, that’s a big question. I don’t think it’s just isolated to the music industry. But it’s an advertising problem and there comes the media’s idea on what sexuality in general is. And so it’s automatically assumed that this is a proper standard. They project a certain image and we are talked into believing it.
Is there any useful instrument to work against it? Maybe raising awareness might be a start.
L: Yes and also having an independent mind and a certain amount of self confidence. And don’t automatically accept what others say. Start questioning things. That’s maybe something that’s important in all aspects of life. And we do what we do best, playing as a band, making music. But as in real life there’s always a few assholes. And that’s what we had to face with the online trolling on our Facebook page. And there are just stupid trolls but also the ones that are actually sexist in their real lives.
Was there less trolling after your statement?
L: To us the response to this article has been really positive. But on the other side we also decided to turn off our Facebook messages. Now the conversation happens on the wall which is better ’cause everyone can see it. And now we hopefully can move on and continue playing shows.
I think your current tour is probably sold out. Is it possible for you to fully understand the hype?
I: I don’t think we’ve got to the ‘questioning’ stage yet. Maybe once this is all over and we get a chance to look back and say ‘What the fuck…?’ (laughs) We just try to keep our head out of this and concentrate on being the best band we can be. There’s plenty of things we need to get done on a daily basis. There’s no need to think of other things.
L: And we’re pretty much busy ’til next summer. But we hope to get a bit more structure. We put ideas together on tour but we can’t properly write and record them.
So, you’re not the type of band that writes while touring? A lot of bands do this.
I: I know. I’m so jealous of them.
L: We’re kind of lazy.
We’re always end interviews with the question about hope and passion. How about your view on these words? Are you hopeful people?
I: I think hope is eventually dangerous. If you live your life in hope you always hang on something and keep looking into the future, rather than living in the present.
L: I think these two – hope and passion – go together quite well.
I: But with great hope also comes crushing disappointment.
L: (addressing Iain) What about ‘realistic hope’? Something you can achieve.
I: Nah, I’m not thinking that way.
You’re more of a guy who’s living in the here and now, aren’t you?
I: Yeah, I think so.
L: I’m probably more wishful.
I: (addressing Lauren) The ‘here and now’ is the only thing we have control of. We can’t control the past and we can’t control the future.
L: Maybe there is.
I: (responding to Lauren’s optimism) Well, okay, but maybe we’re all leaves in the wind.
L: Yeah, but indeed, it’s really hard controlling this. Maybe if we invented time travel. (laughs)