In a sparsely furnished room at Berlin Tempelhof, the vast defunct airport that was once a symbol of Nazi invincibility, Chvrches are eating crisps and considering their upcoming set at the city’s first Lollapalooza festival. If the synth-pop trio from Glasgow are nervous after a six-month break from touring, they’re not showing it. While singer Lauren Mayberry calmly irons her stage outfit, her bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are taking in their surroundings. “This is about as glamorous as it gets,” says Cook, eyeing the harsh strip lighting. “But we have a fridge full of beer so all is well.”
When Chvrches first got together, touring wasn’t part of the plan. At that point, they weren’t even sure they were a band. “We were just messing around. We had a synth lying around and started playing with some ideas and it took on a life of its own,” says Doherty.
Chvrches have long described themselves as a band born on the internet, and it’s this early, zealous online following that led to a record deal. Following an initial EP, they released their debut album in 2013, The Bones of What You Believe, which has sold 500,000 copies worldwide.
When they first met, the three of them had various projects on the go: while working as a TV production assistant and journalist, Mayberry was singing in an indie-rock band, Blue Sky Archives; Doherty had spent four years playing with the indie outfit Twilight Sad; and Cook, following a stint with the post-rock band Aerogramme, was in The Unwinding Hours.
Now, three years later, they say that it was a weird way to get to know each other. “When you’re in a new creative relationship it takes a while to build up trust,” Cook explains. “You’re putting yourself and your ideas out there so you’re quite vulnerable and exposed. Luckily, that trust came quickly.”
They have just released their second album, Every Open Eye, which is essentially a continuation of their signature melancholy electro-pop sound, but bolder and more urgent.
“To me it sounds like a Chvrches record but a bit more sure of itself, a bit more intense,” says Mayberry.
“It was all about refining what we liked about our band, and other people liked about it,” adds Doherty. “You find yourself on record one and nail it on record two. Then, on record three, I’m guessing you lose it altogether and bring in the jazz band.”
While each member may have changed the music they make with Chvrches, they haven’t changed the way they make music. The band bring a proudly indie ethos to what is a pristine mainstream sound.
“We certainly operate with one foot in the pop world, but never both because it makes us uncomfortable,” says Doherty. “We don’t feel like we belong there. We want to make music that can appeal to a vast number of people but still has some soul at its core. It’s music with emotional content made by real people, rather than some behind-the-scenes hit factory.”
For Mayberry their modus operandi isn’t just a matter of authenticity, it’s about inspiring the next generation of musicians and showing them a route to a career. “I think it’s really great if a 15- or 16-year-old comes to our show, looks at the stage and thinks ‘I could do that’. You don’t get that with a lot of pop music. A lot of kids think the only way in is through a TV show, which is sad and, more importantly, not true.”
Chvrches come over as a tight unit with clear and united ideas about how the band should operate. All three are involved in the songwriting process, and outside writers and producers have been politely declined. They have also taken a stand against the notion that the singer should be the focus of a band, and have largely resisted photo-shoots that push Doherty and Cook into the shadows.
“There’s no room for individual ego here,” says Mayberry. “It’s just not how we wanted it to work. As much as it might come over as cynical and pessimistic, talking about what we didn’t want to do as well as what we did want to do was quite important when we started out. Luckily, we were all in agreement about how we wanted to be perceived.”
There’s a difference between saying the music is terrible, and threats of physical and sexual aggression
Speaking out against the sexist abuse directed at Mayberry on social media was also a group decision. Mayberry has long been galvanised by feminism – she is one of the founders of a feminist collective called TYCI (Tuck Your Cunt In) and she continues to work on the site and its accompanying zine. In 2013, Mayberry broadened the debate when she wrote a blog for a national newspaper drawing attention to the sexism endured by her and scores of other female musicians. “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat?” she asked.
Last month, she once again publicly took on her trolls who, on this occasion, had attacked her appearance in the video for Chvrches’ new single “Leave a Trace”. Highlighting their unsavoury comments on Twitter, she tweeted: “Dear anyone who thinks misogyny isn’t real .... It is and this is what he looks like.” Shortly afterwards she appeared on Channel 4 News, where she discussed her experiences of cyber-misogyny.
“People say we’re putting ourselves out there, and this kind of thing is to be expected,” she says. “But there’s a difference between saying the music is terrible, and threats of physical and sexual aggression. That’s not fine to do to anybody, and they’re doing it through a misogynistic prism. People also say, ‘What’s the point in talking about it? You’re never going to change the way they think’. But it makes a difference in how we feel about ourselves and also hopefully it makes a difference to the people in the community around the band. Sexism happens to women online and in their day-to-day lives. A lot of young people follow our band and, in different ways, this kind of shit happens to them too.”
Doherty and Cook were “shocked and devastated” at the vitriol aimed at Mayberry, but Doherty would like it to be known that “how immensely positive our internet correspondence is at the moment, and how clear and short the lines of communication are between our fans and us, and how much we use the internet every day. We love it, we’re not going to be bullied off it and it’s still a really important part of what we do. But, like in real life, there’s good people and bad people. The mask that people wear online unlocks the worst in some. These people feel powerful when they think that they’re beyond reproach.”
If anything, the three members of Chvrches have been brought closer by their experiences. “We’re kind of like brothers and sisters, that’s the only way I can describe our relationship,” says Cook. “What affects Lauren affects us all.”
In order to stay sane on the road, the trio build routine in their everyday lives, whether that’s getting up early and going for a run, eating together – or just having a decent set of luggage. “I go a bit crazy about luggage,” admits Doherty, sheepishly. “I can’t get enough of it. I guess we all have to find ways of making this life feel normal, even though it’s really not. I mean, let’s be honest. Doing something like this as a job, as a proper career, is completely bloody nuts.”
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