Glasgow trio, Chvrches, summoned a storm of biblical proportions when they posted their debut track ‘Lies’ - a clean squeeze of sweet and sour electro pop - online last year.
Critical adulation, a support slot with Passion Pit and a nomination for the BBC’s Sound of 2013 have all since followed, with the band now on the cusp of releasing their highly-anticipated debut album this autumn.
We caught up with Martin Doherty, one third of Chvrches, to find out about how the band coming together was ‘part fluke, part design’, what it was like to nearly go Gangnam style with their Game Of Thrones cover and the psychological trauma of getting monumentally blanked by Morrissey.
It’s been about a year since you released ‘Lies’, which started a huge buzz around you. What’s it been like for you?
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. In the beginning it was kinda overwhelming, but I think by this point we’re on our feet and have an understanding of what needs to be done. I guess in the beginning there was a lot of talk as we were literally completely unsigned; we didn’t have a roadmap of where the project was going we didn’t know what could happen or what was possible. It was really strange and exciting, but I guess now it’s more stable – it’s been a learning experience more than anything else.
It seems that way for a lot of new bands now where, rather than having any time to grow away from the spotlight, as soon as you put something online you’re thrust right out there. Do you think it could have hindered you? Would you have rather had had some time to develop?
I maybe think that about the live show as we had to react to what was going on, on the internet or the way that people were responding to our music, so that was difficult in the beginning just trying to find out how to play this music live and actually try and get good.
In terms of the studio, recording it wasn’t as much of a problem as we’d spent seven months recording before we released anything and we hadn’t put anything on the internet. We had a bunch of material at the time that happened, so it wasn’t panic stations like some people may have where they write a song and put it on the internet and suddenly have to find out how to be a band.
You were all in different bands when you formed Chvrches. Why do you think it worked between you three as a band?
Part fluke, part design. When we wanted to start the new project we knew this was never going to be more than three individuals to just try to keep the number of opinions down, if possible. I think there was something that clicked as soon as we got in the studio and started writing together. Things happened really quickly - it’s a weird experience. It’s nothing that I’ve ever been through before - we knew instantly when we started writing songs that they were different from before.
Like an act of fate…?
Yeah, I suppose. It was timing too as I’ve been playing sessions for years and Iain [Cook, synthesizers] and Lauren [Mayberry, vocals] have been doing their own things. It was time for another project.
This project is different from what each of you was doing previously, which had been more guitar-based. Why do you think you took the route to electro music?
It’s less weird for me as even though I’ve been playing guitar a lot and playing in a guitar band I wasn’t creatively involved in that band, and this sort of thing was the kind of music that I’d been listening to. I’d sort of shifted away from guitar-based music a long time ago and started getting really interested in electronic music and hip-hop production, so in many ways this felt pretty natural to me. It didn’t feel too much of a shift as it was making music based on a lot of the stuff that excited me as a listener.
How did you educate yourself in using new equipment away from guitars?
I’ve always had a keen interest in computers and synthesizers; the first instrument I ever had was a keyboard and I learned guitar later in life. I’ve always been keen to explore and tweak things and mess around with as much equipment as possible, but I’d say more than anything it was getting a computer with software synthesizers that was when I did the most composing and writing on a laptop or desktop computer. Once the band got older and got some money we’ve been able to buy actual synthesizers, which is cool.
You released the Recovery EP earlier this year and it’s got remixes on it by Cid Rim and Curxes. How did you choose them to do the remixes?
CiD Rim put out a record last year on a Glasgow label ‘Lucky Me’ that I really liked and I love the majority of their output, so I was well aware of that guy…Curxes I think I found out from the blog Breaking More Waves; and it was weird when we were just breaking through that there was another band with a similarly poor command of spelling. We listened to them and we thought it was really good…
The kind of thing that interests me is farming out your stuff to as many producers as possible - I love remixes, I love remixing other bands - it’s interesting to see what another person’s stamp is on your material.
Is there anyone you’d like to remix?
We talk about it a lot, I like Anticon Records, I’m a massive fan of Baths and there’s a new thing around at the moment called Cashmere Cat that’s really exciting. There’s the obvious, the Hudson Mohawke’s of the world, although I’m not sure we can afford those guys!
On the EP you take lead vocals on the track ‘Zuul’. Do you take lead vocals on any other tracks on the album?
There’s a couple of tracks on the album, I think. A lot of the time we write a song and it’s in a weird key for Lauren or something by accident and we’ve just got to try vocals on it and see how it goes. I suppose with the first three songs they were Lauren lead ones and people didn’t realise that there’s a lot of shared vocals. I think at the moment there will be at least two songs that I sing lead vocals.
Is the album coming out this Autumn?
Yes, this September.
Did you have a set agenda when you entered the studio or was it more organic?
No, that was one of the most exciting things about the band is that there was no real agenda and that we’ve effectively been recording the album since the first day we got in the studio together, and sort of revising things and writing things as we go along with the pressure off.
As I said earlier, with the first six to eight months of the band nobody knew that we existed, so we did a lot of writing then and figuring out what we wanted to sound like and trying to hit on the proper sound of the band as we were moving forward. There’s never been a point where we’ve felt like the pressure’s been on. Maybe that’s due to not being a band that has to go into a big fancy recording studio every time to put something down. We operate out of a small project studio that Iain has; we can keep the hours we want and just do things as it comes. If you come and have a bad day you can just leave and you haven’t wasted a bunch of money.
Did you get anyone in to produce it?
No, we’ve written and produced everything. That kind of creative control is really important to us and we felt capable of seeing the tunes through to the end. We sent songs out to be mixed by someone else for the album as, I guess, we felt a bit close to it. At that point it can be very positive to have someone else’s ears - just someone who hasn’t listened to the raw parts over and over again - they can often bring something new.
Would it be fair to say that the way you wrote the album was a very collective experience?
Absolutely. I think that’s something that’s really exciting about a three piece is that there’s not so many opinions that it gets confusing. Things can happen fast and at the same time everything’s up for discussion - there’s never a point where anybody’s come in and said ‘this is my song, I feel precious about it, this is the way it came out and this is the way it’s going to stay’. It’s very much a democracy- it’s really important.
Lauren described your sound as ‘electronic music with a lyrical edge’, which is true of tracks like ‘The Mother We Share’ where subject matter is quite dark, but sonically it’s light. Would you agree and where does that derive from?
I totally agree and it’s exciting in a lot of ways as Lauren’s voice is quite a sweet voice, it’s quite a nice voice, and then we can push the production a bit harder or the lyrics a bit harder. To me it’s about the juxtaposition of nice melodies, accessible melodies, and a more twisted backing or twisted subject matter.
On ‘The Mother We Share’ when Lauren says ‘when it all fucks up’ you barely notice as her voice is so sweet and non-aggressive...
I think on the album we’ve been able to push that as hard as possible to get really strange on the production or really full-on or distorted with the other side of the band as we know Lauren’s voice will bring balance to it all.
The production has a very cinematic feel to it. Do you see a relationship between film and music? Is this something you’re influenced by?
I guess so. Actually, someone asked me about this the other day and I was like ‘yeah, I don’t know’ and then I started to quantify it and realised that for sure we’re influenced by a lot of composers and film composers, like Brad Fiedel the guy who did Terminator and I’m really enjoying the music of Howard Shore. Iain comes from a film composing background - he’s been composing stuff for film and TV throughout his twenties.
The video for ‘Recover’ is reminiscent of Blade Runner. Is the sci-fi a theme something you’ll continue in your other videos?
We’re really open to treatments. That was the product of a really interesting treatment we received from a Belgian man called Wim Reygaert – a very talented individual – he totally appealed to that 80s sci-fi thing we enjoyed and we thought ‘why not go with it?’ When we heard that we wanted to build a model like Blade Runner it was a no brainer, but I think we’ll look for people in other areas of video content for the next stuff – we don’t want to be labelled a bunch of sci fi geeks.
You did cover Game Of Thrones…
The Game Of Thrones things, yeah that got a wee bit out of control too quickly! There was one point at the end of the night where I started panicking and being like, ‘wait, have we ruined our careers. Is this going to go Gangnam style?’ Of course it went away over the next couple of days and everyone got the joke. But, when it was first kicking-off the phone starting going all the time and it was all over Twitter, it was like ‘Oh no, what have we done?’
With Twitter and the internet in general there seems to be this massive fever of attention on one thing and then suddenly it’s gone and the focus moves quickly onto the next big thing, which can be good if you don’t want it to linger around for too long.
Exactly, especially as everyone started reporting that we’d covered the song. Come on, this was filmed on a camera phone we were having a laugh! I’d been watching the show on the TV the night before and I’d thrown out a tweet about it and people responded and I thought it’d be funny if we just saw it through for a wee bit. It makes you think, in the future, don’t put things on the internet if you’re not 100% sure as you could find yourself in some trouble.
I saw you at the Electrowerkz last year and you covered Prince’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’. You seem to have a massive band crush on Prince, what is it about him?
Here’s the thing, right. I really like Prince, I really like his music, but it’s Ian and Lauren that are the true Prince obsessives. I prefer Michael Jackson and I don’t think you can like both equally.
I did notice on your Facebook page that there’s an photo of Lauren dressed up as Prince for Halloween, it’s a pretty disturbing image!
The cravat made out of toilet paper.
You’re supporting Depeche Mode on four of their European dates on their Delta Machine tour. What do they mean to you as a band?
Oh, that whole thing is like the lines of fantasy and reality cross over in the strangest of ways. They’re a massive influence on me –sure I can speak for the other two to an extent – their music, the way they approached their songwriting with the electronics, deconstructing a song that you could easily break down at a piano or a guitar but really cultivating it. In electronics, I don’t think there’s anyone that has done that better.
We knew about the shows for about a week and we weren’t allowed to tell anyone and I was really paranoid to tell anyone just in case it fell through! It’s a really exciting thing for us to do.
You played SXSW Spin Party with Kendrick Lamar and Solange. What was that like?
It was a massive deal for me - I don’t know about the other two, I can’t speak for them - but I love Kendrick Lamar Section 80 and good kid, m.A.Ad city, those two records are absolutely amazing. There was this point where we’d come off stage and Solange was going onstage and Kendrick Lamar was standing over there and I was like, ‘they’re both here! I’ve got to go over and say ‘hi’, but I copped out. I didn’t want to be that guy after the show being a fan boy and getting in his face.
There’s nothing worse if you do end up embarrassing yourself, like my friend who met Devendra Banhart and offered him some of his pint and surprisingly Devendra said ‘no’. It’s not like he’s going to want some guy’s half-drunk pint and my friend was like, ‘I was just so excited!’
I know that pain! It happened to me in an airport with Morrissey. I randomly saw him in an airport in America and went up to try say ‘hello’ and this big security guard jumped-up and put his hand in my face and was like, ‘No! Go Away! Not now!’
I bet that was crushing
I was destroyed and the other two were like ‘Man, Morrissey was just laughing about that’. I was crushed.
With Morrissey you wouldn’t expect anything less; it’d be weird if he’d been up for a bear hug.
Yeah, in a way it’s the perfect Morrissey story. I think that had a bearing on not going up to Solange or Kendrick Lemar, it was a wee bit too fresh in my mind.
You said before about working on the live performance. How do you think you’ve improved as a live band?
It’s getting better and better, I feel. We’re finally now in control of it and we understand what makes the band good live. It was like I was saying that when you have to do it as a reaction it puts you in a weird situation and you’re having to do catch-up all the time. I guess we’ve got a decent amount of shows under our belt now and that American trip really helped as it came at the right time if it’d come three months earlier I don’t know if it’d gone just as well.
The Passion Pit tour was really good for us just getting out and playing shows consecutively, just a decent run, there’s no easy way to do that. We’ve both all played in bands for a long time, but we’ve not played those sorts of shows - those precious situations - so it’s kind of new but I feel like we’re in a good place with it all now.
You’re playing Latitude. Have you played many festivals before?
Lovely festival. I did quite a lot of festivals with the Twilight Sad before, so I’m kinda accustomed to throwing your gear onstage and hoping for the best. Latitude especially is a festival that I love it’s got a really interesting atmosphere to it, I wonder if they still have the pink sheep?