Dollars to Pounds: Chvrches

November 29, 2012

Chvrches are trying to drag our conversation out of the gutter. It’s entirely my fault that our discussion keeps ending up there. Before meeting with the Glasgow-based trio I’d spent some time quizzing massive-in-the-UK boy band (and former 2008 X Factor contestants) JLS. I tell Chvrches that when I asked JLS to expand on the inspiration behind their song "Dessert," the youngest member gleefully announced it was “licking a girl out.”

“That’s very raunchy for JLS!” exclaims Martin Doherty. “Would Simon Cowell let something like that be printed?” says Iain Cook, mock-scandalized. Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry adds wryly: “All their fans are like nine. Nine or like 45!”

Having met years ago at Strathclyde University, Doherty and Cook have an easy rapport, but making music together is a relatively new endeavor. Post-university, Cook went on to pen chest-swelling, melancholic “post-rock”—don’t get him started on that sub-genre—as part of the Chemical Underground-signed act Aereogramme, and Doherty toured the world playing keys for The Twilight Sad. Mayberry entered the picture just over a year ago: Cook was producing an EP for her band Blue Sky Archives when the pair roped the diminutive singer to lay down backing vocals on their still-forming compositions. “I’d sung on all the demos,” explains Doherty. “And then we found ourselves just muting all our vocals—and then there was the tune!"

Posted online back in May, “Lies” combines a stomach-socking kick reminiscent of Billy Squier’s oft-sampled tune “The Big Beat” with hypnotic, ’80s-industrio synths and Mayberry’s crystalline, refreshingly Scottish tones. Check out the trio’s follow-up, “The Mother We Share,” and read my interview below.

Stream: Chvrches, "The Mother We Share"

Performing live is still a relatively new experience for you guys. How are you finding the transition from studio to stage? MAYBERRY: It’s a little intimidating and nerve-wracking because there’s been quite a lot of people at the shows, which is not something I’ve experienced before. If we’re lucky enough for it to have happened this early on then hopefully it can only go up from here. I just need to stop shitting my pants! Turns out people who don’t know me who come to shows think I’m a reasonably assertive and confident person, and I’m like, excellent. The illusion is going well. They don’t need to know about the tequila slammers or slapping myself in the mirror shouting, "WHO’S THE BEST BAND IN THE WORLD?’” COOK: Does this happen before a show? I didn’t know! MAYBERRY: You think I just go to the toilet, but I’m actually running around in circles psyching myself up! Not really. I just sit down and quietly panic inside and it’s fine.

You’re actually a drummer first and foremost. Do you miss it? MAYBERRY: Sometimes. I used to have very muscly arms. I can show you pictures and you’d be like, that is one ripped but tiny woman! Ironically I learned drums in high school because for higher music I didn’t want to do vocal performance—I learned drums over the summer just to avoid that. But then no one was really clamoring for my drum skills. DOHERTY: You just have to publicize it more. Lauren has given me drum lessons in the past to learn how to play the sampler more effectively because that was a bit out of my comfort zone. MAYBERRY: Mainly I just use it to scare boys at sound checks. I remember moving some stuff offstage after sound check with my other band and this drummer was like, "Where’s the thing, off the top of the thing?" And I was like, "The high hat clutch?" He was shocked. He the said to his friend, “I can’t believe I just got told to do by that girl!” Ugh, great! We’re living in the ’50s. Learn what that shit’s called before you start going out and playing shows you big douchebag! I’ve actually never been in a band with another girl. It’s always been an unfortunate sausage fest.

Martin and Iain studied music but you went to a particularly academic university… MAYBERRY: I studied serious stuff because I thought I’d never get anywhere with music. I did a four-year law degree and then a Masters in journalism. And what do I have to show for it! The idea that you’d ever get paid for something you enjoy this much is pretty outlandish. We actually made some money from one of our songs this week. DOHERTY: That’s right I made my first ever money from music this week—not from playing as a session musician, not for writing music for adverts—but from actual recorded music! I made £94!

Congrats! COOK: It’s not come through to Lauren’s account yet though. It’s mostly for radio plays for “Lies” and some aerobics place in a gym somewhere. MAYBERRY: Someone somewhere likes to work out to it. Probably my mum. We’re promoting healthy lifestyles.

How collaborative are you when it comes to the lyrics? DOHERTY: It’s very much a democracy both musically and lyrically. I don’t feel like anything’s sacred. Everything’s up for debate at any point, which I think is really, really important in a creative partnership. Because Lauren has quite a sweet voice we can push lyrics maybe further than we would have ordinarily. So you can be singing something on the first listen which can be quite catchy, immediate and fun, but if you listen there can be quite a dark message. MAYBERRY: For me the lyricists that I come back to are the ones who write something that’s very personal but also really universal. Stuff like Elliott Smith was so intensely personal, but so many people could relate to it. I know a lot of people are sniffy about stuff like Death Cab for Cutie now, but when Ben Gibbard got it really right on the old records, they were really right. Some of the really harsh stuff he wrote was almost crossing the line. I like that bittersweet stuff. There’s a song on Transatlantacism that’s called “Tiny Vessels” and you listen to it and it’s like, whoever you wrote this about must hate you, you horrible man, but he gets away with it. I like that better than people singing about going to the beach and loving girls with shiny hair.

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Chvrches