CHVRCHES on being undeniable, needing a break and staying “scrappy as fuck”

We caught the band backstage at Reading for a whole lot of reflection

It’s been two months and a day since Lauren Mayberry last went home. The other week she had to wash some pants in the shower, too close to the finish line to warrant a trip to a launderette, “so I took them in the shower and kicked them around with my foot for a bit.” 

The touring schedule for CHVRCHES’ ‘Love Is Dead’ has been as hectic as usual but the end is very much in sight. Today, their late-night set in the Radio 1 tent at Reading Festival is their last UK show of the cycle so we grabbed the band backstage to find out how love is doing.

Hello CHVRCHES. So, ‘Love Is Dead’ is almost dead. How was this album cycle for you?
Lauren: This is probably the album campaign where it felt like the record resonated with people more over the course of time. That doesn’t necessarily happen all the time, so that was nice. And I guess thematically I feel like it’s become more on point. *Now* people want to listen to the depressing pop music ‘cause they’re more depressed.
Martin: People grew into this record. It’s been really encouraging watching it get bigger, watching the audiences get bigger. In some places it feels like our third record is the one that’s gone down best, which is nice. So many bands are on the slide by this point.
Lauren: We’re not yet! We’ll slide on the fourth one.

Did ‘Love Is Dead’ do what you wanted it to do, with how people view the band?
Lauren: We wanted it to be unapologetic in whatever it was doing, if it was leaning into pop, then do it that way. And if it’s leaning into the weirder stuff, do it that way. We were proud of it. You can’t really predict what’s going to happen.
Martin: You can’t please everyone either, otherwise you end up doing exactly the same thing over and over again, and they’ll try and kill you for that as well. You just have to do your own thing, make the music that you want to hear and hope that the people who like you continue to do so. This was also the first album that had some negative reviews. It definitely divided people.
Lauren: I’d rather people feel something, either positive or negative. The fact that people bothered to take time to unpick why they did or didn’t like it, that’s fucking rad.

Has living with the record for 18 months changed how you view some of the songs?
Lauren: For me the meaning of the records changes when you’ve played it. When we make it, you’re in isolation. It’s just the three of you figuring out what you want to say. When you play the songs live, it’s quite cathartic for people. At this point, people and myself feel really powerless, confused and stressed the fuck out. And you can’t fix it. You can’t really do anything about it, so I feel like there is a real power in coming together and having collective stress release at a show.
It’s reassuring because when you’re writing, especially with lyrics, I feel like I have to be quite alone. And you can feel really isolated when you’re talking about political things anyway. So to me, it’s reassuring to go to shows and see what I’m feeling resonates with people. You’re like, ’okay, it’s not just me that thinks this way. It’s not just me that finds this profoundly fucking depressing’. There’s a comfort in that. The fact that we played so many different shows and so many different places, it doesn’t feel as much like it’s you versus the world anymore. It feels like there’s a space where everyone can exist.
Martin: It’s been really interesting to watch some songs grow. When we started playing ‘Graves’, it wasn’t really going down that well. But now, it’s a big moment for us wherever we go. So many of the people we played Reading 2013 with are not here anymore but for whatever reason, we’re still here. We still have a career.
Lauren: It’s because we’re scrappy.
Martin: We’re scrappy as fuck. And we’re not going away. But what we will do is get some rest, because it’s been a long fucking campaign. No one could ever accuse us of not being committed to the project. We fucking bled this band for six or seven years now. We know we are so lucky because we make records and we can do whatever the fuck we want. I can’t wait to decide what it is we do next.I’m excited about new music, because I feel like we could do whatever we want.

We’ve seen you on the internet, teasing stuff. Is there new music on the way?
Lauren: There is new music, but we’re not allowed to say what, when, why or answer any of the important questions, but there is new music.

This new song, does it draw a line under the ‘Love Is Dead’ cycle or is it the start of whatever comes next?
Martin: It’s my personal favourite thing we’ve ever done. And it’s coming soon. It feels like a progression for the band. It’s probably the best song lyrically and melodically we’ve done and it signals a bit of a change in production for us. It’s an exciting direction but we were just following our noses as we always do in the studio and having fun.

So you didn’t fancy just taking a break?
Lauren: “It was one of those ‘can’t say no to this’ things. We would have been sad if we weren’t able to do it. It’s nice to end the campaign on a different note. If we hadn’t done this song, the last release would have been a feature (Marshmello’s ‘Here With Me’) which would have been a strange note to leave it on, especially given the baggage, so it’s nice to go out on a higher note.”

Yeah, you decided to distance yourself from Marshmello following his decision to work with Chris Brown, which was brave but it felt like you got a kicking for that.
Lauren: Sometimes it’s the friendly fire you don’t expect. This is probably the first time in the band where I feel like I want a fucking break. I’ve never felt like that before. It’s important to listen to that, because you don’t want to feel negative about things when there’s so much to be positive about.
Martin: We’ve been on tour or making albums since 2011.
Lauren: Where did my twenties go? There’s a lot of persona involved in the whole thing, which is what makes it easier to weather the ups and downs. It would be nice to take that hat off for a bit and have no one yelling at me though.
Martin: It’s taken a lot of commitment, and dreams have come true in so many ways but there comes a time where you need to take a minute and enjoy what you’ve built. We thought going into the second year of the album campaign, everything would just calm down a little bit but suddenly we got out first platinum single, which was a massive fucking peak. Then the house burns down with us inside. It was amazingly chaotic period time and there was a lot of negativity that came with that.
Lauren: At the end of the day you have to look back at it and know you were consistent and that you weren’t hypocritical, so maybe we burnt the house down with us inside but I’d rather be honest. We’re lucky enough to have a lot of people that follow the band, a lot of young people, a lot of young women and a lot of young men, and you can’t really be the band that we are and then let things slide when they suit you.
Martin: I’d rather be disliked and respected.
Lauren: Hated but rated, mate.

Between that and your post defending what you wear onstage, I don’t think a fan of the band could have expected anything more from you. It was empowering to see you handle yourselves like that.
Lauren: You don’t see me when I’m in my hotel room furiously typing. That’s not how I feel in real life, but the point of this thing is that it’s a persona. If people following the band see that stuff, I think it’s important to take a moment and focus on it, then move on otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity. 
It’s not like I want to be banging on my soapbox all the time but, especially on this record, there have been way more young girls coming to the show and they’ve got tutus on and glitter on their face. One day I won’t be doing this anymore but it’ll be cool to know that when I had that platform, I did something useful. It was those things that mattered to me when I was a teenager and I wish there’d have been more of it. 
But right now, I’m ready for a big fucking nap. I’m going to watch a load of documentaries and I’m going to drink wine from a sippy cup.

Was Reading always going to be the last UK show?

Lauren: For a while it was going to be the last show, full stop. But we decided to keep going for a little bit. It’s such an iconic festival to play but when you look at the stage we’re playing today, there’s one other woman on it for the whole day. We’re very lucky to have what we have but there’s also the responsibility to do a good job.

Do you feel like there’s extra pressure on you?

Lauren: I think so. I feel like that’s always how it’s been for me in music so you always have to know that what you’re doing is as unquestionable as you can make it. When I was playing other instruments, you have to play faster, harder, you have to be undeniable. You have to be as undeniable as you can be to get given the same space. We’ve kind of carved out our own niche thing. When I look at that lineup, I’m like, ‘yeah, we kind of fit in with this because we’re still such a weird band in a lot of ways. It’s not like we feel we have to live up to something else. We just live up to our own thing that we kind of made up.

Martin: We’re fucking lucky to be where we are. And after a long break, we’ll be excited about it all over again.

CHVRCHES on being undeniable, needing a break and staying "scrappy as fuck"

Words: Ali Shutler

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