For those among us who believe that artistic intent matters a hell of a lot, there is CHVRCHES. The Glasgow-bred synth-pop trio -- with backgrounds in groups including Aereogramme, Blue Sky Archives, and the Twilight Sad -- hatched a plan to rock as hard as they could with razor-sharp vintage synthesizers, and to inject the sinister underpinnings of emotions that can't be summed up in just three words. (Sorry, "Call Me Maybe.") And for those who just want some creatively constructed retro dance music, CHVRCHES is there for them too.
Out this month, their debut The Bones of What You Believe is one of 2013's most expressive albums. Even when most of the songs were unfamiliar at a Fine Line appearance in June, lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry and bandmates Martin Doherty and Iain Cook showed their hunger to push to a bigger room like First Avenue, where they'll play tonight. Ahead of the show, Gimme Noise Spoke to the astute Mayberry about her dual life as a musician and journalist, and uncovered a few bones of what she believes about songwriting.[jump]
Gimme Noise: How has it felt to have your dual life of journalism and music lean more heavily to the latter?
Lauren Mayberry: I was lucky enough to do all right at school and university, so it was logical for me to have a sensible job and do music in my spare time. I've been a freelance journalist for a few years, which is flexible, and I can do it while we go on tour. It's more flexible than a staffer job. [Here's an interview she did with The List, her old paper.] It was getting to the point that I was doing it a lot with this band. It's tough to keep deadlines when you're in a different time zone. It makes sense to make this a priority. We're really lucky to be in this position. We've been in bands for years and years and years and never... now we're going to see what happens.
A lot of the writing you've been doing lately has ended up on a site called TYCI. How do you work that into your touring schedule?
That's an unpaid volunteer thing that I do with some friends from home. We have radio shows and podcasts and things. It's wicked fun, and I think it's easier to do that from a distance because I am the webmaster. I can't get myself in any trouble for being late for the deadlines that I give myself. I find it quite therapeutic in a way if I've been traveling a lot or just been a bit crazy with the band. It's nice to sit down and have a routine.
For you, how does being interviewed compare to being the interviewer?
When you're on the journalist's side, you assume that everyone is the same kind of journalist as you. Or roughly, in terms of approach. It's interesting to see how different people do things. There are good things and bad. Sometimes people are really in-depth and generally interested in asking questions, but then there are other times when you realize that people don't report exactly what you said. I've always been a ridiculously honest journalist and I'll always make the angle of the piece based upon what a person has said. It's interesting that it's not always the case. It's interesting to see how these things work in real life. MS MR was really cool, and we have our connection with Neon Gold. People can get inspired by that.
What is your favorite interview you've conducted?
With Maggie Serota of Low Times, I could tell she was answering completely honestly. There was no bullshit.
What will you do when an interviewee answers "CHVRCHES" when you ask about their favorite bands?
That hasn't happened yet, so I'm okay with that. I kind of go incognito when I'm doing the website stuff. I don't think people put two and two together that much. I'm able to carry on as a normal interviewer.
How has the V in your name taken on a life of its own?
I feel a bit bad because we didn't think it would be a big deal. Our friend Amy did the art for us. She stylized it as a Roman "u." We carried it along to the printed name. It's really odd. People ask "How do you pronounce that?" I'm okay with being in a band with a funny spelling.
In addition to the journalism, you have a law degree too. How has that helped your music career?
It's helped when reading through contracts. I didn't realize I was in the minority when it comes to musicians who can read through their own contracts. I like to look through them because I can understand it. I can't assess it quite in the way that a manager can. It's important to have total ownership of this band on the business side. I don't like the idea of having anyone else run your career for you. It's great that we've been able to work with so many intelligent industry people. It just makes total sense to me. I don't know why you'd want to be removed from that.
One of the band's best singles so far is "Gun." Have you ever held one?
No I haven't. That maybe confused people a bit. "Gun" in my Scottish slang is like a lady who is really aggressive and prone to fighting. She's a total gun. That's what I meant when I wrote that. It's not to do with the right to bear arms, unfortunately. Or fortunately. Either one.
Until people hear The Bones of What You Believe or see CHVRCHES live, they might miss the fact that you're a two-vocalist group. How did you and Martin divide up singing duties for the project?
It wasn't a conscious decision at first. It was just always in our skill set, I suppose. In terms of who sang what, it was more about the timbre of the voices and stuff. We were all writing together in a writing project, and were like "oh, we can make it into a live band a do that kind of stuff." I like that there's a bit of diversity in the sound. He sings on one song on the end of the first side and one song on the end of the second.
It gives your voice a breather too.
It's about being aware of what you're doing. Being able to save up for the next day... Now it's our professional thing and people have paid to come see us, we're not forgetting that. We've played shows where only 12 people came. It's important to be aware of how lucky we are. We try to have a good balance between the silly, ridiculous fun part and keeping the music most important.
What were your concert experiences like when you were younger?
When I was growing up, I didn't live in [Glasgow]. I lived outside the city, a place called Sterling in the countryside. There wasn't a lot of live music. It was a lot of traveling on the train to see shows. It was more in my teenage years that I started to go see shows. If people are ashamed of the music they were listening to when they were a teenager, it doesn't really matter what you were listening to if you were interested in exploring. You find that when you talk to other bands and musicians. It's all like a little treasure hunt to ask the bands you like for the music that they listen to. Martin and I were just talking about this. Through Radiohead we discovered so many other bands. You listen to OK Computer and then find out what they were listening to, like Depeche Mode and Joy Division and things like that. That makes up your musical horizons.
Which songwriters make up your musical horizons?
There's a few classic ones from my younger years. Elliott Smith is always a great one to cite because lyrically, his compositions were amazing, and his output was consistently great. He has a lot of songs that are incredibly emotional, but presented in a way that didn't sound dark. Lyrically, you have Leonard Cohen. He's the definition of a career artist. Oh, and the Cocteau Twins. We're all big fans of the Cocteau Twins. I'd be very sad if someone told me I could never listen to the Cocteau Twins again.
Those choices are all examples of writers who understood how to inject their individuality into a catchy song structure, which CHVRCHES seem determined to do.
I think you can definitely tell when music has been written specifically to be a chart-topping pop song. Hopefully, people can tell if it's genuine based on the sound and lyrics and performances. They all come from a place that should be honest. Sometimes that stuff comes from a place that's uncomfortable to write, but it means something.
CHVRCHES. With XXYYXX. 7 p.m., Monday, September 9 at First Avenue. Tickets here.