Hot Scots Chvrches want to preach to the converted
From glum guitar band to vibrant electro-pop – hot new Scots outfit Chvrches is winning audiences at home and abroad
It’s not often that you find yourself sitting cross-legged in a tepee debating the merits of Lionel Richie with one of Scotland’s hottest new musical acts, but joining Chvrches inside the inflatable church at Electric Picnic, the conversation quickly turns to the legendary soul warbler.
“Well, I can’t speak for the other two but I’ve got all the albums,” deadpans synth-man and co-vocalist Martin Doherty, adjusting his baseball cap with a smirk.
“I have no feelings on Lionel Richie whatsoever,” shrugs frontwoman Lauren Mayberry, to exaggerated gasps of dismay from bandmates Doherty and guitarist Iain Cook. “I’m not disagreeing, I’m just not hugely familiar with his back catalogue, apart from the singles.”
“Well, then,” winks Doherty, “luckily for you, you’ve got three-and-a-half weeks on a tour bus in America with me in the near future!”
Lionel Richie aside, it’s obvious that the trio are not quite the “hip young things” usually associated with electronic buzz bands – at least, thirtysomethings Cook and Doherty aren’t. Despite the age gap, however, they managed to find common musical ground back in 2011, when Doherty was producing an EP for Mayberry’s other band. Notwithstanding all three’s previous history with guitar bands (Cook in post-rockers Aereogramme, Doherty as a touring member of The Twilight Sad and Mayberry as drummer in Blue Sky Archives), their progression to electro-pop seemed like a natural one.
“This has been the kind of music that’s been exciting to me for a long time,” says Doherty, nodding. “I’ve always played the keyboards anyway; even in The Twilight Sad, I was the keyboard player and in charge of the electronics. It was like that for Iain, too; he played guitar but was brought in as a synthy arranger guy. Basically, we were the guys who got put in charge of the computers because everyone else is afraid in case they break it,” he laughs.
In a way, the three agree, it was refreshing to take such a stylistic about-turn as it meant that nobody expected anything of them. At least, that was the case in the beginning; as the singles from The Bones of What You Believe began to trickle out, the buzz around Chvrches began to grow louder, coming to a climax when they were shortlisted for the BBC Sound of 2013 award. They eventually placed fifth, but the hype machine didn’t disrupt their grounded sensibilities.
Throughout it all, they say, they remain the same Glasgow trio who recorded their album in a dark basement studio. Unlike a lot of electronic bands who get caught up in the technical aspect of their sound, most of the songs on The Bones of What You Believe are both thought-provoking and irresistibly danceworthy, drawing from some quarters comparisons with The Knife .
“For us, it was really all about songwriting – that’s the focus,” says Cook. “How the songs are dressed up is, I would say personally, of secondary importance. What we try to do it write foreground melody and write things that draw people in on first listen – but also with production that allows them to go back and discover some depths on further listens. It was really important for us to write some big melodies.”