'I wrote down what I was most terrified of': Lauren Mayberry on Chvrches' return

Musician spent the year sitting alone with her thoughts, hopes, dreams and self-loathing – and poured it all into song

Following three top 10 albums, the Scottish synthpop trio are preparing to release their fourth this spring, and will hopefully bring their pounding live show back to the festival circuit. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry explains how the privations of 2020 helped them get rid of their baggage, and get to the heart of who they really are.

What’s the overall vibe for the album?

We sat inside and listened to music that we really loved all year, like Depeche Mode, the Cure and Brian Eno. I wanted the music that was the most comforting to me and that era of tunes was very formative for our band. It’s not the frilliest of Chvrches records, but I don’t think that now is necessarily a time for frilliness.

How have the events of 2020 shaped the music you’ve been working on?

We had a lot of the ideas and the concepts before this year started and got a few weeks of writing in before everything shut down, so we kind of knew what we were getting on with. The theme of it didn’t necessarily change, but it evolved because of the circumstances of 2020. I think it was also helpful for us to be removed from the bullshit of the music industry. Everybody says that you don’t think about that stuff when you’re making a record, but in practice you totally do. You might shut the door, but it’ll sneak in the window. Everyone always has advice and opinions about what you should do; everyone else knows best. But it was nice to go: ‘Fuck it!’

What was it like to work within the limits of the pandemic?

You have to fix your communication to such an intense degree, because you don’t get the things that you would normally be able to from somebody just being in a room. You have to be communicating at the highest level of efficiency and openness. That was long overdue. There was eight years of band baggage that needed to be unpacked and fixed, and so it was really beneficial for us to have that time apart. As a result, I think this is the most excited that anybody in the band has been about an album since the first record. With the first album there were no expectations on it. I think expectation and pressure does impact people a lot. I can’t speak for the guys [bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty], but for me this year has been an exercise in being less terrified that everything is going to go away. Because it already went away. With the album, it was actually quite helpful to sit in a room with no one else there and actually write down some of the stuff that you’re most terrified of.

What’s your headspace been like?

This year has been a very useful pause for me emotionally and personally. The band was really busy for a long time. Everything feels very constant: even when things are falling down around you, you can’t stop, it’s this juggernaut that’s always moving. I don’t necessarily know if that’s great for your humanity. So it’s been an interesting time to sit with your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams, your self-loathing. I used to think when I was younger that I would get to a point in life where I would be really content and happy, and I wouldn’t be anxious or depressed any more because I would have figured it out. But now I don’t think that ever happens. I think you just have to become comfortable with the discomfort. That’s been a learning curve over the course of the year, and over the course of making the album.

Has the Chvrches sound changed?

It’s definitely got the Chvrches DNA, but I don’t think that these songs could slot into any of the first three records. You want it to be like your band, but you want it to be enough of an evolution that it’s not the same thing over and over again. But how do you do that? Especially with modern day pop music where there’s a pressure to take your sound and put it through the filter of what is popular. I think you can tell that it’s us – it’s not screamo or anything like that.

Do you feel a pressure to keep up with how quick pop changes?

Iain and Martin like to be across what is happening for production stuff. The vocal production on the Billie Eilish album is absolutely phenomenal – that is an advancement in pop music. We want to be aware of it because there’s just awesome pop music and you can learn something from it. Learn the production tricks but don’t learn the other parts: I think that was the challenge of this album. We did two albums that existed in a certain space, and by the third record it felt like what we were doing had been popularised by other people. How do you run that race next to other people? Well, we’ve realised that we don’t have to run that race. You’re never going to win in a race that is saturated by people who are bigger, better and more popular, so you might as well pivot and go somewhere else.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the restrictions of the pandemic start to lift?

As much as we’ve basically been watching telly all year, I really want to go to the cinema and get a wee pick’n’mix, which seems very unhygienic, although it’s very unhygienic at the best of times. I used to work in a cinema and I’ve seen some shit.


Alim Kheraj

The GuardianTramp

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