Interview: Lauren Mayberry – 'We won't be intimidated into changing what we do'
Chvrches singer talks about meeting expectations, avoiding pigeonholes and facing up to internet trolls
Whatever you do, don’t call Lauren Mayberry a pop star. It’s easy to mistake her for one, especially when Chvrches’ debut album The Bones of What You Believe and its sublime roster of heartfelt synth-pop singles helped write the soundtrack to 2013, putting her and bandmates Martin ‘Dok’ Doherty and Iain Cook all over TV and radio. But on the eve of the follow-up Every Open Eye’s release, the former List writer isn’t having it.
‘We were overwhelmed by how much the first album connected with people, but I wouldn’t put us in the “pop star” realm,’ she says. ‘And I wouldn’t view myself as separate from Iain and Martin in that regard. Just because I front the band or we play bigger stages now, it doesn’t mean we somehow suddenly changed the way we approach things. We all still view what we do as indie and alternative in terms of how we execute it, even if the actual music we make is more pop than our previous projects. I like that Chvrches treads that line and is difficult to pigeonhole.’
This record has been a year in the making. ‘We started talking about the hows and wheres of writing a second album in the middle of 2014,’ recalls Mayberry. ‘It quickly became evident that we all wanted to go back to our studio in Glasgow to make it. We rent a basement flat on the Southside which has been converted into a studio, the same place we recorded The Bones of What You Believe. As amazing as the past couple of years have been, it was really important for us that we remove ourselves completely from that world in order to make new material.’
There is, of course, that old cliché about the second album being hell for a band trying to stamp their identity on the world as a known quantity, but Chvrches don’t seem to be sweating it. ‘Moving from a first to a second album is an incredibly transitional time for any band because you never get to make one in a vacuum like you did with your debut,’ says Mayberry. ‘People have a pre-existing idea of what your band is going to be, so we just wanted to make sure this record was completely ours by self-producing again. No one has a better idea of what Chvrches is than we do.’
While the comeback single, ‘Leave a Trace’, doesn’t show a significant departure, that’s no big problem. Chvrches is a band with a clear vision of their own sonic aesthetic, while Mayberry’s words are rich in a suggestive, storytelling quality. ‘The sketch of “Leave a Trace” was done in one afternoon and that song felt so much more definite from earlier on than some of the other tunes,’ she says. ‘Lyrically, I think this record contains some of the most assertive and aggressive words we’ve ever written, but also some of the most hopeful. ‘‘Clearest Blue” is, I think, my favourite song on the album, because to me it balances the hopefulness and fear that everyone feels when they embark on something new and unknown. The closer, ‘Afterglow’, is one which took us all by surprise. It existed in many different forms and we could never agree on it, and it was only on the second last day of recording that we revamped the whole song. I think it works really well.’
It was disappointing to note, though, that Mayberry was being trolled on Twitter within hours of the ‘Leave a Trace’ video appearing. Her crime? The way she was dressed and the fact she appeared without her bandmates made her outspoken feminism hypocritical. Not to mention the usual, depressing threats of sexual violence which any woman in the public eye experiences. Typically on the subject, her response is an example to us all, male and female.
‘None of the band regrets the stand we’ve made on those issues,’ she says. ‘Someone said that I needed to get better at handling threats, but for me the issue isn’t how I handle them; the issue is the culture surrounding those ideas. When people tell us to ignore it or make apologies and allowances for arguments like, “if she didn’t want those comments, she shouldn’t have worn a mini dress / had wet-look hair / fronted a band”, I want them to think about what that says to young women and the men who persecute them. That’s a mentality women come up against every single day; it’s victim-blaming rape-culture apologist bullshit. We won’t be intimidated into changing the way we do what we do. No one’s going to determine my narrative as a musician, as a performer or as a female apart from me.’
Frankly, it makes you want to punch the air when she comes out with things like that. Chvrches played 364 shows in two years around The Bones of What You Believe, and Mayberry says the experience has helped them all grow. ‘We’ve made an album we’re incredibly proud of, but where it will take us, we can’t say. I think one of the things people like about our band is that we’re authentic, as people and in our writing, so I hope people can hear that in this music.’
Every Open Eye is released on Fri 25 Sep by Universal.