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It isn’t so much the soaring, electrified, rhythmic euphoria and nerve-breaking staccato samples of vocalist Lauren Mayberry heralding Chvrches’ arrival on their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, and its leading track, “The Mother We Share” – nearly two years old now – that pull your attention directly to the night sky. It’s more the story of everything you already know and all the unintended beauty that implies – the sounds that darkened your bedroom walls, soundtracking the messy teenage stitch of pulling yourself together. Listening to Chvrches, it’s like your Cocteau Twins collection met your Kate Bush poster on a date with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, maybe? Can Chvrches be that good? (With influences ranging from Madonna to Eurythmics to Throbbing Gristle? Yes.)
The Scottish trio, including Mayberry (Blue Sky Archives), Martin Doherty and Iain Cook (Aerogramme, the Unwinding Hours) – all on keyboards, which somehow works in a live setting, so long as there’s a light show and a bit of light-footed improvisation going on – has been down the Pitchfork path of Coachella and South by Southwest and Glastonbury and all the taste-making places in between over the past two years, never seeming to fall into a pop-pleaser’s rut, but avoiding the hype as much as possible just the same.
“There definitely came a time when we kind of consciously decided not to read what people have written about us, good or bad,” Cook says on the phone from a tour stop in Croatia. “Because neither of those things is really useful in this situation when you’re on the road all the time and away from home all the time.”
But as critical darlings, Chvrches’ 10th stateside tour in 18 months time isn’t really the time for external overcontextualization anyway. Even back in 2011, when the trio formed on the back of some studio time between Doherty and Cook (Mayberry was brought in for background vocals initially; “We pretty quickly realized that that was not the backing vocal,” Cook laughs), a certain spontaneity powered Chvrches’ ascent. Square one was relocated, and they started what would become a “democratic” songwriting environment where most of the “butting of heads,” Cook says, comes in the personal arena and not the professional.
For those who’ve been following the seemingly forever-long rollout of the Chvrches product, there is inevitably some recollection of the days of Smiths and Housemartins issuing indie EPs as their whims – and the NME charts – would have it in the early ’80s. Though Cook humbly submits that it was more of an issue of needing “time to get good material.”
“I guess it was a clever technique to make people think that we were doing things in a mysterious, scheming fashion when we were really treading water … I kind of miss that aspect of bands sort of having fun with the press and with the record-buying public, because it can almost make a mythology where people are thirsty and eager to hear what’s coming up next.”
What’s next for Chvrches still exists behind a slight veil of secrecy; though the band has tentative plans to lock themselves in a studio early in 2015, there have already been a couple of studio recordings committed to tape.
“We had a couple of opportunities [to enter the studio] in the past month: One was for a popular film franchise that unfortunately has to remain nameless for the time being; the other one was for a project a popular radio station is going to be doing.”
Speaking of, Chvrches have become de facto heroes in that BBC Radio One world of covering pop songs during their prime or shortly thereafter – their cover of Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right (But It’s OK)” is a legendary pop moment (“The lyrics are so angry and vitriolic in that song,” Cook says. “It’s fucking great.”) Covers of Lorde and Haim followed, as have meetings with said star brigade. It’s less an act of tribute than it is practical necessity, though.
“In this radio culture, you need exclusive, sort-of chart-relevant exclusives in order for [them] to justify putting you on the radio,” Cook says. “It’s a really good time.”
And hopefully, says Cook, the good times will last.
“There’s always that possibility on the second record that people will turn around and say, ‘They ain’t all that,’” he says. “I don’t really see the point of hanging around too long and letting this momentum die down. But at the same time, we can’t afford to release something that’s substandard, otherwise our whole thing is spoiled anyway, isn’t it? We’ll do our best.”
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