What springs to mind when one recalls the music of Scotland? Some hard-walking twins? Bagpipes? Hell, this paragraph may well have made Take Me Out or Suddenly I See get stuck in your head – apologies in advance.
The fact of the matter is that the land of haggis and bigyins isn’t necessarily known for its cutting-edge electro-pop – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it pertains to CHVRCHES‘ intrigue.
The Glasweigan trio brought together a former music journalist, a film score composer and a budding, genre-traversing musician at the start of the decade. What eventuated were some of the biggest hits to break out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream conscience of recent years – Gun, Recover and The Mother We Share all ended up highly ranked and thoroughly commended by fans and critics alike; as did their 2013 debut LP, The Bones of What You Believe, which took out top-20 spots in the UK, Scotland, Austria, Ireland, Australia, Canada and a number one on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart.
Needless to say, the anticipation weighs heavily on the trio as fans await their second LP, Every Open Eye. Ahead of its release, we spoke with Martin Doherty – the band’s synth player, sampler and occasional vocalist – to dissect the album’s creation, the human element in synth-pop and the vulgar misogyny perpetrated by their online detractors.
Listen: CHVRCHES – Never Ending Circle
Music Feeds: The songwriting process is a curious one when it comes to CHVRCHES. You all have set roles when performing, but you’re also all multi-instrumentalists and have been in quite a few different bands prior to this. How is writing divided between the three of you – is it fluid, depending on the song; or has it become something more set in stone?
Martin Doherty: The rules are still kind of blurry. There is a bit more definition now, though. I think that’s fair to say. When we’re in the studio making the first few moments and ideas, that can really come from anywhere. One of us could be messing around with a keyboard or messing around with a drum machine and something might come from that. That’s how a lot of the first record came about.
A lot of the time, it will be an improvised vocal part that can come from anywhere. That’ll bounce around until we have a semblance of what the song is going to be. That’s often just Lee and I in the studio – Lauren pitches in occasionally, but she’ll mainly focus on the lyrics. That’s a role she’s taken on 100% for this record, which is cool. That said, nothing’s totally sacred. It can always shift.
MF: Arguably the biggest challenge for CHVRCHES on Every Open Eye is to not repeat yourselves. There’s a distinctive and fairly identifiable aesthetic to a CHVRCHES song, but you also want to indicate that you’ve made some sort of progression. Was this a difficult thing to overcome?
MD: It was. It’s one of the hardest things about making a second record. I think we had to trust ourselves – we had to trust that we had progressed enough as writer and m. There were two years between writing albums, and there were so many new ideas and new influences that were floating around in our heads. We had more than enough in the tank to be excited about getting into the studio.
There was a lot of learning from things that we didn’t like previously – those were the elements that we actually did our best to develop; to make sure that it was enjoyable for us. All of the time, we were trying not to lose what people liked about us in the first place. It’s a tricky thing – you don’t want to reject your past, but you still want to do things differently.
Listen: CHVRCHES – Clearest Blue
MF: Were you using any new gear in the creation of Every Open Eye? Synths, patches, pedals or anything of that nature…
MD: That’s something I actually neglected to mention. That’s a great tipping point for new ideas, and we’ve been using a lot of new keyboards. We invested in buying up a lot of dream synths once we got off the road – we got a couple of great 80s models as well as some more modern ones. That side of the record evolved because of that.
We still have a lot of the same synths from previously – if you’re ever stuck, you can always go back to those sort of things. For the most part, though, we were exploring new sounds for quite a bit of this record.
MF: Not to get all Dave Grohl on the matter, but how important is the role of actually going out and physically seeking out those sounds via various instruments – especially considerably you’re in a genre that dials up a lot of its sounds through virtual/emulated means?
MD: We definitely appreciate the role that the human touch has in our music. That element is really important to what we do. As much as we are not a rock band and we make electronic music with electronic instruments, we don’t really feel that much like an electronic band.
We don’t feel like we’re based in the dance world. We have more in common with the indie world – we come from there. I like it when the timing is a little off or if the tone is a little wonky. It reminds you that you’re a human being.
Listen: CHVRCHES – Under The Tide
MF: On The Bones of What You Believe, you took lead vocals on the track Under the Tide. On Every Open Eye, you’ve got another lead moment on High Enough to Carry You Over. Tell us a little about the creation of this one – is it safe to say the ghost of Michael Jackson is alive and well on this track?
MD: [laughs] Yeah, the MJ thing is pretty undeniable, isn’t it! Quincy Jones was actually a huge influence on the production side of making this album – he always had such an economic way of presenting pop music. The drums, the vocals… it just locks.
I think High Enough is the closest we got to emulating Quincy. I’m incredibly happy with how that song turned out. Contextually, it came at the end of what was a really difficult day. I was saying to Ian, “I’m not leaving until we have something to show for our work today. It doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be something.” Ten minutes later, we had this song.
We went home really, really happy after that. That’s one of my favourite things about working in the studio the way that we do. It’s not the end of the world if you’re not writing a hit every day. You don’t feel like you’re wasting your time. Every bit of exploration that you do works toward improving as a writer and improving the record.
MF: Unfortunately, it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing in the lead-up to the release of Every Open Eye. Recently, Lauren found herself being attacked by several misogynist trolls on 4chan – in almost the exact same manner that she was abused via Facebook not two years ago. It must be disheartening to know how little things have changed on that front.
MD: Y’know, this is a very sore issue for us. When you attack one of us, you attack all of us. It’s totally out of order. Some of the stuff in the past few weeks has been on another level. We see a lot of it through the social channels, and we do what we can within our reach – we ban, we block, we report it.
For Ian and I, though, our primary role is to stand with Lauren and make sure people know that it’s completely unacceptable. We have to be there for her. If you pick a fight with her, you’re picking a fight with us, too. The idea of “trolling” has too many playful connotations – we’ve said this before, but what Lauren has received is abuse. Straight-up abuse. Threats of sexual violence, death threats… it has to stop. We’re not going to shy away from it or let it happen.
MF: We did an interview with Shaun from Perfect Pussy earlier this year, and he and the rest of his bandmates were showing a similar sense of solidarity with their frontwoman, Meredith Graves – who, coincidentally enough, has also received her fair share of online torment. It’s so important to not be complacent on a matter like this. It’s such a disgrace that this is still happening in 2015.
MD: It’s disgusting, isn’t it. Ultimately, we don’t want this to define our band. We want our music to define our band. At the same time, we refuse to ignore this. We won’t stand for it.
Watch: CHVRCHES – Leave A Trace