Cover feature: Chvrches: The eye of the storm

Chvrches: The eye of the storm

With their debut album, Glaswegian trio Chvrches caused a frenzy. Now, less than a year since they finished touring, they’re unleashing ‘Every Open Eye’ - and it sees them become truly fearless.

“See, the excitement graph for me personally,” starts Chvrches’ Martin Doherty, tracing his finger across the table in front of him in an attempt to illustrate the band’s most recent studio experience, “starts up here at absolute maximum. Then it goes,” his invisible graph dips slightly and evens out. “Then you do some nice production,” the line creeps up again. “Then you get the mix back and it goes all the way back to the top.” He stops to conclude. “Right at the beginning it feels amazing, but you lose that kind of excitement after a while, until you hear it completely finalised and think, ‘Yes! It’s as good as I thought it was!’”

After two years on the road in support of debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’, it’s not surprising to learn Chvrches were excited to return to their own Alucard Studios in Glasgow. Happy to admit that the studio tends to feel more like their natural environment, it was during the latter half of their touring campaign that the itch began to creep back. They started to try and make notes of melodies, work on loops and segments, and keep their creative brains switched on.

Six weeks after coming off the road late last year – having given themselves “a little bit of distance from it all,” says Iain Cook - the band found themselves heading back into the same converted three-bedroom flat where their debut had come to life. This time, however, they had a plan of action.

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“It was a sweet spot,” Martin assures, explaining their tactics. Instead of jumping straight into the deep end, they would work on one song a day over the space of two weeks, providing themselves some semblance of structure. “It was about managing the time, first and foremost. From previous projects and the way we did things on the first album, we knew that method worked. We called them all ‘Day One’s and then ‘Day Two’s.” After a fortnight, they’d then have the starting points of ten songs. “The second half of the month would be Day Two on the first batch, followed by the second batch. Over four weeks, you’ve got ten songs that are in really good shape. Some of them you like, some you don’t but none of them are you committed to. It allows for perspective over anything else.”

“And it stops you going too far down the rabbit hole on one idea,” Lauren Mayberry throws in. “You can spend two weeks on one idea and not really get anywhere, and then you’ve lost two weeks.”

“We’d do that on the first album,” Iain explains. “We’d hammer it out until we had got it to its natural conclusion and you just get really burnt out. If things aren’t going as well as they could, you feel so disheartened and you need a few days off to get your head back together again. Doing it this way meant that we could completely bypass that exhaustion and try something fresh that gets you excited again. You carry that energy forward.”

“We were making music without fear.”

Martin Doherty

It’s a remarkably considered approach to a process that – for so many other bands – can become notoriously fraught. “It’s a weird one,” Martin admits, “even just saying it there, it all sounds a little bit soulless, but it never felt like that in the studio. It always felt like we were following our noses and using our excitement levels to gauge where we would go with a piece of music, or a song. I think 90% of that was coming from the fact that we hadn’t seen the inside of that studio for so long, we hadn’t flexed those muscles. That’s something we’ve talked about before; the idea of being a promo machine for two years and then suddenly, someone saying, ‘go’.

“It was like pouring it all out of a jar, all the stuff that had been caught up,” he continues. “All of the thoughts, all the ideas, all the observations about your life on the road, all of your progressions as a listener, first and foremost. That was such a huge part of what making the record was about. Who you are as a listener and an appreciator. The way that your taste is formed really governs where you go in the studio, creatively. The way your tastes change is the first real indicator of where you’re going to go with your own music. That’s why it was important to take some time off the road: so that when we finally got back in there it was like someone just took the reigns off and we ran.”

In contrast to the organised nature under which it was written, ‘Every Open Eye’ is bursting at the seams with energy. Excitement ricochets from those first opening synths of ‘Never End Circles’ and the songs sparkle like gems catching light. Each track feels more refined, more definitive.

“That’s what we kind of hoped,” says Lauren, “that having lived in the band for two years, we would have a better idea of how to get a more distilled version of us. I think that, when you think about it both sonically and lyrically, it’s assertive. It just feels a lot more assertive than the first record, and a lot more sure of itself in a way.”

That’s something that feeds into Lauren’s vocal performance, too. Not only do her lyrics feel to be more direct and focussed, but her vocals feel to pack an even heftier punch. “Something that we’re always thinking about when we’re writing,” she says, “is the marriage of lighter and darker things. There are some themes on the first record that are still here on the new record, but I suppose as we’re now three years down the line, we can just look at things differently. I like that when I listen to the album, I can hear that the lyrics sound like they’re out for blood; then you can hear that in the instrumentation, you can hear it in the arrangement, you can hear it in the production.” It all sits together. “I really like that sonically and thematically, it all feels like one body of work.”

“To me, I can 100% say that we were making music without fear on this record, on any level,” confirms Martin. It shines through ‘Every Open Eye’’s eleven tracks; from the affirming ‘Leave A Trace’ to the explosive ‘Clearest Blue’, the euphoric chorus of ‘Empty Threat’ to the reflective build of ‘Afterglow’, there’s no holding back. “We weren’t worried about being cool - not to say that we were before - but we weren’t worried about any external factors. We were completely fearless in the studio and that’s the confidence, the assertiveness, the triumphant nature. Triumph is a word that keeps coming up at the moment and that’s cool because it just feels like we were ready to make this record. The first time around, we didn’t even know it was a record until it was done for the most part. We were ready for this, and we crushed it,” he laughs. “Time will tell whether people like it but from a personal perspective, I know for sure that we couldn’t have made a better album. We could’ve taken two years off and it probably would’ve been worse because we wouldn’t have that fight, that drive, that frustration of not being able to do this for so long and suddenly being unleashed on a studio.”

“Unleashed! Wild dogs!” ribs Iain, before Martin continues. “We put to bed any anxieties that we had about whether or not we could still do it. We went in on day one and ‘Never Ending Circles’ happened. We were like, ‘Okay, we’re still here, this is cool’. That was when the train started moving. I feel so happy with this record and I know we couldn’t have done any better.”

At present, the band have unveiled two tracks so far and the reaction’s been “incredible, for sure.” “…I’m just gonna check that those are the only two songs that are still out there,” Iain says quietly, before quickly scrolling through his phone. “This guy!” Martin chuckles, while Iain continues hunting. “He’s a psycho about it. He checks for a leak every day!”

“I think it’s exciting,” Lauren adds in, once Iain has confirmed they’re in the clear. “We’re really proud of [the album] but when you start to put it out there, there is an element of, ‘What if I’m really out of touch and I really like this but it’s not gonna connect with anybody?’ but I think the response to the songs we’ve had so far has been great.

“We played a few festivals last month and just playing the songs, people didn’t know them at that point. Seeing people respond to just the music was pretty cool. It was like, ‘Phew! That went how we hoped it would go!’”

“We wanted to make something that we feel proud of and we feel good about.”

Lauren Mayberry

Now that things are firmly in motion, the band are about to do it all over again. Already planning to head over the pond, their touring schedule is jam-packed until the end of the year. With the calm, considered haven in which ‘Every Open Eye’ was born now behind them, the album’s about to be thrust into the world for the whirlwind to begin all over again.

“I’m really eager to let other people hear the record as soon as possible,” Martin assures, before nodding to Iain, “but not too soon! I think there’s more progression on there than is apparent from the two songs out now. Those first two were almost like the bridge between the first two records, but there’s definitely a bit more variety and bit more forward progression.”

Triumphant, assertive, their most confident work yet; after their second album is out in the open, it’ll become a different beast entirely. “The thing that is always the biggest compliment to us,” ponders Iain, “is that it means something to people. So, if they can listen to the music and the lyrics and the songs as a whole and feel a resonance or an identification with them, or if it makes them stronger or inspires them to write, that’s ultimately what I would want.”

“I think that’s the point of what we’ve been doing since before this band,” adds Martin, “It’s what most musicians are trying to do: to communicate, to mean something more than just a band on the radio, a band on a blog. As great as that stuff is, they’re to communicate further than that and mean something to someone. That’s what I want to do with this record: to mean as much to somebody else as my favourite artists’ music means to me.”

“We wanted to make something that we feel proud of and we feel good about,” Lauren confirms, “but this band wouldn’t really get to do what it does every day if people didn’t bring that into their own lives. Hopefully, they’ll take this record into their lives and come to shows and we can all live in this great, wee vacuum.”

“I was listening to a podcast and someone was quoting Bruce Springsteen,” she opens up, “and he’d done an interview once,” she pauses and turns to her bandmates, “I think I told you about this before because I was, ‘Oh my god, it’s so emosh!’ - where he was asked, ‘What do you want people to take away from a Bruce Springsteen show?’ He was like, ‘I want people to look at me and see themselves in me, and I never want to play a show where I don’t look at the audience and see myself in them.’ I just like the idea of communicating something in a certain way and I always think that’s what I want our band to feel like, like it’s coming from an authentic place and it’s communicating a genuine emotion. So, go Bruce! He hit the nail on the head.”

Photos: Mike Massaro / DIY. Chvrches’ new album ‘Every Open Eye’ is out now via Virgin EMI / Goodbye Records. Taken from the October 2015 issue of DIY, out now.

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