In the artist compound at the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware is a series of white tarp structures, each one containing a single half-partitioned room so well air conditioned that the 80-degree weather just feet away feels like a half-forgotten memory. Behind the door with a wooden “CHVRCHES” sign staked into the ground near it, Martin Doherty acknowledges that outside factors aren’t what get to the Scottish trio: “That’s easy to ignore, but you can’t ignore what’s going on inside your head.”
Following the breakout success of their debut LP, 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe, the world had mountain ranges of expectations for Doherty, Lauren Mayberry, and Iain Cook. Whether or not the band took them into consideration is impossible to say, but by making it a priority to satisfy themselves first, CHVRCHES emerged with Every Open Eye a year ago this September, and emerged as cool and relaxed as the temporary lounge where we meet.
“I feel like we do live up to ourselves consistently and that we’ll continue to do so, so I don’t really have any problem with that,” Doherty says of external pressures. “Otherwise, I’d never get anything done.”
“Pop music is a really difficult thing to do, which is why everyone doesn’t do it.” – Martin Doherety
Every Open Eye is a soaring, anthemic album that’s both creative and accessible. This is a result of CHVRCHES, as Doherty sees it, existing between the worlds of “obscure” or “weird” music and pop, a position that has become more accepted as music snobs who turn their nose up at “shallow” radio-friendly songs become a dying breed.
“I don’t have time for any people who have that attitude, to be honest,” Doherty said.
Positioned among the indie elite, CHVRCHES have also used their standing for good, especially Mayberry, who has been a vocal proponent of fair, non-sexist treatment for women in the music industry. In 2013, she penned a powerful editorial for The Guardian detailing her experience with the issue and wrote, “My hopes are that if anything good comes out of this, it will start a conversation, or continue the conversation which is already happening, encouraging others to reject an acceptance of the status quo, and that our band can continue to do what we are doing in our own way and on our own terms.”
It took a lot of moving pieces for CHVRCHES to get to this point of stability, and in our conversation, we talked about how their recent and not-so-recent pasts have culminated to place the band at their peak.
Nerdist: How is your relationship with pop music?
Martin Doherty: It’s pretty healthy. I think pop music is something that’s a big part of my life. It’s something that’s woven into my musical vocabulary. It’s something I gravitate towards, and has been since I was a kid. Usually, it’s the closest to your consciousness. Faint and obscure music or weird music takes a lot more effort, and I love to look at that stuff as well, and I feel like we do exist somewhere between those two worlds.
Nerdist: Do you think bands still see pop as this bad, dirty word?
Iain Cook: I think the tide is changing. I think for the longest time, it was a dirty word and it was written off as being insubstantial, two-dimensional, plastic, fabricated music. But I think people now are starting to regard great pop writing as an art form, which it legitimately is.
MD: It’s very very easy to criticize immediate pop music, especially if you make really left field electronic or metal or whatever. And it’s often because and people will tell you, “I could do that if I decided.” That’s just not true. It’s a really really difficult thing to do, which is why everyone doesn’t do it.
“I don’t think external pressures really have a bearing on what we do and never really have” – Iain Cook
Nerdist: Martin, you were a touring member in the excellent band The Twilight Sad, so has that experience informed anything you’ve done with CHVRCHES?
MD: I think when you stand next to someone for the amount of time as I did, it’s inevitable that some of their ethos will rub off on you. Certainly, that was the band, and Andy [MacFarlane] in particular, who really taught me the value of not polishing everything, not having music that was pristine and perfect. The majority of the interest for a listener comes from those rough edges, certainly for me.
When I’m listening to music, I don’t gravitate towards the stuff that’s just so clean and so immediate and perfect. It has to be a little bit skewed, and they taught me that, but it’s not hard and fast rule. I don’t think you can compare the two bands, you know: We’re in different universes, but I always really respected the way those guys had a punk ethic in that they really don’t care, and they’d step up on stage and just be raw and half-tightened but still be so engaging.
Nerdist: Lauren, you used to perform post-rock earlier on. Would you say that influence has found its way into CHVRCHES?
Lauren Mayberry: I don’t necessarily think it changed the way I write hugely. I guess I had to be more disciplined because of the way that we write. We write melodies first and the lyrics second, so it’s been more of a challenge to make sure you’re writing something that makes sense and communicates lyrically, but still fits in melodically in terms of a percussion and rhythms of things.
Nerdist: With how fast everything moves today, do you ever feel pressure to release new music really quickly?
IC: I think the only pressures that we really allow ourselves to feel are internal, you know? I don’t think that external pressures really have a bearing on what we do and never really have. When we made our first record, it was over quite a long period of time and we spent a year and a half to two years touring it. But at that time, we were desperate to get back into the studio and write again. In the back of your head, you’re like, “God, can we still do it?” And then you start pressuring yourselves a little bit, but we were certainly pretty careful to make sure that there was nobody knocking our doors down saying, “Where’s the album?!”
MD: People always talk about pressure and assume that that means external pressures, which is interesting to me because the pressure to live up to your own expectations, to me, is much higher and much more intense than anything anyone can say about you. That’s easy to ignore, but you can’t ignore what’s going on inside your head. I feel like we do live up to ourselves consistently and that we’ll continue to do so, so I don’t really have any problem with that. Otherwise, I’d never get anything done.
Nerdist: Was there a lot of that internal pressure going from your first to second album, and starting again from scratch?
MD: I’m not going to lie: There was an immense amount of pressure on us on the second album. From the middle to the end of 2015 was a really difficult period because you have all this anticipation about whether people will receive your music in the same way, whether this new career that you’ve gotten used to and you’ve begun to enjoy and love is going to continue for another year, or if it’s going to be over in six months. That’s just what a band on their first album enters their second goes through, and for so many, it takes a dive after their second record comes out for a variety of reasons. We should just be thankful that we managed to improve upon the way things were.
“I had to be more disciplined because of the way that we write.” – Lauren Mayberry
Nerdist: Lauren, you studied journalism in a past life, so what’s your take on the direction journalism is heading?
LM: I think my relationship with the media is very different now than what it was when I studied it. It’s changed a lot, especially because of the decline of print media and the rise of online media, but in a way that’s made things more democratic, especially when you’re looking at coverage of the election going on, and what you see on the news is very specific.
But then, you find that certain things from the internet and Twitter, where people get on their soapboxes and say ridiculous, awful things, but it’s also a way for people to share what’s actually happening at polling stations or rallies and things like that. So in a way, that opens it up a lot more, so I’m anxious to see where it goes.