Interview: Chvrches on Prince and being Scottish music’s next big thing

TIPPED to be the biggest Scottish band since Franz Ferdinand, Chvrches want to make sure they are seen as a trio of equals

TIPPED to be the biggest Scottish band since Franz Ferdinand, Chvrches want to make sure they are seen as a trio of equals

Chvrches are a band with ambitions, and one of them came closer the other week. Playing Vic Galloway’s show on BBC Radio Scotland, the Glasgow trio unveiled a brave but ultimately successful cover of Prince’s I Would Die 4 U adapted to their own effervescent style, a technicolour collision of bubblegum electropop, 1980s power-hit production and the hint of an utterly credible classic house influence.

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“We figure the likelihood of us being friends with Prince is now higher,” enthuses singer Lauren Mayberry. “Even if he only gets in touch to say, ‘please stop doing that to my song,’ that’s us opened a line of communication. After that we’ll invite him round for some tea, maybe a bit of b-ball...”

“I tell you what,” interjects Martin Doherty, on a conference call line with Mayberry and the band’s other member Iain Cook, “getting sued by Prince. Even that would be better than him never getting in touch at all.” So that’s the ambition? To be sued by Prince? “I would say so,” decides Mayberry, “and then we can retire happy knowing we did all we could to meet the wee man.”

Chvrches are, if it’s not too obvious to draw a parallel between their personalities and their music, instantly likeable. That’s why, after less than a year in existence, the first song they made available online earlier in 2012 very quickly made them the most genuinely and credibly exciting new prospect to come out of Scotland’s music scene since Franz Ferdinand (although Django Django might argue that one). Lies is a glorious song with a strident synth crunch which sounds like Depeche Mode doing Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up Look Sharp, and its inclusion on taste-making US blog Neon Gold very quickly saw it reblogged around the world and picked up back home in the online UK music press.

The speed of such recognition might lead many to believe that Chvrches are a flash in the pan, and indeed questions have been asked about their credentials to bear such hype after just three and a half minutes of good music (Edinburgh-based blog Song, By Toad, in one cutting post, noted: “There is no information about this band. We know nothing yet.”).

“There’s been some cynicism,” says Doherty (or “Doc”, as Mayberry calls him), “but that’s such a small minority of folk. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. What we’re trying to do, but what’s really hard, is to ignore the positives and the negatives, because both ultimately have a negative effect when you get caught up in reading things or taking people’s comments to heart one way or the other.”

Like the other members of Chvrches, he knows exactly what he’s talking about. Rather than coming from nowhere, in fact, all three have form on the Scottish music scene, with the big surprise being that nothing they’ve done sounds remotely like this band. Mayberry is also in indie-folk group Blue Sky Archives, whose Triple A-Side EP was produced by Cook at Chem19 studios, giving him the notion he’d found a voice for the side-project he was working on with old university friend Doherty.

Unfeasibly given Chvrches’ style, Cook is best known as a member of Scots post-rockers Aereogramme and Unwinding Hours, while Doherty played with the former band during their final year and latterly with the Twilight Sad. “I’ve been playing with them for the last four years,” he says, “although not any more. This is the first tour they’ve done without me since I joined, they left this week.”

“Aww,” coos Mayberry sadly in the background.

“It might be difficult to tell,” says Cook, “but I think there are still elements of what we’ve done before in the music we’re making now. But the arrangements and the instrumentation, and the focus on catchy melodies and stuff, I guess that’s new for us.”

Mayberry reaffirms this: “Obviously we all love guitar music and that’s informed us up until now, but I think Doc especially listens to more hip-hop and R&B, and I’ve always been a fan of stuff like The Knife and Robyn and things like that, along with a steady diet of the 1990s – bands like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh. I suppose I come from an angry alternative rock background. Oh, and Whitney Houston, that’s always been a big one. So it’s nice to try out different things like that in a format that’s flexible.”

Cook and Doherty first approached Mayberry last October, and she says she feels reassured by a winter spent in a basement writing songs together. “Iain has a project studio where we can record stuff to a very high standard,” she says, “which is an opportunity a lot of bands don’t have. That means we can keep a lot of it very self-contained. I guess it’s why it feels like we’ve got a lot of it sorted ourselves, why we don’t have to rely on outside influences. We’re very lucky.”

At the point Lies was released they had “eight or nine” songs already recorded, of which next month’s equally pleasing second single The Mother We Share was one. “It was a nice reaction, because it was the reaction of people just passing it around one another,” says Doherty of the unexpected success which has suddenly launched them to national attention and an upcoming debut national tour supporting US electro outfit Passion Pit. “We were – we still are – an unsigned band, we spent no money on marketing or anything like that. It was literally as organic as one blogger liking a song and then the next picking up on it, that was the best thing about it all.”

“That we secretly had a major label co-ordinating the whole thing would be a good twist in the story, but sadly it’s not the case,” says Mayberry. “I heard a really good rumour, actually, that we’d turned down a hundred and fifty grand from a major. ‘Did that happen?’ I thought. ‘I’ve only been out the house 20 minutes!’ That stuff’s not true, but we have been talking to people, although our main focus is to find someone who understands where we’re coming from and who doesn’t want to, you know, blur out Iain and Doc’s faces in all the photos. It’s a taxing task, but we’ll throw ourselves into it.”

• Chvrches’ second single The Mother We Share is out on 5 November on National Anthem. The band support Passion Pit at QMU, Glasgow, on 13 November.