Girls Rock Santa Barbara Interviews Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES

This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following article, written by Andrea Li and Emelie Sanchez, two interns from the Journalism program.

Electro-pop powerhouse Lauren Mayberry of Scottish band Chvrches embodies Girls Rock Camp’s mission as global movement and an incredible organization for young girls and non-binary youth to tap into their musical side. Not only has she personally been a part of Girls Rock camps in the past, her band partnered with Plus1 to donate $1 from every ticket sold to Girls Rock camps all around the world. She recently sat down to talk with two interns from the Girls Rock Santa Barbara Journalism internship program over Zoom.

Mayberry herself has been an inspiration to many, as she has been very vocal about supporting the feminist movement, even publicly bashing critics who have made misogynistic comments about her and her stage outfits, explaining how the comments have affected her everyday life and mental health.

Chvrches have been together since 2011, and have steadily grown in popularity. Last year they collaborated with Marshmello on their song, “Here With Me”, which has garnered over 39 million views and 29,000 comments on YouTube. Mayberry has been in the process of making a new album with her bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty since February. Over the years, they have learned the ins-and-outs of how they write their music – this makes writing an album while socially distancing is a bit easier for them. In April, they released a “Separate But Together” version of “Forever” (originally from 2018 LP Love Is Dead) which shows how they collaborate from afar. Check out the video and read our interview below.

GRSB: You’ve mentioned on your social media that you’ve been working on a new album. What can we expect from this album, and how does it differ from your 2018 album, Love Is Dead?

LM: We started writing together again in February, so we had about a month together in the same room before everything went into shut-down. But, we’ve been writing [over Zoom at] a set time every day. Iain and Martin have this kind of screen sharing software so they can both be in the session at the same time recording things. I’ll record my vocals separately and send [it to] them. Normally, before when we’ve [made albums] we started writing and then figured out what the concept was. This time around we actually had a concept in mind before we started writing.

GRSB: Have there been any challenges or obstacles you’ve had to overcome while working remotely with your bandmates?

LM: Yeah, it’s been very weird. It’s the longest time we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. Time zones are tricky since Martin and I live in Los Angeles, and Iain lives in Glasgow, Scotland. So we have to be pretty specific about when we work, and I’m not very good with technology. I think it’s going good because it’s made me have to have more ownership over [my vocals] and be more assertive, ‘cause sometimes I think if I’m not going to be very good at [something] then I just don’t do it, which is a bad habit.

GRSB: You’ve been very vocal in calling out sexist and misogynistic comments you’ve received in the past. How do these comments affect your everyday life and your mental health?

LM: I think it’s definitely been a process, like figuring out if you just completely ignore it or not. I think it’s been helpful to try and create a “persona” that is different from real-life me. Real-life me doesn’t dress the way I do on stage – it’s part of a performance. I kinda feel like trying to own your femininity and use it as part of your art is empowering to me, and it’s not for other people to tell me what to do with that. Whether I like it or not I’m still a woman; I can’t change that. It’s brought up to us pretty constantly through our work, so to me, it feels like a positive way to harness that. But also, knowing when to take a step back and take a mental health break is important. I think it’s just about knowing when you need to give yourself some time off.

GRSB: Given everything that you’ve had to go through, what advice would you give to your younger self with the knowledge you have today?

LM: I think I would want to be a little bit more trusting of the people that I can trust. I think I was a little suspicious of everybody at the beginning and at the beginning, it was all men – really great men, but men I didn’t know. We were getting signed to labels that had mostly male bands. One A&R said “We’re gonna make you the next [Pixie Lott]” and I was like, “This is not at all what this is meant to be – this guy does not get it.” I feel like I was quite scared, so I would say make decisions based on positive things, and have more fun – it’s going to be fine. And take more photographs! I feel like I’m always stuck between not being on my phone all the time and being present in the moment. Sometimes I’ll look back and I’m like “Oh yeah, we didn’t take any photos or videos.” Especially now when everyone is inside all the time, I want to reminisce. So collect the memories while you can.

GRSB: Earlier you mentioned how you’ve shifted over to Zoom, but before the shutdown, what was your creative process like when writing and recording music?

LM: Well, normally we don’t really come in with pre-existing ideas. We’ll get in a room and the guys will start playing and we’ll come up with a beat or a riff or something on synths. Then, we’ll write kind of a vocal over the top of it. So, every Chvrches song has a recorded version that’s just me or Martin singing nonsense over it. Once we have that, we write lyrics and put them in afterward. They are the last thing that goes on.

GRSB: How much of your music is inspired by real-life events and situations or just stories?

LM: I would say for us, most of the stuff we have written so far has been purely personal. I think on the new record, we do a little bit more of a narrative style of writing, but using it to tell personal feelings. I feel like everything always starts from a personal place, and I think this time the concept is a bit more theatrical. Then there’s space to tell those personal stories more narratively. Which is why I love artists like Nick Cave and Jenny Lewis because they write like that.

GRSB: Do you have any advice for young girls who are just now starting to deal with the stress and pressures of existing in a male-dominated world?

LM: Yeah, it’s a lot and I get it. Sometimes you’re like, “I don’t wanna do this, I want to just be allowed to go to work or school or perform.” I don’t want to have to deal with [misogyny], because the guys don’t have to deal with it. What’s been super helpful for me is to have a good group of female friends because they understand. I’m really lucky to have friends back home because it can be frustrating. Iain and Martin can be so supportive but they don’t totally get it the same way other women do. You don’t have to explain why it’s so terrible or annoying – they know already.

GRSB: Chvrches has partnered with Plus1 to donate to Girls Rock in the past. How did this collaboration start, and why did you choose Girls Rock?

LM: Growing up I lived in the middle of nowhere and didn’t really know any other kids that played music and it was quite lonely. When I started playing in bands I realized that it was all boys, and it felt kind of scary. I guess I wished that I had camps like Girls Rock growing up, it would have been a different experience for me. And I’m not going to be [making music] forever, one day I’m going to wake up with sore hips and I’m not gonna be able to tour in the same way. So we felt like we wanted to do something [to give back] while we had the chance.

Follow Chvrches on Facebook for ongoing updates.

LIVE REVIEW: Chvrches @ Mercury Lounge 3-18-13

Imagine being an unassuming electropop band from Scotland.  You get together with your mates and nonchalantly make a few tracks, posting them on soundcloud because it seems to go well.  But then the Guardian notices.  BBC notices.  Pitchfork notices.  Sirius XMU starts playing your songs, to your delight and surprise.  On the strength of that, you book your first brief US tour, playing a handful of shows in Austin, which SXSW-goers rave about, and then head for New York to play a show that sold out so quickly more were immediately booked.  Those shows also sell out, almost instantly.  You make radio appearances.  You’re featured on every other music blog or blogging outlet.  Your first EP has yet to see release but Glassnote can barely put it out fast enough and the truth is, you have a whole album’s worth of smash-hit material for which your newfound fans are absolutely rabid.

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Chvrches at Mercury Lounge Monday night.
Chvrches at Mercury Lounge Monday night.

All of this is not so hard to imagine for Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty of Chvrches.  The band has done everything right, remaining humble in interviews and onstage when it would be easy to gloat about their “overnight” success.  The reality is that each musician has put in considerable time playing with other bands (the most successful of which being Doherty’s stint as touring keyboardist with The Twilight Sad), and although Chvrches as a project hasn’t been that long in the making, they’ve tapped into something worthy of all the buzz.  Most importantly, they’re not shy about working hard, willing to headline twice a night at Mercury Lounge and then play a show at 285 Kent the next day.  Rather than complain, they seem grateful for the opportunity, incredulous that anyone has noticed let alone given a damn.

But take a listen to “Lies” or “The Mother We Share” or newest cut “Recover” and it’s easy to hear why everyone’s losing it over Chvrches: glossy production, shimmering synths, dance-ready beats with sometimes whimsical flourishes, and aggressively sweet vocals that bounce along casually but deliver more weighty lyrical content than such glistening pop usually provides.  Oftentimes, those lyrics focus on the emotional rift between two people and the sadness therein, but there’s always a suggestion of hope that things can be repaired.  Bright percussion, playful loops, and keys alternating between airy and surging only help to emphasize that mission statement.

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Mayberry and Cook doin’ the thing.

In a live setting, these elements are amplified tenfold, and the band as a whole has charisma that somehow manages to go beyond Mayberry’s apt persona as front woman.  She is tiny and adorable and chicly stylish – sometimes wearing extravagant makeup but otherwise keeping it simple – but it seems dismissive to admit these things when you consider that she’s a brilliant pop songwriter, has a law degree and a master in journalism, and helps run the feminist collective TYCI.  At the late Mercury Lounge show, she sipped tea and invited the audience to pretend it was a “huge beer” and in the next breath voiced concern that someone might put something in it, with the ominous warning “roofies are real”.  She also expressed disgust over Michelle Shocked’s recent gay-bashing outburst, and befuddlement as to why there is peanut butter in everything the band has eaten stateside.  Her intelligence and wit, and how those threads appear in Chvrches’ songs are what make her truly captivating.

At the same time, Cook and Doherty demand equal focus, providing back-up vocals on several tracks.  Cook shifts impressively between guitar-weilding and manning the fortress of synths that surround him, while Doherty lays down drum-machine beats that he himself can’t help but dance to.  During the band’s second-to-last song, an unreleased track called “Tide”, Doherty and Mayberry switched rolls, Doherty taking front-and-center with his own yearning vocals.  It was a nice shift that left me longing for the band to do a track where the two alternate from verse-to-verse.  There are just so many places for this band to take their sound, all of them promising, that it’s impossible not to be excited by the prospect of a proper LP.

Chvrches haven’t been around long but their set proves they’re more than ready for a full-length release.  They covered Prince during the encore but the rest of the set was heavy with original pop masterpieces, any glittering gem of which could be single material.  I particularly liked “If We Sink”, the refrain promising “I’ll be on your side ’til you die / I’ll be on your side for all time”, the rhythms kinetic and the energy reminiscent of M83 (and yes, of The Knife’s early work, oft cited in direct comparison).

Immediately after the show ended, I wanted more.  I wanted to put on headphones and spend my train ride home listening again and again to songs that haven’t yet seen the light of day (unless you count the outside stages of SXSW, but I’m not speaking so literally here).  I saw my whole summer unfold and in it, I was dancing to Chvrches, unable to get enough.  If the sold-out crowds and legions of fans waiting patiently for Chvrches to make their next move are an indication, Chvrches will humbly provide for our cravings and I won’t be dancing alone.

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