Nearly one year to the day they launched their current tour at the Ottawa Blues Fest, Glaswegian indietronica trio Chvrches found themselves returning to the Canadian festival circuit for a much more prime slot.
For songwriter and electronic masher Ian Cook, playing the second biggest stage at last month's WayHome festival was a chance to take stock of the year that was.
“If you'd ask me if I'd have been happy [with where we are now], I'd have bitten your hand off,” Cook said with a smile, looking over to singer Lauren Mayberry.
Sensing the British idiom may have been lost in translation, Mayberry added, “It's been a really intense year but feels like we've steadily built [into a success].”
Indeed, it’s been a rewarding 12 months for Chvrches, who followed the success of its 2013 debut with an equally punchy, confident, hook-laden sophomore release, Every Open Eye (the album recently celebrated its own anniversary with a deluxe reissue, featuring a "remix" duet with Paramore’s Hayley Williams). In turn, the group says it’s about ready to take a short break: “It’ll be longer than the six weeks between albums one and two,” Cook’s partner in musical alchemy, Martin Doherty, vaguely offers.
Befitting that path, the members of Chvrches appear to be more comfortable in their own skin than they did a year ago, and speak with the kind of road weariness suitable for a group of two music vets and a singer unafraid to engage in public discourse from which most pop-minded groups shy away. Below, the trio discusses thwarting attempts to commodify them, the unnatural ease of racism’s rise and the myth of coping with online harassment.
At a time when a lot of artists, especially electronic acts, lean into collaborations, you’ve generally shied away from them. Is the "Bury It" remix indicative of a new thinking on that matter?
Lauren Mayberry: When done well, a collaboration can be really great but in these modern days a lot of that stuff is very cynical and I don't think it's necessarily done for the right reasons or for the good of the song a lot of the time. I think it's really obvious when you look at it or when you can see it's all about placement and crossover and audiences and demographic. I understand that's an important thing but at the same time, don't shit on your own song to get it played on the radio. It seems a bit stupid to me.
Martin Doherty: If you knew us you'd know no one would ever get away with that shit with us, ever.
Ian Cook: We're quite picky.
Doherty: It's a true Scottish thing. We're very personable but when it comes to business you can't tell us what to do.
Mayberry: We're very protective of what we want to make. Generally in life you shouldn't let people push you around, y'know? If people were like, hey, let's shit on Chvrches' legacy by putting on this guy who's going to make the song massive — and I'm specifically not saying people.
Doherty: I know who you're thinking about.
Does it rhyme with Mustin Reeber or Shmary Shmyles?
Doherty: No, I'd do a record with him. He's great!
Mayberry: Even though Paramore make very different music than us I think there's a common emotional thread.
Did that translate when you played the Paramore cruise?
Doherty: I got bad sea sickness and my memory of the cruise was violently vomiting after the first gig and being wheeled out onstage.
Mayberry: James Brown over here.
In the U.K. and the U.S. there's becoming an acceptable face of racism.
You've got a reputation for being fearlessly vocal about issues important to you. As your popularity rises, do you feel compelled to continue? For example, you were quite outspoken about the Brexit vote.
Doherty: We had a bunch of press at Glastonbury and it was the day after we'd heard the news so everyone was feeling a little raw. And that's not to say that I don't believe those things, I'm still depressed about it. I think that it's a really bad situation for the U.K. but I don't think I'd be saying the same things with the level of vitriol I was saying them at the time.
Mayberry: Plus I think that in the U.K. and in the U.S. there's becoming an acceptable face of racism. People act like racism has been dealt with and it absolutely has not, it's just morphed. A level of it has become socially acceptable. I think you see so much of that with what's happening in America right now and the reasoning behind a lot of [British] people voting to leave the European Union. And a lot of that is based on hate; a lot of that is based on fear; a lot of it is based on ignorance and a lot of that is the fault of politicians who peddled misinformation. Brexit is especially upsetting because, yes there are faults in the European Union system, but the European Union was developed to combat those exact hateful feelings. It's just mind-blowing to me that all the work that was done on that has been revoked because people are scared of things they don't understand.
Lauren, you wrote about online harassment in the Guardian and in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter. I wanted to get your take on what happened with Leslie Jones of Ghostbusters.
Mayberry: What happened to Leslie Jones is truly awful but showcased a lot of the nuances of hate speech. It was just so ignorant, so basic and so cruel. It's just a movie with some women in it, guys! It's really not that bad, but people take that and they turn it into horrendous racial abuse, horrendous misogynist abuse and it's very sad when you think that that's meant to be a fun thing for people to go see with their families. It's supposed to be a comedy.
Do you see the parallel between that and making music?
Mayberry: Basically what happened there was there's a woman, specifically a woman of colour in a position that people didn't want her to be in. And if you do something that makes people uncomfortable then that's their basic response: aggression and hateful vitriol. [As for Twitter stepping in] it's tricky because do you want companies policing what people are saying? And also who decides what is hateful speech? But in that instance it's obviously hateful speech but then you have people getting banned from Twitter for things they're saying for the Trump campaign and then people are saying you're jeopardising his freedom of speech.
Do you feel speaking out has helped? Have conditions improved?
Mayberry: No. I feel bad when people ask us like there's this amazing change that happened in the last two years. No. It still happens, especially on personal socials. I think we just have a policy for how we deal with it and you don't talk about it every single day because that's the nature of those things. And then you have people who are like, "Oh, she's always talking about it." No, twice in four years isn't always guys. Calm down.
People would like us to have an answer like, "Oh, it's all magically fixed," but it hasn't really.