CHVRCHES: How The Synth Band With Heart Conquered The Sophomore Slump

Every Open Eye continues the band's musical evolution—in technicolor.

Many techno-pop bands pride themselves on being as cooly mechanical and metallic as their Roland Jupiter 8 synths, and make music with the precision of robots programmed to spit out infectious hooks with each album release cycle. But that’s not the case with CHVRCHES. The Glaswegian trio stands apart from their faceless brethren by keeping their personalities —and humanity— out in the open for all to see and hear.

Their latest album, Every Open Eye, is more emotion than ones and zeros, with lyrical lacerations that cut to the bone. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry has joked that CHVRCHES are an emo band in disguise, and when you hear tracks like “Leave A Trace” (“You talk far too much for someone so unkind”) and “Never Ending Circles,” you’ll know it’s not far off the mark. These machines can feel.

Musically, the band have branched out from their winning formula. Multi-instrumentalist Martin Doherty’s recent fascination with Thriller-era Michael Jackson has given an R&B edge to the crystalline dreaminess. And Iain Cook’s film composition background have added a filmmaker’s flair to many of the cuts.

Rather than succumb to the dreaded “sophomore slump,” the band have continued their musical evolution while staying true to the sound that fans know and love. It’s a difficult trick for most bands to pull off. How did they do it? We found out.

Many bands find it tricky to work on their second album, struggling to balance the evolution of their music with the sound that people know and love them for. Did you find that difficult?

Lauren Mayberry: Obviously there’s a certain amount of anxiety in that, because it’s human nature to worry about these things, but I guess we tried as much as possible to block out the outside world and just focus on writing with just the three of us. I think that’s why it was important for us to go back to Glasgow to make the record, because then we could have a sense of normality and routine, and just go back to the place we made the first album and kind of get back into that rhythm. I feel like we’re proud of what we finished up with, and I feel like we can say that it’s a CHVRCHES record and it sounds like us, which I guess is the main hope. It’s all subjective, but I feel like it’s good to, at the end of the day, be able to say that.

You recorded in your studio, which is basically a basement apartment, right?

Martin Doherty: Yeah, it’s the same place we made the first record, so it was familiar and comfortable surroundings. But more than anything else it was about going back to exactly what we knew. We kind of augmented what was there, there was more equipment— before we were recording in private, humble surroundings but also with not much equipment. So we used some money, we bought some keyboards, some old keyboards, and got straight back to work. It also meant we’re not on the clock, so we could work whenever we want. We could waste the day and not feel like you’d wasted a bunch of money. I think a lot of bands feel that pressure a little bit. They end up doing 14-hour days because they’re thinking to themselves, ’I have to be here because it’s costing us money, it’s costing the label money.’ That’s not really conducive to creativity, that sort of environment. So it was good to be working the other way.

You toured a crazy amount for the past two years. Did you write on the road at all, or was it something that you saved for when you got back to the studio?

Iain Cook: Yeah, there was some demo-ing done on the road. We came into the studio with bunch of ideas, so that we weren’t going in with a blank slate. Another way to subvert the kind of anxiety of, ’Oh my god, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do it now,’ is to have some things sketched out that you can draw upon if you need to. So that was something I think that happened in the last six months of the album campaign.

MD: I think it’s a means of working those muscles again, especially when you’ve been in promo mode. You can easily get to a point where you haven’t written a song in, like, 12 months. It’s nice to ease back into the studio process like that, so having a demo collection like that is really important.

I read an interview in Pitchfork where you describe some of the material as ’emosh.’

LM: Yeah, I suppose we all tend to write from a personal perspective. I think that’s —hopefully— one of the things people like about our band is that it feels authentic, and that the emotions in it are coming from a genuine place, rather than kind of a blueprint for a sad song, or a love song, or a happy song, or whatever. I think it has to come from a genuine place for us.

It does set you apart. While so many synth-y bands go the Daft Punk route and try to be almost robotic, there’s so much emotion in your band and your personalities really shine through. Is that something that was almost a conscious effort?

MD: I feel like that evolved naturally, I think. After the first few shows we realized that we weren’t going to be that band. I guess it’s a Scottish thing as well, maybe, I don’t know. Our stage personas are extensions of our personalities, we’re not super serious people. We’re not like dour-faced, synth obsessed—we’re certainly not that. It just continued to evolve, and the more that we could see people responding to it, the more that allowed us to feel like it was ok to be ourselves onstage. And in the end I think we’ve ended up building a relationship with our fans that goes beyond just listening to a band on the radio, or reading about a band on the internet. It feels like we’re actually more engaged with people. What we do is more realistic, and people believe it more, and that’s cool.

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