Glasgow synthpop band CHVRCHES hit Richmond on Friday, November 29 for the first time and played at The National to a packed house. A few hours before the band’s performance, music writer Jessi Coble sat down with Iain Cook backstage to discuss the band and its current tour and was nice enough to share with all of you RVA Playlist readers.
From the moment they started on their first song of the night, “We Sink”, the crowd was eating out of the palm of their hand. With constantly changing lights, moving graphics, upbeat songs and energy that wouldn’t quit, Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty put on one of the bet shows this town has witnessed in a while.
Unlike other synthpop bands that walk on stage and seem to be robotic and dead on stage, giving off a cold feeling, CHVRCHES interacts with the audience. They smile, they dance, they take a moment in between songs to talk to us and let us know that while their music may come out of machines, that they in fact are human.
The crowd loved every moment, danced and sang along. And when they started in on their last number of the night, “The Mother We Share”, the building erupted with excitement.
JESSI: Besides Thanksgiving dinner at Boathouse, have you been able to enjoy any other parts of Richmond since arriving here yesterday?
Not really, after the Boathouse we just came back to the hotel and got really drunk. Most places were closed last night and today seems like a holiday as well. I don’t feel like we’re getting a really good idea of what it’s always like here. Looking forward to tonight though.
IAIN: As far as bands go, you are still considered relatively new. Did you guys expect it to take off so quickly with this sort of widespread recognition so early on?
No, not at all. To expect anything this day and age is a mistake. Things are changing so much with the music industry and old models don’t really work anymore. Nobody really knows how it works anymore. All you can do is write music that you like and that excites you and that you’re happy with and then put it out there and see what people think. When we did that around May 2012, we handed off the song “Lies” to Neon Gold and they put it online and the response was just amazing. We weren’t expecting that at all. I mean obviously we knew that what we were doing wasn’t terrible, but it’s difficult to know how many people, if any, can resonate with it. We have all been playing in bands for years and years and nothing has ever happened on this scale, this volume of people saying, “this is good, we like this”, and then having them come here us play. It’s unlike anything we’ve every experienced. We’ve been surprised every step of the way.
Did you feel it though? Since you were all on separate projects when this came together, was there a moment of “this is it, this is special?”
Yeah, definitely. There was a spark, like an energy, when we first started. Martin and I had been throwing some sort of ideas around in the studio and we had been doing that for about a week or two until we got Lauren down. And so even at that point things were great and then she came in to listen to the tunes and track some background vocals and we realized really quickly that those were the lead vocals. And it was at that point that we were thinking we need to scrap what we’ve done and start writing together with her voice and her lyrics. And that became the start of the band proper. But yeah, it was a spark in the studio that none of us had felt before.
I have friends in a band that described this recently, how they had a side project that is so easy and so right to them it’s now a focus.
Yeah, exactly. At the start we weren’t expecting it was going to be a band. I guess it’s all out of boredom. Something that we talked about doing for years and years and when we did it was like wow, something is really going on good here.
How do you guys write music? Do you each have your own ideas you bring in completed to tinker with or is it a more collaborative process?
That’s how it’s worked in other bands I’ve been in before. There had always been a principle songwriter or two that would bring in songs and we worked it out as a team. But with this band it seems to all happen spontaneously in the studio. So we’ll get in with no ideas at all and just start playing around with the drum machine or a sample or a keyboard sound and then it almost gathers momentum rather quickly and snowballs and things get really chaotic and then all of a sudden there’s a song or at least the barebones of a song within an hour or so and then the rest of the time we flesh it out and try things. But the initial genesis of an idea happens really quickly and it’s really exciting and really intense.
How was it meeting and opening for an iconic pop band like Depeche Mode?
OMG. It was something beautiful. We’re all such big fans of that band and we all grew up listening to them. They’ve been a huge influence in what we do as well. But we didn’t even actually get to meet the band when we were on tour with them, which I was actually gutted about. We saw them in transfers the first day we played with them and it was in this amazing Roman amphitheater in France it was a beautiful sunny day, and it was just like 30,000 to however many people just going nuts and singing every word. It was just like, ya know, that’s what this is all about. So yeah, those shows were good. The biggest one we did was in Warsaw and it was about 60,000 people and that was terrifying. Just looking out to that many people, unless you’ve done it, you just don’t know what it feels like. So, anyway, we didn’t get to meet them on the tour and the week before we came out here to the states they were playing in Glascow. Their manager got in touch with us and asked if we could come down to the show and told us Martin [Gore] wanted to meet us. I think what happened was that they thought we were on tour longer with them. But we were only on for 4 dates so we were gone before they had a chance. But yeah, we got to hang out with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher in Glascow. It was really sweet, they didn’t have to do that so it was really sweet of them.
With all the touring have you noticed a change in the audience as you’ve gone from a more virtual band to playing festivals and shows? Are the people here in the states crazy as you get more radio play? Because as I was pulling up “The Mother We Share” was on Sirius for about the 3rd time today.
That’s great! I mean the radio thing means a lot more in this country than it does in the UK. It’s like there are some commercial station in the UK but it all centers around BBC Radio 1. Those guys have been really supportive of us. But everything happens so much faster. They’ll take a song and play it for like 4 to 6 weeks if they like it and that’s the end of the song. But in the US, since it’s such a big territory there are so many commercial radio stations and college radio stations and alternative radio stations that it takes months for a song to do the rounds and be worked by the stations. So it feels like things are slowly starting to build momentum here with that. And yeah, there has been a massive sort of shift in the audiences. Like when we started coming here there were a lot of bearded guys and older guys, maybe bloggy types who are ya know, right on the money and there at 9 am when the tickets go on sale. But it seems to be a better gender spread and an age divide. There are a lot of younger girls and guys coming in. You still see the older guys and the geeky guys and the internet bloggy guys as well but it seems to have changed quite a lot. In terms of them getting crazier, not sure. Their responses have been brilliant. But they have been brilliant every time we’ve come here. I’m excited.
Have you started writing for your second album yet?
Well, it’s kinda hard to do that when we’re doing this.
Yeah, especially if you do your writing in the studio more.
That’s it! We’ve tried a few times setting up a studio in the bus, but it’s not the same. There are constant interruptions in the bus and you’re in this really confined space with 8 other people.
Yeah, exhausted. And there’s just no mental space or physical space to properly be creative. Maybe I just need to change the way that I write or something. We’ve got some ideas though. We have started to throw some ideas around, just like working on something and then send it around to the band. There’s really not an ideal way to write. It feels like when we’re at our best when we’re together bouncing things off each other. There’s a spontaneity that comes from that that you just don’t get in any other way. So, yes and no. I just can’t wait to get back to it. There’s just no time.
Now you guys get a break for the holiday right?
We do. We have a break for 5 weeks. But we have some shows in there as well. And then for the New Year everyone is kinda going their separate ways for a week or so before we go back on the road again. So there might be a period of like 10 days at the start of 2014 where we’ll have clear to write. Hopefully we’ll get a couple new songs in that time. It’s just about snatching little periods or pockets of time when you can. But even then it’s really hard to get any sort of momentum going. We’ll get there though.
What are you listening to right now?
When I’m on tour I tend to listen to stuff that’s more comforting and familiar. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Cocktail Twins, a lot of The Blue Nile, a lot of Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and that stuff. But I really love that Factory Floor album that came out this year. That album is very excellent. I’m really enjoying the support band too actually. They just put out a new EP on Neon Gold, their name is Wet. It’s rare to find a band that you genuinely want to watch each night.