LONDON – Scratch beneath the surface just a little and Chvrches’ electro-pop becomes something of real substance. The Glasgow trio’s songs, which recall that genre’s golden era in the 1980s reimagined through meticulously modern production, initially appear throwaway in the truest sense but later reveal themselves as multi-layered pop at its most colorful. Lauren Mayberry’s vocals, complementing the synthesized sounds of Martin Doherty and Iain Cook, are honeyed and innocently delivered yet belie the dark and uncompromising nature of the words she sings: 21st-century chart music seldom deals in such cloaked miserablism as “I’m in misery where you can seem as old as your omens” or is as ambiguously menacing as “I’ll be a thorn in your side till you die.”
Chvrches’ first album, “The Bones of What You Believe,” was released in September just 16 months after debut single “Lies.” However, even this quick ascension from “studio project born on the Internet” to top 20 band on both sides the Atlantic handpicked to support Depeche Mode is not as hastily rapid as it seems. Doherty, speaking from his Glasgow home the day before joining his band mates in Singapore, is keen to stress as much.
“It doesn’t feel fast for us. We have done everything at the exact pace we’d hoped to do, took our time to write songs and made sure we were ready before anybody heard us.
“We came out of nowhere and people were looking for a reason why. There were all sorts of hilarious lies about record deals, all this money we had. We had no deal, no money, no nothing, just three people making a record in Ian’s basement. But as we progressed and people heard the songs, it stopped. And it doesn’t happen anymore. We’ve earned our place.”
“The Bones of What You Believe,” with its irresistibly melodic hooks, put to bed misconceptions that this was a band whose fate was preordained by factors other than the strength of their tunes. Besides, accusations of an easy passage were particularly misjudged given that the members of Chvrches have paid their dues. Both Doherty and Cook have long been involved with cult Scottish outfits — Doherty most notably touring with post-industrial soundscapers The Twilight Sad, Cook as member of Aereogramme — while Mayberry, a former freelance journalist, was herself fronting local act Blue Sky Archives.
“That was a big thing for us, being experienced and being in bands before, knowing how the industry works and understanding how to function and interact day in, day out”.
It also partly explains Doherty’s critique of his band’s music, shunning as he does the idea that Chvrches fit neatly into an electro-pop box.
“I don’t consider it to be an electronic project or a dance band. I am certainly more at home in the indie world than I am anywhere else. It’s what we know and understand. They’re not created in a dance loop mold. They are written verse/chorus/verse songs. They are indie songs, just nontraditional rock versions.”
Yet Doherty deliberately set out with Cook (whom he met at university more than a decade ago) to make music that sidestepped “the classic Glasgow indie sound.” The “magic chemistry” only sparked when Mayberry, invited to try out some creative ideas after Cook had produced a Blue Sky Archives’ EP, laid vocals onto some tracks, immediately forging a musical, as well as a personal, bond.
“We operate as a democracy. We all have pretty good ears for what does work, what could work and what doesn’t work. If one person has a strong idea one way or the other, it is heard — which can only work in a three-piece. Any more than that, it doesn’t work.”
Chvrches’ principles make solidarity the cornerstone of their ethos. Predictably, Mayberry’s striking looks quickly became the center of attention, but rather than trade on that — photo shoots and (when practical) interviews always feature all three members — the trio have been determined to present themselves as a united front.
“We’re not stupid, we understand that Lauren looks a certain way,” Doherty reasons, “but when we started out, we had record companies and management who would say to her: ‘We’ve got it: You’re going to be the star. We’ll get a couple of guys, push them in the background, call them producers and you will be the star, it’s game on’. Anyone who came anywhere near that way of thinking was immediately out of contention. We only work with people that realize this is a project with three people with three personalities. And the people we work with get that.”
If only that were the end of the matter. Regrettably, Mayberry has been subjected to a barrage of Internet-led misogyny to such a vicious extent she was moved to pen a brilliantly written and commendably even-handed riposte, winning much admiration for her refusal to cower in the face of a depressingly widespread issue.
“Lauren is one the strongest people I have ever met,” Doherty says. “The whole point of that, she wasn’t whining, she was taking a stand and being strong enough to say she wouldn’t accept it, especially when most people would step back. It’s easier just to suffer it but she took it on, and for every negative response there have been 10 hugely positive ones. So time has told that she did the right thing.”
Chvrches would prefer to let their music do the talking, which it will when they return to Japan for headline shows before their appearance at Hostess Club Weekender.
“I feel like places have blown my mind a small amount of times, but Japan was one of those places and one of those times. It was such a unique culture. Walking round Tokyo at night was one of the ‘holy sh-t’ moments I’ve had. I can’t wait to go back.”
Chvrches play with Errors at Liquidroom in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on Feb. 12 (7 p.m. start; ¥5,500 in advance; 03-5464-0800); Bigcat in Osaka on Feb. 13 (7 p.m. start; ¥5,000 in advance; 06-6258-5008). Chvrches join a lineup that includes The National, Mogwai and Warpaint at the Hostess Club Weekender at Studio Coast in Koto-ku, Tokyo, on Feb. 15 (1:40 p.m. start; ¥7,900 for a one-day pass, ¥13,900 for a two-day pass; 03-5534-2525). For more information, visit www.hostess.co.jp or www.chvrch.es.