Lauren Mayberry – CHVRCHES Interview
We caught up with Lauren Mayberry from Chvrches to discuss the Summer Sessions gig, touring, Girls Rock and the importance of feeling like you belong. And Josie & The Pussycats got a mention, which is always great news.
Edinburgh in August has something for everyone, and the more traditional elements of the Fringe have been bolstered by stellar music events in recent years. In 2019, one of the biggest acts appearing is a homegrown Scottish band.
You’re headlining a night at the Edinburgh Summer Sessions – what should fans expect?
By that time we’ll be over a year into touring this record. Anyone who has seen us before will know what it’s about, but for us, live shows are about a live experience. It needs to be a proper live gig. Even before we had a live drummer, we were conscious that we didn’t want a lot of things to be on a track.
I think that’s down to the bands we were in before. We were in indie rock, post-rock alternative bands, and we still have that attitude.
Depending on the weather, the Edinburgh gig may start in daylight. Will this affect your show?
At this point, we’ve played so many kinds of shows in so many different conditions that we have a version of the show that can work at all different times. For us, when we have lighting and production, it’s important that it’s backing up a show, so it helps us in communicating a message as opposed to being something we rely on as a crutch.
We don’t mind what time of day we play; we can figure out a way to communicate what we do in that setting. No day is ever the same! We’ve been on the road since last March and even if the setlist is the same, each day and show is different for many reasons.
While it’s under a festival name, it’s your own gig – does that make it different from standard festival shows?
I think we’re lucky enough at our festival shows that most people who come and see the band know us and our music. It can be an advantage if you’ve not had a giant single. It helps us to not be a one-single band, because people who come along know more than one song; they know the records and they know what we stand for and what we’re about.
This one will have a festival vibe, but it is our show and I’m sure it’ll be fun.
Support comes from We Were Promised Jetpacks and The Ninth Wave – are you looking forward to playing with them?
The Ninth Wave supported us at The Hydro. We really rate them, and it’s exciting to see different stuff come out of the city. Sometimes, when I was growing up, it felt like new bands in Scotland came in waves and trends. I don’t feel like that now, and that’s really positive.
Also, Martin has known the Jetpack guys for years; he toured with them when he was with Twilight Sad. It’ll be nice to get the old gang back together.
We’re now more than one year on from the release of Love Is Dead – how has the past year been?
It’s funny to look back on it, because it seems as though it has just been released, but equally, it’s like it’s been around forever. That’s just the nature of being in a touring band; time passes in a weird way. We’ve had a really good time. I think this is the most confident we’ve been with respect to touring.
It’s the first time we’ve had a live drummer, and it’s been the iteration of the band we’ve wanted for a long time. We needed to make sure that it made sense to do it. There are so many live drums on this record that we really wanted to play it live.
People really invest in this band, and you don’t always get that. You might get people who have a relationship with one song they hear on the radio, or people who liked a band 10 years ago, but don’t know them now. We’ve been really lucky; we’ve got some diehard people who follow us around from place to place.
To me, that’s what makes stuff sustainable for a band like us, rather than trying to get on the radio or try and push ourselves into a box that doesn’t fit.
How is life on the road?
It’s really put under a microscope that if you had an ordinary job, you could go home and ignore things. Here, you can’t do that. You can’t let stuff brew. If someone is annoyed, you need to talk about it. Because if you don’t, in a year’s time, that’s what gets shouted at someone in a bar at 1 in the morning.
It’s a pressure cooker situation. It’s kind of like a marriage where you didn’t necessarily choose the other person! It works for us. We’ve figured out how to be deconstructive about it, and that’s why we’re still here.
You’re jet-setting for what seems like the rest of the year. Is it still exciting?
For us, it’s important to remind ourselves that this is fucking mental. This wasn’t meant to happen. If you look at our band on paper, we’re not the sort to get picked up by a label. At the end of the day, it was a combination of good songs, being in the right place at the right time, and some dumb luck.
It doesn’t happen for many people, full-stop, especially not people who come from where we come from. That’s a helpful thought to kick you up the ass when you’re being a dickhead because your bag got lost, and you don’t have any underwear. Just buy a packet of underwear and you’ll be alright!
Earlier this year, you played the Hydro, your biggest hometown gig – how was that?
Glasgow is where we have the most guestlist stress in the world, but my dad still prefers to buy his ticket. He only ever asks if he has been unable to procure one. I think my guestlist is simple; we have the laminates for after, we have the passes, and then my dad has his own ticket!
There is a lot more pressure with a hometown show. We know what it’s like day in and day out, and we know we don’t have ideas above our station. But if people only see you on the internet or read about you in interviews, it may be interpreted in other ways. So when you come home, you feel a responsibility to put on a great show. Playing music in Glasgow is what got us to where we’re at.
We’re also conscious that we have to not half-ass it. Glasgow is the friendliest place in the world, but they don’t take any shit. If it looks like you have ideas above yourself, they’ll be the first to take you down. I like that – I think there’s a genuine honesty to Glasgow that you don’t get in many other places.
Do you think being a Scottish band has helped you develop an audience around the world?
Not coming from America or London has been a disadvantage in some ways, in who you know, but we were really lucky. We got signed out of Glasgow without having to hustle or make it in big cities. That happened because of the internet, like being on Soundcloud. It also helped having a friend who acted as our manager, who’s been amazing, and knew about the hustle.
The band sponsors Girls Rock Glasgow – how did you get involved in that?
I’ve known about the Rock Camp for a few years, and I saw they had problems with their funding last year. We got in touch with them to see what they were looking for. The women who run it are incredible, and they have so many amazing volunteers. We wanted to help.
Now, when we play headline shows, we give a dollar or a pound from each ticket to the local Girls Rock Camp.
I feel it’s about responsibility; we’re lucky to have what we have. If we can play any part in shaping what the local scene looks like, then that’s really positive and powerful. I grew up playing in bands and now, 90% of the time I’m the only female on the bill. But when I was a teenager, it was near enough 100% of the time.
I don’t know the reasoning behind how funding is given out or denied, but I think it’s a very valuable thing. We all complain about festival line-ups, but change needs to come from the top down and the bottom up. It’s really about empowering young women and telling them they are allowed to be in those spaces.
That was the overwhelming feeling I had, but I didn’t think anything of it until I was 17 and trying to play in venues. It was made incredibly clear to me by men who work in those venues, or men in other bands, or men who write about bands, that it wasn’t the norm for you to do the things a guy would normally do.
And this band won’t last forever — if we get to do something useful while we have the platform, then we should.
I don’t know if we have a proper perspective on it, being on the inside of it. But we’ve always been conscious that whatever the decision is, we need to know we can stand by it. Without being crass, there have been times we’ve taken way more shit than our contemporaries, made less money, or turned down what could have been a great opportunity because it didn’t match up with what we believe in.
That doesn’t mean we’re perfect, not by any stretch, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that once you are in ‘mainstream music’ you can’t be interesting or you can’t be ethical. You can take the ethos you had when you were a DIY band and apply that to what you do. Just because your band gets larger, doesn’t mean that you get to not have a conscience.
It makes us killjoys to some people, but for us, it’s about being able to sleep at night. I think, hopefully, I’ll sleep quite well!
The industry has changed so much, even in the time we’ve been in it, and it’s fucking hard to make a living out of making music. It’s not like it was 10 or 20 years ago. I guess it’s about navigating how you can afford to make music, but making sure the choices you make aren’t negatively impacting anybody, or are selfish.
We have a good system: if we’re undecided about something, it means we say no. If you don’t feel good about it in your gut, and it goes well, you won’t be able to own that decision. And if it goes badly, you’ll regret it. You have to listen to your conscience and see where you end up.
Were the boys fully behind the band’s eyeliner range?
It’s glitter-based and I use it for shows. The really nice thing about it is that kids come to our show and they’ve made their own version of it. For me, that’s cool, because you’re not necessarily trying to sell somebody something. It’s about a community and helping people to feel as though they belong somewhere.
I also think of it like a Josie & The Pussycats thing, at the end of the show with all the girls with cat ears on. It’s nice to feel like you belong somewhere for five minutes, or an hour and a half! It encourages expression and creativity, and that’s never a bad thing.
In 2018, you played Primavera and TRNSMT. This year, both these festivals have placed more focus on female artists – do you have any thoughts about how this was achieved?
I haven’t been on the ground floor of any discussions. I know a lot of festivals are signing up to the Keychange agreement, to ensure there’s better representation. I feel it’s difficult for people, predominantly the men who are organising these festivals, to know what to do about it. The results are quite wide-ranging. In theory, the concept of adding more women to a stage at TRNSMT is great. Whether that was an idea that they had initially, or if it’s down to public pressure, is something we probably won’t get to know. I also don’t know if it’s the best idea to ghettoise female acts into one location.
It’s a conflicting issue, and as with anything of this nature, the answer isn’t going to reveal itself. It’ll take years and years to unpick the pretty disturbing behaviour in these industries. And in society. It’s good to ask yourself, who does this serve? Does it serve the bands, the promoters, who does it make a difference for in the short-term and the long-term?
Sometimes I see sense in it (the addition of more women) but perhaps it was a nice gesture with bad execution. We all want something to be either good or bad, and that’s a negative part of cancel culture. Things like this can represent positive steps, but in other ways, it is further ghettoising female performers. I don’t want a consolation prize of my own headline slot on a separate stage, as there’s no guarantee people will go and watch.
People said to us when we were lucky enough to get to play main stages, “that’s incredible, you’re the only woman on that stage all day”, but I don’t want to be the only woman. I want, when you look at a stage, for it to look like what society looks like. That’s going to take years and years, and who knows if it’ll happen or not.
It’s a conflicting issue; we’ll see over the course of time. I’ll say one thing that does fuck me off, it’s when people use us as an example of their diversity. You don’t really get a medal for booking a straight white woman in this moment in time; also, that makes it sound like we’ve been booked as a favour. Whereas we were being booked for festivals in 2013, 2014 because we had good tickets.
They weren’t booking us because we had a woman in the band, they were booking us despite having a woman in the band. We brought people to the show, so when that’s used as a way to cover their back, that fucks me off. It makes it seem like we didn’t earn our spot by the old rules. But we did earn it by the old rules!
It’ll be interesting to see what festivals will look like next year, especially as more people sign up for the Keychange agreement.
Any thoughts on the next musical step for the band?
We’re going to get through the summer, and then have a think about it. This album and tour cycle has been so long, we’ll want to go home for a bit and remember what our families look like. Beyond that, we’ve had vague conversations about music, but nothing too specific.
Chvrches play Edinburgh Summer Sessions on Sunday, August 11th.