ABOVE: CHVRCHES. IMAGE COURTESY OF JOHN SPEIRS
To Scottish electropop band CHVRCHES, everything still feels a little experimental. Formed in 2011, the trio has released only a handful of singles online, to massive buzz in both the UK and the US for their easy combos of infectious synth beats and unembellished lyrics, including the highly addictive "The Mother We Share" and their upcoming EP's title track, "Recover."
Though members Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty are all seasoned musicians from different creative backgrounds, teaming up to form CHVRCHES has produced a lot of firsts: among them, their first overwhelming fan reactions, first major festival appearances, and first opportunities to meet personal music idols. The band is currently getting a taste of American crowds on its first tour of the US and Canada, which will include sold-out pit stops at New York's Mercury Lounge and 285 Kent this week. CHVRCHES' first EP will be released March 26, followed by a (tentative) first album release in September.
We spoke to band member Martin Doherty during CHVRCHES' last free day at sunny SXSW about the thrills and pains of being a young band at a big festival, CHVRCHES' quick rise, and Doritos.
SUZANNE HODGES: You just finished something like four shows at SXSW?
MARTIN DOHERTY: It was five, actually, but we managed to hold up. It was five in three days. I guess you could be one of those bands that that come to SXSW and do like 15 gigs or whatever. It was more of a quantity over quality thing. And we wanted to save the voices, because we've still got quite a few shows left on this tour.
HODGES: I know you're planning to do the shows in New York, where's next?
DOHERTY: Yeah, we're doing those two in New York, and then we're doing Canadian Music Week in Toronto. And then we go home. For three weeks of writing, which is really cool. After that, it really starts to kick in, and we do all the summer festivals and whatnot.
HODGES: I saw you've been adding festivals as you go—international stuff, even. It seems like festivals in general are not just getting bigger, but popping up in new places and totally exploding.
DOHERTY: I think that it's a good thing. If we get big for them, it means we get to travel to places and play for people that ordinarily wouldn't get to hear us. I'm really looking forward to Sasquatch and Firefly, the US festivals that we're doing so far. I think there may be more later in the year, but we haven't announced that yet. We get to go to Japan as well, which for a boy of humble beginnings in Glasgow is a pretty big deal.
HODGES: Have you ever been on that side of the world before?
DOHERTY: Never. The furthest I've ever been from home is the west coast of America. Going all the way around to Japan and Australia is a pretty big deal for me. It'll be a lot of fun traveling this year. I'm really looking forward to it.
HODGES: You've said before that when you first went to the US and you went to San Francisco for the first time, the show experience was actually not very good.
DOHERTY: Yeah, it's maybe like four or five years ago now. I remember playing The Independent with another band. We got there and they'd set out all the tables, the venue. And we went, "Okay, this is probably not going to be good." I think there were like 20-odd people there. It was really nice to come back years later and to play out a sell-out show there. Felt like I've come a bit of a distance.
HODGES: During this US tour and playing SXSW, did you have a moment where you felt overwhelmed at all by the reaction to CHVRCHES from fans?
DOHERTY: I'm not going to lie, yeah. It has been kind of overwhelming. The main thing is that the band has only existed on the Internet, at large anyway, since May. It's a very different experience from going out and playing to audiences. Seeing people react to your music is such a different feeling. These shows have been incredible. People seem to give a lot more in the US. And when an audience gives you more, then you try to give back as much as you can. It's made for some pretty special experiences so far.
HODGES: Did you have to experiment with things when you did this transition from an Internet presence to live shows? Have you changed things since you've started?
DOHERTY: There's a bunch of tunes that are on the album, that are not in the public domain. We've had the chance to really live with them live. We've only played like 25 gigs, 26 gigs. In fact, after SXSW we're probably up to 30. Even in that short time, it gives you a totally different perspective. It's like taking your songs to a nightclub and playing them on the PA and just watching what people do. It gives you a chance to see how people perceive your music rather than how you think about it yourself, so that can be valuable. Even the mechanics of things. You can tell what sonically works, and get the chance to change up vocal melodies, that kind of thing. So it's been useful for sure.
HODGES: You've said the recording process for your upcoming album wasn't really crunched together, but happened more over time. Do you think you'd cut an album the other way, or that there's value to it? Or would you always prefer to have it materialize as you go?
DOHERTY: I've recorded records in the past where it's been all pressure, and done this thing where everyone goes away and you just get focused in on your album. I can definitely see the merit in that. But I feel like the results of this more patient approach have been more enjoyable for me, anyway. I think whenever possible, we'll do that same kind of relaxed approach. I guess talk to me in nine months, if things go well. If the record company asks, "Where the fuck's the second album?" [laughs] It may be a different story. But before we can start talking about the second record, we need to stay focused on the first.
HODGES: Coming from different backgrounds creatively, was it ever hard to jump in to writing new songs for the album together and to be in sync?
DOHERTY: That was something that was initially a little strange, but as we've grown over the first few months, we've really learned to trust each other creatively. And with that, being on the same page as well. The way the material came about for this album has felt really organic and really natural. Just feels like we all have a really clear idea of where we're going. After the first few months, when you're trying to figure out what you want to sound like, it's kind of a situation where you take the ball and you run with it.
HODGES: You've been asked this before, many times, but who came up with CHVRCHES and why the switch to the "V"?
DOHERTY: CHVRCHES came around because it was crunch time in deciding the name. We tried, and tried, and tried. We couldn't agree on anything, which was unusual, because the music was coming about really well and really easily, we just couldn't figure out a name. We just chose it because it was big and bold, and just one word. And it wasn't difficult to pronounce. After we decided on it, we realized it was more or less impossible to Google. It wasn't until "Lies" came out that we came to this realization. [laughs] There's a girl called Amy who's designed all of our artwork. She'd already stylized the logo with the "V" in it. It kind of felt natural just to go with that. Now, we don't have to compete with anyone, which is cool. You don't want to go up against that Jesus guy. He is pretty popular.
HODGES: Even "churches music" really doesn't narrow it down at all.
DOHERTY: Yeah, it doesn't. Try searching for "churches" and "live." [laughs] Takes it to a whole new dark level.
HODGES: Have you heard some new bands recently, maybe at SXSW, that you've liked?
DOHERTY: I actually really like that band Parquet Courts. They played a couple of shows on the same bill. They're a proper rock band. I still have a love for that music. They're a lot of fun. I saw a Savages show that completely blew my mind. They're one of the most engaging live bands that I've seen in many, many years. And that girl, the singer, is just incredible. So I'll probably be listening to some more Savages. But you know, it's kind of annoying when you come to SXSW and everyone you want to see this year is here, and you end up seeing next to nothing if you're a band. You've got stuff to do. If you're not standing, queuing up for somebody, you're playing a show. It's kind of frustrating on that level.
HODGES: Did you get to be a fanboy at the SPIN party, when you played with Solange and Kendrick Lamar?
DOHERTY: Oh, my God. Yesterday it was Solange and Kendrick Lamar, and they were both sitting right across from me. I couldn't do it. Did I tell you about trying to go say hi to Morrissey? He laughed at me and told me to go away.
HODGES: Did he really?
DOHERTY: Yeah, I was at an airport the other day. Morrissey was in the lounge, and I went up to him and I tried to say hello. The security guard jumped up in front of me and was like, "No. Not now." And put his hand in my face. I had to do the walk of shame from the airport lounge. [laughs] I was crushed. My 17-year-old self, discovering his past records, was destroyed. So when Solange was there, I just had that in my mind the whole time. I can't say hi. I'm not going to do it.
HODGES: I bet she would have been a lot nicer.
DOHERTY: Yeah, I was talking to [my publicist] Dana, and she said that Solange would definitely not have done that to me. But I guess once you've had your fingers bound once...
HODGES: I keep seeing comparisons of CHVRCHES to Purity Ring, but it seems like you embrace a much more obvious pop element.
DOHERTY: The Purity Ring thing kind of surprised me at first as well. I actually am a huge fan of the band. I think they're incredible. Their record is one of my favorites of last year. Maybe people make the comparison because it's a girl, it's an electronic band. They both sing in the same register, with the same level of sweetness juxtaposed against a harder production. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally flattered by the comparison, I just don't see it.
HODGES: I saw a pretty funny quote from Lauren in Billboard, I think. She said that you guys really don't want to "fuck it up." What's your mental image of really fucking it up?
DOHERTY: Actually, this is a really easy question, because I've just walked past it. I think we'd know for sure that we're fucking up if we play on that big Doritos stage at SXSW. [laughs] It's like this massive Doritos vending machine-shaped stage. You can't fucking miss it. It's right off South Street, and it's just this beacon of Doritos, and it's horrible. They just seem to throw money at people to get them to play. If we ever end up on that stage, we know things have gone wrong.
CHVRCHES WILL PLAY MERCURY LOUNGE TONIGHT AND 285 KENT TOMORROW. THE BAND'S FIRST EP, RECOVER, IS OUT MARCH 26. FOR MORE ON CHVRCHES, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.