A Conversation with Chvrches’ Iain Cook

We talk to one half of the CHVRCHES brain trust about their precipitous climb, their second album, and beard-stroking post-rock acts.
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We talk to one half of the CHVRCHES brain trust about their precipitous climb, their second album, and beard-stroking post-rock acts.
CHVRCHES

byBRENDAN FRANK

It has been a tumultuous 18 months for Chvrches. They may still reveling in the afterglow of their debut album The Bones of What You Believe, but the Glaswegian trio already have their eyes on what’s to come. Since the release of their first official single “The Mother We Share” in late 2012, they have quickly become one of the most recognizable and adored electronic acts out there. Belting out massive sounds that are as intricate as they are catchy, they have easily distinguished themselves in an overcrowded genre. And they want to get bigger. 

Despite their intensive touring schedule over the past year, Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty have made time to sketch out songs for a new record, which they hope to release next year. PMA had a chance to catch up with Iain, one half of the group’s musical brain trust, to talk about their precipitous climb, what they want their second album to sound like, and beard-stroking post-rock acts.

PMA: It has been a wild year for you guys. Are you planning on taking a breather after this tour?

Iain: It has been a crazy time. But no, we’re already looking forward to getting back into the studio to do another album. We’ve started sketching some early demos already. By the time we’ve finished touring at the end of November, we’ll be right back at it.

PMA: Your music has a very broad appeal. Music lovers the world over were all over The Bones of What You Believe, but people who, say, flip the radio on from time to time seem to love it as well. Is that something you’re wary of, heading back to record?

Iain: We’re conscious of it. It’s certainly something we’re hoping we can achieve with this band, to have sound that can be appreciated on different levels. Like if you really look into it, if you spend time with the lyrics and production you can discover the depth, but it’s also something that you can blast on a hot day with the top down on your car and just enjoy it. That’s something we set out to do on purpose, and it feels for the most part that we achieved that. We are really proud of that, because I can’t think of many other bands that do that nowadays.

PMA: It’s a tough balance, making music that sounds as good on headphones as it does at a party.

Iain: Yeah, well hopefully we can sustain that type of depth and aesthetic on the next record.

PMA: Have you ever written a song where you just said “No, this is too over the top, it’s too much”?

Iain: Of course! We’ve spent our whole lives in bands that was kind of too difficult or weird or obscure. Like when I was with Aereogramme, it was kind of a post-rock, singer-songwriter electronic mashup. And there’s nothing commercial about that type of music, or anything with mainstream appeal. It was really liberating to sit down and actually write something that people would actually want to fucking dance to. That was our number one priority with Chvrches.

PMA: So was the sound of Chvrches a reaction against your previous work?

Iain: I wouldn’t say that. For me, it was a reaction against playing half-empty rooms with people stroking their beards and going “mmm… yeah”, you know what I mean? There is a place for that, and I mean I’m one of those guys [laughs]. But at the same time music for me should be about the communal experience of dancing and enjoying yourself. Not as much the introverted stuff, but the physicality of music as well. You get that from a metal show I guess too, it’s a different kind of physicality, but there’s a real sense of communally enjoying music that doesn’t come across with Aereogramme, for example.

PMA: It’s interesting you say that, because a lot of Lauren’s lyrics are very introspective and personal, but by contrast the sounds you and Martin create are vast and extroverted.

Iain: Yeah, well you’re feeding both camps, I guess.

PMA: So where are the three of you as a band now, compared to this time last year?

Iain: We were just ramping up. We really had no idea howthe album was going to be received. We’d just finished it and weren’t sure if people were going to love it or just stick to the previous singles. When you put something out there, especially a debut album, there are a lot of nerves. But I’d say we were quietly confident because the gigs were going really well at that point. We felt, especially over here in North America, that things were building. The timing for the album was pretty perfect in that sense, just to catch the buzz on the way up.

PMA: So then do you see yourselves as a band that makes albums, or more of a single-oriented band? The singles are great, but there’s also a sense of unity to Bones.

Iain: I don’t know that we want to be one or the other, but I’d say we’re more of an album band. We all kind of grew up with that, putting a record on and listening all the way through. Now you constantly hear about how the album is dead or people are just streaming the singles off an album on Spotify or iTunes. But we think it’s important to have a beginning, middle and end.  Within that though, we definitely know which songs we write are going to be the singles. We’re a little old fashioned that way.

PMA: So when you’re writing your new stuff, how much crossover is there with your input into the lyrics and melodies?

Iain: There some because we’re all in the studio all the time. Martin and I both come from production backgrounds, so we’re the ones that kind of get dirty with the snare drums sounds and shit like that. Lauren isn’t really interested in that stuff, but what she contributes is obviously invaluable. We don’t exactly have clearly defined roles.

PMA: I’m going to ask a selfish question, just because I love “Gun” so much. Can you take me through the genesis of that song? It’s almost has too many hooks. My favourite part of it is the outro and it almost seems like it was an afterthought for you.

Iain: It was a strange one. I think our prevalent reference point for when we were writing that was Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones’ production. We were looking into these funky synth patterns with the stabbing bass and the handclaps and whatnot. Like you said though, it was kind of like “Can we get another hook in here? How about here?” and we just loaded the thing. And of course you have the fake first chorus and then the real course. We like to play with that, where we throw on a second chorus halfway through a song. We have a lot of fun with it.

PMA: It’s like a bait and switch.

Iain: Pretty much. But yeah, the hook at the end is almost like an 80s thing to do. It’s almost a throwaway. I like the feeling that we have enough chemistry that we can just toss out good ideas like that.

PMA: So you’ve been on tour for over a year. What are the best and worst parts of being on the road?

Iain: The worst parts are when you have to do the fly-in tours where you wake up at 4am and don’t know which time zone you’re in. But that doesn’t happen very often. The bus tours are much easier because you can get up whenever you want. And I guess missing home and missing your significant other. That can cause a lot of problems. I guess in that way it’s a lifestyle that’s better suited to being single, because you’re focusing on where you are instead of focusing on somewhere else. It does get you down. You should be present.

PMA: And Glasgow is still home for you guys for the time being.

Iain: For the moment, yeah. I could definitely see myself away from Glasgow at some point, maybe after we finish the second album. You just get to see so many other amazing places that when you get back home you realize there’s not much there for you anymore. Maybe you just get into the zone of never sitting still for too long, you’re just so used to rolling. You resist it for a while but once you’re going it’s really hard to stop. You gain inertia. I don’t really like being home anymore.

PMA: Can you tell me anything else about the new album? Are you going for a similar sound?

Iain: We don’t really know yet. We’ve got a bunch of demos that we’ve been throwing together on laptops while on the road. I can’t really see us gravitating too far away from what we have, because I think we all believe there’s a lot more to explore with that sound. It would be daft to pull a complete 180 like that. We’re just going to let it go where it wants to go, like we did with the first one.