Depite a band name that has them competing for internet hits with the entire Christian faith, Chvrches are not religious. If they were, they’d have to believe that somebody up there is looking out for them, for the Glasgow electropop trio are having quite a week.
They released their tremendous debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, to wide acclaim on Monday. When we meet they are about to make their first appearance on Later… with Jools Holland alongside Janelle Monae and the Pixies – a powerful stamp of approval from the music industry. Then there was Wednesday’s club show in Dalston, possibly the last time they’ll appear anywhere so tiny, for this week they also announced their biggest London show yet, at the 2,300-capacity Forum next spring.
They sound like they’re enjoying their rapid rise, from putting a single song online, Lies in May last year, to becoming the critics’ hot tips at the start of 2013, to the punishing international touring schedule of today. “’Fun’ was the first word that ever came out when we sat in the studio,” says keyboard player Martin Doherty. “If this isn’t fun, then lets not do it.”
That’s exactly what their music is – bright, twinkly, hugely melodic pop, but not without a forceful stab of darkness in the lyrics. “There needs to be a bit of sand in the vaseline,” explains keyboards and guitars man Iain Cook. Overall, though, it’s a complete joy, my favourite debut album of the year so far.
Before this, the three of them were well aware of what constitutes no fun in the music business. Cook, 38, used to be a guitarist in post-rock quartet Aereogramme, who made four albums without striking it big. “I spent many years playing to half-full rooms. If that’s what we were doing with this band I wouldn’t be doing it,” he says. Doherty, 30, toured with indie band The Twilight Sad among others. “I’ve stayed in hotels where the person operating the desk was out of their mind on meth, prostitutes everywhere, guys fighting – and that’s when we could afford hotels.”
Even birdlike singer Lauren Mayberry, at 26, found time to suffer on the road between studying Law and working as a freelance journalist. “I’ve driven seven hours to get to self-booked shows for a guy who might or might not give you 50 quid. My favourite was probably sleeping on the stage of a venue because the person who was supposed to be giving us accommodation didn’t come to the show, and there was no room in our estate car,” she says.
“It’s good to be mindful of that kind of hardship,” adds Cook. Chvrches have given a lot of thought to how to do it right this time around. Their manager is an old friend from Aereogramme, they pay themselves sensible weekly wages from a main band account, and they’ve signed different record deals in different parts of the world so that if it goes wrong in one place, it doesn’t go wrong everywhere. It’s a cautious, eyes-open approach to a glamorous business. “You can’t walk into the music industry thinking it’s all warm and fuzzy and full of puppies and kittens,” says Mayberry. “There are a lot of sharks there to be honest.”
They also have firm ideas about what they don’t want. They’ve turned down interview time with The Sun because they disapprove of page 3, and you won’t catch Mayberry on the cover of a lad’s mag or a fashion bible, beautiful though she is. For her Journalism Masters, she wrote a dissertation about how women are portrayed in the media. Chvrches have fought to be treated as a complete band with Mayberry as an equal songwriting partner, not the familiar old template of beardy computer geniuses who need a pretty face out front. “I don’t think what people look like has anything to do with what the music sounds like,” says the singer.
“If we do make a success of the band it’s going to feel a lot better because we didn’t send Lauren off on her own to do fashion shoots,” adds Doherty.
“You would need to shove me into that taxi kicking and screaming anyway,” she replies.
On stage and during our conversation, the two men flank her tiny frame like security guards, but she seems like she could easily hold her own if she did do interviews solo. She’s fast-talking and dryly funny, and with that high, emotional singing voice, it’s clear she’s not there for show.
Cook and Doherty, friends from a Music degree at Strathclyde University, met her when Cook produced an EP for her previous band, Blue Sky Archives. Right from the start, they prepared themselves to last well beyond a hoped-for initial buzz. “When we put our first demo online, we had about eight more songs written. So when people started talking about us online, we didn’t feel the pressure that we might have felt if we only had a couple of tunes in the bag,” says Cook.
“The internet does it to a lot of folk, propels them before they’re ready. we always talked about the importance of staying focused,” says Doherty.
It’s a sensible approach that won’t see them believing their own hype any time soon. As far as indulgence on the road goes, Cook brings his own AeroPress coffee maker on tour, while Doherty gets the odd massage for a bad back. “People that play music are no longer rock stars. They’re all working as hard as possible trying to just get by,” says the latter. “The only rock stars are software developers, poker players and DJs.”
If that means Chvrches aren’t quite living the rock ‘n’ roll dream, it at least sets them up to survive a lot longer than most. When the buzz dies down, there will still be worshippers at their altar.
The Bones of What You Believe is out now on Virgin.
Later… with Jools Holland, tonight, BBC2, 11.05pm.
Oct 17, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, W12 (0844 477 2000, o2shepherdsbushempire.co.uk)
March 14 2014, Forum, NW5 (0844 847 2405, theforumlondon.com)