“I guess I have a weird habit of writing body part metaphors,” says Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry about the title of their second album ‘Every Open Eye’, the sequel to 2013’s ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ out September 25. “It’s about our experiences and where we are. It’s like, it’s the three of us… but also, it’s no longer just the three of us.”
The music world’s eyes have swivelled towards them, but making the big follow-up to the half million-selling debut turned out to be a very private affair. Chvrches have dealt with the usual ‘who exactly are we?’ second album pressures by diving straight back into their own pre-fame routines. In January, they headed back to south Glasgow, to their long-time studio in the city, without any producer in tow, and set about a five month process of working five days a week. Quite short days too.
“About six hours,” says Martin Doherty. “A lot of bands put themselves under silly pressure because they do the big studio, big producer thing… If you’re working 10 or 12-hour days, obviously you end up losing perspective.” What little money they blew went on a lick of paint for the studio, a few more soundproofing units, and some vintage synths, including the legendary Jupiter 8 – an ’80s rarity that defined early cuts by Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and Talk Talk. “They’re about £8,000 each,” Doherty explains. “But it’s not like we haven’t earned that indulgence – I’ve been using the computer version since I started making music.”
Rather than get bogged-down in the writing process, they cycled through their ideas – changing tracks every day, building a cluster of 21 songs (out of roughly 30 demos) that they’ve subsequently chopped down to 11 finished tracks.
It’s been very smooth. “You come to it with a lot of anticipation,” Iain Cook admits. “It felt like for the longest time while we were on tour we were feeling the pull to get back into the studio. It just poured out of us.” Fans can expect something that doesn’t reinvent the wheel – “Too many bands end up throwing away the thing people liked about them in the first place.”
Retreating to their own studio gave Chvrches the time and space they needed to work through their time-consuming band hyper-democracy. The way they work, all tracks have to be actively loved by all members before they’re allowed to feature. Album closer, ‘Afterglow’, for instance, had been veto-ed time and again, until an 11th hour moment of creative exasperation re-shaped it into a standout. “We were going to bin it,” explains Cook. “We spent ages working out what it was going to be. By the end, we’d just left it to the side. Then, one day, we just tempo-shifted it, took out the drums, put in a one-track vocal and a one-track synth line, and there it was. It went from the bottom of the bin, to album end-point inside about an hour.”
First single ‘Leave A Trace’ has already been released. “It’s like our fight song,” Mayberry suggests. “An avalanche of sound. Both lyrically and musically, it’s one of the most direct things we’ve ever done.”
“But the album’s definitely still full of melancholy,” Doherty says. “There’s something about doing anything in Glasgow that drives you back to a kind of melancholy.” No second single has yet been decided but the band are already playing three tracks live: ‘Leave A Trace’, ‘Clearest Blue’ and ‘Make Them Gold’. The second of those the band see as pivotal to nailing the sonics they were after. “‘Clearest Blue’ was the 17th song we wrote, and it sort of informed the rest of the production,” says Doherty. “To me it came to define how the rest sounds. How is that? Well, it’s big and happy and sad and a banger.” “It’s sort of cry-dance,” Lauren chips in.
‘Make Them Gold’, on the other hand, is more conventionally anthemic. The keyboard bit apparently reminded Lauren of “the bit in The Goonies where they’re cycling down the hill”.
For the upcoming few months, Chvrches are touring lightly, ahead of the album’s release at the end of September. On the road, every open eye will be upon them, and they’ll have to test this insular approach to songwriting against a diverse range of audiences. “The first album songs were around for a long time before the album came out. People could hear a lot of the songs on YouTube before they came to the shows,” Mayberry thinks. “This way will be different, so it’s going to be interesting to see whether the tracks we’re thinking about playing will connect in the way we’re imagining, whether the big live moments we’ve envisioned will turn out like that.” Of course they will. Cry-dance is the universal language.