Chvrches have spent the past six months thrilling audiences worldwide with their heart-bursting electropop. Photographer Rachael Wright was there to capture the whole thing. Words: Larry Bartleet
In September 2015, ‘Every Open Eye’, the second album by Glasgow trio Chvrches, hit the Top 10 in Australia, the US and the UK. They’ve been on tour ever since. In a rare week off, frontwoman Lauren Mayberry is pinning down the essence of their gigs: “We play it like it’s a rock show,” she says, “and it sounds like it’s a synth-pop band. But lyrically it’s probably ’90s emo…”
Fans love these lyrics enough to get them tattooed on their bodies. They also hang on Mayberry’s every word. Since the group shot to fame in 2013, the 28-year-old has become an outspoken figurehead for equality in pop, commenting with authority on the sexism she experiences daily.
That fighting talk has, in the past, been at odds with the shy figure she cuts on stage. “After the first album, I spent a lot of time being like, ‘I’m not really a singer.’ That kind of mentality doesn’t help,” she says. A lecture in body language “completely changed the way I play shows” and the mic stand is no longer her crutch – “I was like, ‘Take that discomfort and make it mobile.’”
Poised to take the summer festivals by storm, Chvrches take us through six months, four continents, 58 gigs and countless miles on the road.
Four days after the release of ‘Every Open Eye’, Chvrches kicked off the US leg of their world tour in the not-too-shabby location of New York’s Central Park. The group have long been outspoken opponents of sexism and objectification, but one heckler hadn’t got the memo, and shouted “Marry me!” at singer Lauren throughout. Her response went viral. “What’s the hit rate on that?” she shot back. “Does that work out well for you, sir?”
In early October, an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon saw the group’s star rise further. Over the following weeks, Mayberry duetted with The National in San Francisco and welcomed Paramore’s Hayley Williams to Chvrches’ stage in Nashville. “Sometimes you’re like, ‘Don’t meet your heroes, because what if they’re massive a*seholes?’” says Lauren. “But [Hayley] is just the nicest.”
Of all the highlights of the North American leg of the tour, it’s the wild, 2,500-capacity gig at Rockwell in Salt Lake City that really sticks out for the band. “There were people crowd-surfing and circle pits,” says Iain. “It had more in common with an emo show or a metal show than it did with an indie gig,” reckons Dok.
Sold-out shows in Paris, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Brussels kept the group on a high. But their first show back in the UK – on a rainy Monday in Brighton – gave them a jolt. “People were just standing there with their arms folded,” says Iain. “It was like, ‘Do people really hate us here now?’”
“That can be tough to pick yourself up from,” Dok explains. “It’s important not to let anxieties get the better of you.” They didn’t, and their crowds soon picked up steam in the run-up to their biggest ever show at London’s Alexandra Palace. Dundee club Fat Sam’s “really set us up,” says Iain, “but what a contrast going from a few hundred people in Dundee to 10,000 in Ally Pally.”
Meanwhile, Lauren’s ‘solo plans’ were rumoured when an interview quoted her saying, “Eventually, everyone will do their own thing.” Iain is straightforward about it (”We have zero plans to go our own ways”), while Lauren says, “I wouldn’t want to do a solo project.”
After Christmas, Chvrches hit Singapore and Australia for touring festival Laneway. Australian audiences provide “a total outpouring of emotion”, Martin says approvingly.
When they have the time and the energy the band explore, and in Australia Dok indulges a love of watersports. “It makes me sound like a Miami Vice a*sehole,” he says. Lauren’s not into extreme sports – “I think I would die” – so for her and Iain it’s often a cinema trip instead: “Being in a movie theatre is pretty much the same everywhere, so it feels kind of comforting,” she says.
Lauren keeps her brain busy on the day of a show and can usually be found reading or listening to podcasts such as Serial, Nerdist and NPR Fresh Air. She puts the jewels around her eyes just before showtime, helping her channel her on-stage persona. “Running around dressed like a proto-goth with loads of eyeliner and glitter on feels like it helps put that barrier up,” she says. “I know I sound like
a crazy b*stard.”
Late February took Chvrches to Asia for a gig in Tokyo and a festival in the Philippines. In Japan, in particular, their fans are passionately dedicated, even if the culture there means audiences often remain unnervingly silent before a band is actually on stage.
The Chvrches ‘fanclvb’ facilitates meet-and-greets with fans in cities around the world and the one in Tokyo saw them showered with gifts – particularly Star Wars-lover Iain, who received a pair of lightsaber chopsticks. “Making sure that we interact with the fanbase in a way that feels right to us has been really important,” Lauren says.
Another lap of the US now beckons, where Chvrches will co-headline five dates with Death Cab for Cutie, before a summer of festival dates. Time for the band “to go properly to the next level,” reckons Dok. “Watching the record succeed has given us so much confidence,” he says. “I can feel the band getting bigger in front of me. It’s crazy.”
Album three will follow after a proper break – “I think we’ll take a bit longer than six weeks this time,” says Dok. That should give them time to catch up with their old lives, even if they keep schtum about some of their experiences. “I don’t tend to boast that much,” he says. “It won’t get you very far in Glasgow, that’s for sure!”