Chvrches often describe themselves as “a band born on the internet”, who wouldn’t be where they are today without the blog buzz that launched them. Being an online phenomenon, however, means learning to take the rough with the smooth. When I meet the trio in a Glasgow bar, multi-instrumentalist Iain Cook tells me he’s been on edge these past few weeks, living with the knowledge that their new album ‘Every Open Eye’ could leak online at any moment. He remembers when it happened to its predecessor, 2013’s ‘The Bones of What You Believe’, and even though that record ultimately eclipsed anything the band had envisioned for it – selling almost 1m copies and breaking Chvrches in America – he dreads a repeat. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry seems more sanguine; she has bigger things on her mind, after all.
It’s been a week since she appeared on Channel 4 News to talk about the sickening abuse and threats of sexual violence she receives – on a daily basis – from the sleazy denizens of 4chan and other misogynist trolls. It’s something she’s been dealing with ever since Chvrches became successful, but the abuse has peaked lately with the release of the video for ‘Leave A Trace’, in which Mayberry’s appearance – in a dress, with wet hair, acting overtly sexual in no way whatsoever – has somehow been construed as proof that her staunch views about the objectification of women in pop are “hypocritical” and that she is, in fact, “asking for it”.
Taking a stand against these people might not achieve much in the short term, she admits, “but it’s not about winning – it’s about whether we choose to let ourselves be beaten. You see stories on the news about teenage girls who kill themselves because they were slut-shamed on the internet, then people turn around and say it’s not real, that we should just ignore it. Is this not what [female-led, post-grunge movement] riot grrrl was talking about in 1992? That they could wear whatever they wanted, because it was about their expression and their lives?”
Mayberry was vocal about these issues long before she was in Chvrches, but since appearing in the public eye, she’s been particularly conscious of the need to speak out. Many of her fans are young enough, she says, “to still be forming their opinions about how they’re going to behave in the world. I don’t want young girls to look at us and see us accept that sort of behaviour. Someone asked me, ‘Do you regret opening this can of worms?’ Well, it was opened for me. It was opened at me. If Radiohead made a video where Thom Yorke was featured more than the other members, nobody would say anything. Alex Turner has his hair slicked back all the time, but no-one’s calling him a slut and saying they’re going to break him in two. We just want to be treated the same as everybody else.”
“We all talked about this,” says keyboardist Martin Doherty, “and we agreed that the minute you change your professional persona, or what we do as a band, that’s an admission of defeat to these arseholes. The only thing we can do to keep winning is not change a single thing.”
It’s a philosophy that Chvrches have also applied to the making of ‘Every Open Eye’, which, like their debut, was written and recorded in Cook’s basement flat on the south side of Glasgow. Since his roommate moved out, it’s become a full-time studio, which the band spent much of their advance on improving. “It’s not like we had gazillions of pounds,” says Doherty, “but there was money there, and rather than blowing it all on a fancier studio or putting it in the pocket of some famous producer, we decided to invest it.”
Cook also spent a good deal of money redecorating, though his tastes proved controversial: “Every time the wheelie chair gets caught on Iain’s stupid Persian rug, he starts twitching nervously,” sighs Mayberry, who was even less impressed with the denim couch he purchased for the vocal room.
Musically, too, ‘Every Open Eye’ refines rather than meddles with the sleek, dynamic synthpop of their debut – a sound even Taylor Swift appropriated for last year’s ‘Out Of The Woods’ single. Doherty calls it “an amazing compliment”, though he admits that, “It wasn’t until everyone else started saying it that I noticed it sounded like us.”
“I think [Swift’s album] ‘1989’ is a great pop record, one of the best things to come out of that particular trend of music,” adds Mayberry. “But at the same time, it would be stupid for us to say, ‘We were doing that a few years before.’ For everyone who says there are certain songs on the radio right now that sound like us, there are a lot of other people who’ll say, ‘Yeah, but they just sound like Depeche Mode…’”
People keep asking Chrvches about second-album pressure, but in the end, even they were surprised at how instinctively ‘Every Open Eye’ came together from scratch in the space of five months. “We’d been on the road for so long, we were desperate to get back and see if we could still do it,” says Cook. “On day one, we wrote [first track] ‘Never Ending Circles’, and by day two or three, all our worst fears were forgotten.”
Just as importantly, it’s an album with a heart as big as its choruses. Mayberry’s lyrics don’t directly address the abuse she’s received, but the record is very much about finding strength from vulnerability and learning from past mistakes. “Somebody said to me once that Chvrches was an emo band in disguise but nobody had figured it out yet, and I thought: you’re not wrong!” she laughs, adding that she can only write from personal, often bitter, experience. “I would rather write something that’s authentic to me than something that’ll be likely to get played on the radio but doesn’t have any substance to it. People can see through that really quickly.”
All eyes are on Chvrches at the moment, but don’t expect them to blink first.