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Sunday 21 January 2018

Worshipping at the altar of Chvrches

Ed Power

Ed Power

Around and around and around: like two sprats in a tank, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty had been swimming in circles practically their entire adult lives. They'd spent 15 years passing through what felt like an endless parade of awkward and obscure alternative bands. Along the way, they'd written some interesting songs but never succeeded in making people really, truly care about what they were doing. They were in a rut and needed a way out.

"We put together a new project and initially it was going to be just us," says Cook. "After a while, though, we thought, 'well, maybe it would be nice to have another singer'."

For a pair of confirmed indie bachelors, bringing a girl on board was a big deal. Keenly aware of the cliche of the grumpy rock group fronted by a glamorous female, they were determined not to embrace a stereotype for the sake of it. As it happened, Cook was producing a local band, Blue Sky Archives, and was struck by their frontwoman, a china-doll brunette named Lauren Mayberry with a voice as sharp and glittering as broken glass.

"Lauren was distinctive," Cook recalls. "As soon as you heard her, you realised it. She didn't sound like anyone else. So we invited her to the studio. We ended up having a meeting in a pub and decided this was something that might have legs."

Thus was born Chvrches, an electronic three-piece drifting, moodily and fascinatingly, between Cocteau Twins, Garbage and the tragically short-lived Glasgow act One Dove (ask an old person).

With just a handful of tunes to their credit, the trio have become a surprise buzz outfit. Released without fanfare, the song 'Lies' was a huge viral hit (120,000 YouTube views); they subsequently placed fifth on the BBC Sound Of Poll, one of the few old-school pop affairs on a countdown dominated by stage-school graduates.

"We've been in a few bands that played very different kinds of music to Chvrches," says Cook. "So this was a novelty for us. In the beginning, we didn't even think we would be a live project. When 'Lies' took off, we had to stand back and think, 'well, perhaps we need to be able to do this in concert, too'."

At their first gig, they had an epiphany. Playing accessible pop music attracted a wider audience, more mainstream than the usual indie kids and their affected indifference. Also, it was a blast.

'It was an experience compared to our previous projects," says Cook. "You can't really be seen to be overtly having fun playing loud, instrumental rock. You have to present yourself in a certain manner. With Chvrches, we were travelling in a new direction."

With Mayberry shrieking like an angst-slathered banshee and Cook and Doherty playing thumping electronic, their singular sound was present from the outset. Other elements were longer falling into place.

Initially, they were a band without a name. It was hard to settle on a handle appropriate to their aesthetic.

"We stayed up all night brainstorming," says Cook. "We went through a whole lot of possibilities. Churches seemed most appropriate. It conveyed a sense of what we were about."

There was a problem, as they quickly learned. Googling 'Churches' returns 168 million hits. "It doesn't get any better if you try 'Churches, Glasgow'," laughs Cook. "That is why we went with 'Chvrches'. It is distinctive and a little mysterious."

Possessing decades of experience between them, it is no surprise that Chvrches' influences run wide and deep. Though often lumped with contemporary electronic acts such as Purity Ring and Ms Mr, the truth is they draw on the past as much as the present.

"We are from a background of guitar music," says Cook. "Of course, we are influenced by other stuff. The soundtracks of John Carpenter movies, for instance. And we are massive fans of hip-hop production. Our goal is a 'big sound' – music that would be fun to make and fun to listen to."

With their album on the way and a summer full of headline slots awaiting, the future is blinding bright. However, having lived with under-achievement for so long, Cook isn't getting ahead of himself. If Chvrches do well, fantastic. If not, they will have at least created something they can believe in.

"You want your music to be heard by the largest number of listeners possible," he says. "Ultimately, it's outside your control. So you focus on the songs. As long as you are enjoying that, I think the rest will look after itself."

Chvrches' new single 'Gun' is released this weekend. They play Electric Picnic Festival on September 1.

Irish Independent

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