CHVRCHES’ Martin Doherty: “I heard her sing, and I thought that she had something special.”

Photo by Eliot Hazel

 I’m in misery where you can seem as old as your omens
And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling 
The way is long but you can make it easy on me 
And the mother we share will never keep our cold hearts from calling

There is a “V” in CHVRCHES because if you Google “Churches,” well, you’re not going to find a Scottish electronic band who recorded its debut album in a basement. You’re probably not even going to find music.

CHVRCHES is Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty, and their debut full-length, The Bones of What You Believe, was one of our favorte albums of 2013. Its first two tracks, “The Mother We Share” and “We Sink,” both drop the sweetest F-bombs you’ll ever hear in a song. Let’s have a listen to the former now.

Tonight, the trio from Scotland plays its first show in St. Louis at The Pageant, and tickets are still available ($27.50; Summer Cannibals opens).

A few weeks ago, we talked with Martin Doherty of CHVRCHES as he and the band were in between gigs at Coachella.

Martin, How are you?

Good. Really good.

Still out in sunny California?

Well, I think technically I’m in Nevada right now. We crossed the border and I’m in Reno.

Oh, Reno. Doing any gambling out there?

Yeah. The show is actually [in a building] joined with a casino, and I’m a poker player, so I might get involved later on. (laughs)

So, exciting times, I’m sure.

Absolutely. (laughing)

I’m calling from St. Louis. And you’ll be here in June.

Yes. We’ve never been.

Well, let’s talk about your album, which was one of my favorites of last year. Can you take me back to the beginning, when you first started thinking about maybe recording an album?

It was all super low key in the beginning, to be honest. We were all doing different things: Iain was working in film and TV and doing music, I was playing session keyboards, and Lauren was still working in journalism. Those first sets…no one knew what we were doing.

We made a conscious decision not to put out everything we created, or get excited about what we considered to be potentially something that people would be interested in. We wrote six or seven songs in the basement studio that we still use, and we got to about the summer of 2012 when we were finally ready to put something online. And things have been on a moving train ever since.

I think a lot of people connected with it right away, which is like this mysterious thing with music — I don’t know how it happens. But it happened for you guys. How did that feel?

It was weird because there were still so many uncertainties at the beginning — we were still an unsigned band, we were doing all of this on the side, we didn’t have money to float that project, that sort of thing. It was kind of a “jump into the pool” scenario. Once we got to a certain level online, and the prospect of recording contracts became a possibility, we decided to do it professionally. I would say at that point we were overwhelmed in the very beginning. But once we got past that, and found a way to create a process, it was exciting.

Well, I can imagine. And it’s really exciting right now. 

If anyone told me that we would have played Coachella within two years and had an experience like that, I would have not believed them. (laughs)

I tell you what, the first song I heard of yours was “Recover,” and I liked it so much that I was almost afraid to listen to the rest of the album because I didn’t think it would measure up. I get that way when I hear new music, for whatever reason. So, it’s almost like I don’t want to know.

Yeah. (laughs)

But your album was solid from beginning to end. It was refreshing. And I love listening to it on vinyl.

Well, that’s a really nice thing for you to say, because we definitely take the idea of an album very seriously. It’s not to say that I have any problem with single tracks, I love them myself, but to me there isn’t a better way to discover a new band than to do it with a full-length. And we sequenced the record with vinyl in mind. That was all really at the forefront when we were finishing the album off.

That’s how I love to listen to music.

I don’t listen to enough vinyl these days because we spend so much time on the road. But I still find time to discover new music — that’s why I’m in this game more than anything else.

So, tell me about when you first met Lauren, and when you first heard her voice. What was that like?

It was a real moment for us, hearing her vocals in that context for the first time. I heard her sing, and I thought that she had something special. It wasn’t until on this specific type of music that we started making that it struck me how important it could be, or how far this band could go. It was kind of a bizarre time in the studio when we were putting these songs down, because you try to not get too excited — you can never be truly objective about the music you make. In our minds we were thinking, “should we really be getting excited here?” I think that’s for other people to decide.

You had to know that you had something good though, right?

Oh yeah. I can say with certainty, when we had nothing going, it was the most exciting music I had ever been involved in making. It’s a difficult thing to step outside from what you’re doing and truly appreciate it.

You know, here’s the thing. And I hate categorizing music — I don’t even know what to call your music, and I don’t if it even matters. But outside the catchiness of it, I think the lyrical content is strong, which was what also drew me in. 

The relationship of lyrics to music is of huge importance. I don’t subscribe to the idea that people don’t listen to the lyrics, or they are not in their consciousness. I mean, sure, you could produce radio pop music that has very shallow lyrical content. But true timeless songwriting, the lyrics are just as important as the music. So, that was again something that was on our minds during the creative process.

Something is coming to mind right now, like in “Tether” when Lauren sings, “I’m feeling capable of saying it’s over.” A really emotional moment.

Yeah. That’s probably one of the strongest emotional punches on the record. So often we try to find a balance. But I think that moment in “Tether” is one of the most straight down the line.

And then there’s “The Mother We Share,” which isn’t as direct, and it can probably mean something different to everyone. But that’s the beauty of songwriting, no?

Of course. It means something to me, it means something to everyone in the band. And we have differing opinions on that song, even within in the band. (laughs) It’s a good thing. Good lyrics are both universal and often deeply personal.

So, one more question for you. What’s the band doing right before you get on stage? What’s on your mind?

(laughing) I would say that seriously depends on the show. (laughing) Before the show, it is quite straightforward — we do a lot of vocal warm-ups. If it’s a big show, and we’re nervous, there’s a lot of pacing. And maybe there’s some Katy Perry getting played, anything to lighten the mood. (laughs)

CHVRCHES with Summer Cannibals, tonight, June 2nd, at The Pageant in St. Louis | $27.50 – purchase tickets here | Doors 7, Show 8

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