“I KNEW I’d find the Scottish people up at the bar.”

This was the first thing Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson told fellow Scots CHVRCHES during a chance encounter in an LA bar last year. The synth-pop trio were there recording third album Love Is Dead with producer Greg Kurstin when Shirley – who has based in LA for a number of years now – pulled up a seat, ordered a pint, and began talking about music.

“I’ve been a huge Garbage fan since I was a kid,” recalls frontwoman Lauren Mayberry, still sounding starstruck from the encounter. “Shirley is one of the few women from Scotland who has achieved what she has. She is a huge beacon of light and always been uncompromising. She is as you would expect her to be in real life.”

“We just shot the shit for a bit,” she continues, “and when she left she told us to remember to take what we do seriously because this stuff doesn’t happen to people who grew up where we come from. It’s not London or New York where these things are within your grasp. And then she looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘It is fucking harder for you than it is for them’. And then she was gone.”

“I felt totally isolated and alienated in the beginning. I was writing this album and missing my family and home.”

It was the right message at the right time for this self-described “bunch of misfits”, who left their motherland two years ago for the bright lights of New York.

“Moving to New York was not an easy step for me,” says multi-instrumentalist Martin Doherty who had visited the city eight times when touring, but never settled there prior to now.

“I felt totally isolated and alienated in the beginning. I was writing this album and missing my family and home. It was a time I should have been really happy but I was struggling. Don’t get me wrong, New York is an awesome place and I have accepted it now, but I had to make that mental commitment for it to work. Moving to New York was a huge cultural shift,” he says.

Conversely, Lauren feels right at home in New York. She admits finding her feet initially daunting, but that feeling has gone now. The law graduate with a Masters in multimedia journalism was working as a production assistant in film when her band got signed to Virgin in 2012.

“Our chemistry was immediate,” adds Martin, previously a member of indie rock bands The Twilight Sad and Aereogramme with the band’s other multi-instrumentalist, Iain Cook.

In an attempt to steer their goth-tinged mothership to another plane, CHVRCHES recruited Greg Kurstin, the acclaimed songwriter and producer behind Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ and ‘Hello’ by Adele.

This wasn’t the way the trio usually worked – handling the production duties themselves on 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe and 2015’s Every Open Eye – but according to Lauren, it was time to branch out for a new sonic awareness.

Love Is Dead captures ’90s shoegazing moodiness with ’80s synths in what is a feistier pop direction for the trio. Witching hour never sounded so content in their capable hands. Their beats feast on a gothic winter solstice doom as much as it clings to summer’s poppy rays – it’s exactly this juxtaposition that was mastered in the hands of a super producer like Greg.

“Bringing in Greg for eight of the songs showed us a new way of working – our chemistry with him wasn’t forced,” says Lauren.

“When he played the keyboards on the first song we did with him [‘Get Out’] we knew right away he was the one to work with. Love Is Dead has more of a live feel than previous records as we weren’t being overly precise with everything in the studio. He showed us how to let go and opt a rawer sound.”

Martin admits the band had lined-up sessions with other producers, but once they tested the waters with Greg, everything changed. “We cancelled all our other sessions and hook-ups for the making of the album and stuck with Greg,” he says.

•••

CHVRCHES holed up in a New York studio to start writing Love Is Dead, before making the trek to Greg’s studio in the Silverlake suburb of LA at the start of 2017.

“It wasn’t really that intimidating at all,” offers Iain. “I guess I was sort of expecting some mentoring but it wasn’t like that. Greg just tapped into our energy as a band and didn’t put his stamp on it as much as he wanted to find our voice and make it stronger,” he adds.

Greg, who’s won five Grammys including Producer Of The Year for Adele’s 25 in 2016, describes meeting CHVRCHES for the first time at his studio.

“We talked a little about sounds and synths we liked and had a lot of the same taste,” he says. “We gravitated towards early dark synth music – late-’70s English and German electronic music,” he adds.

But genius producers aren’t always brimming with ideas – there can be moments of artistic panic.

 

“If I get stuck on using the same chords or melodies I try and make the craziest sounds I can using millions of pedals or try some odd instrument I haven’t used in a while. We all worked together building up the tracks quickly and we didn’t plan much. We would have all the keyboards up and start playing with ideas – it all clicked in the studio.”

Greg – who Lauren has previously praised for spiking pop songs with a “bit of saltiness” – says closing track ‘Wonderland’ is one of his favourite moments on Love Is Dead. “Something about it haunted me,” he says. “That melody would be going around my head all the time … A lot of my favorite music has an underlying sadness even on a happy song.”

There was studio time with CHVRCHES’ hero, Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, lined up but those songs didn’t make the final cut.

“We kept him waiting for an hour ‘cause we got our wires crossed regarding the time,” recalls Lauren. “When we got to the studio and saw he was waiting all I could think about is how could we leave Dave Stewart waiting for us? I felt so embarrassed, but he took it in his stride.”

“I think Dave felt okay about it once he saw our time together was prolific. We got into writing straight away. We owe him a lot,” adds Marin.

“A good producer like Dave knows when to push your buttons and when to make you feel safe and completely unsafe. He is a very unique character and we owe him huge credit for pushing us,” Lauren adds.

“I was trying to capture the feeling of futility in conflicts – orchestrating an intervention and twisting it all in to a surreal path at the end." - Warren Fu, art director

CHVRCHES take inspiration from Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Manic Street Preachers in a bid to weave synth-paranoia in their verses about growing up, getting wiser, and not necessarily finding answers.

The trio, despite their age differences, all share a common fondness for post punk and new wave. Lauren is the youngest at 30 while Iain is 43 and Martin is 35.

“I don’t feel like we’re all different ages, we’re on the same trajectory,” says Iain.

“If we all met at 21 years of age this band would never have worked,” adds Martin, laughing.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is we’re a bunch of misfits who found each other at the right time in our lives. You can hear it and feel it in our music. This is not about some Topshop models coming together to look a certain way – we’re a band and we’re real,” he says.

They’ve also recruited fourth member and live drummer Jonny Scott, best known for his work with The Kills, KT Tunstall, and Bdy_Prts. Johnny has been mates with the band for years, playing on ‘Night Sky’ from the band’s 2013 release The Bones Of What You Believe.

“We finally dragged him on the road with us,” says Lauren. “If we were going to get anyone who has known since we started it would have to be Jonny.”

•••

TO bring their retro futuristic vision to life, CHVRCHES teamed up with creative visionary Warren Fu, best known for his work with Daft Punk, The Strokes, The Weeknd, and Haim.

Warren’s clip for ‘Miracle’ builds on a crescendo of death and violence, yet features Mayberry in a white prairie dress and leather jacket ready for the battle ahead.

“The clip for ‘Miracle’ has elements of chaos, distortion and contrast – which is what the whole album is itself dealing with,” offers Warren, who helped with the record’s art direction and created its bold artwork – featuring a heart motif and Lauren wearing the album’s title on a necklace – as well.

“There’s elegance, beauty and gorgeous piano work and it’s all going on while there’s this conflict in the background. I was trying to capture the feeling of futility in conflicts – orchestrating an intervention and twisting it all in to a surreal path at the end. It’s like the song is a plea and the end gets you at some sought of acceptance,” says Warren.

And what of the blue blood that pours from wounds on the battlefield?

“I went for gory, but it’s the unexpected pop of colour that takes you back to the album artwork I created. It’s about capturing aggressive pop, where there’s melodic hooks but a darker and deeper lyric beneath it all. The blue blood sort of shows that side.”

Iain says he was excited to work with Warren, citing his work on Depeche Mode’s voyeuristic 2013 clip for ‘Soothe My Soul’.

“He did a low budget video for Depeche Mode which I totally loved. Warren’s cinematic style totally blows me away and he is really great at capturing cinema with pop cultural knowledge. We relate with him that level and you can count on him to bring something original to the table,” he says.

Album Walkthrough: 'Love Is Dead'

Lauren Mayberry illuminates the stories behind the 13 tracks on Love Is Dead – from songs that pay homage to heroes like Depeche Mode and Nick Cave, to a pointed take on media hypocrisy.

‘Graffiti’

We wrote this song with Greg back in September. I have tried to write a version of this song many times over the years and it never fell into place, but with Greg it felt right in that moment. This is one of the most nostalgic songs I’ve ever written. It reminds me of being younger and in bands. It’s about the graffiti in a toilet at a Glasgow venue. There were band names everywhere and everyone signed notes on the walls. I think back on those times and how innocent and fearless everyone was. There’s a little salt in the wound feeling about this song too.

‘Get Out’

This is one of two songs I have written about romantic relationships on this record. I look at life and love through a different lens now that I am older. It’s about acknowledging that it is hard to be truly open and vulnerable with someone. When I was younger I spent so much time worrying about the superficial elements of a relationship instead of being totally honest and open with somebody. I’m totally digging up my past and describing that terrifying realisation. I am totally vulnerable here.

‘Deliverance’

The imagery of ‘Deliverance’ is exactly what I wanted it to be. I feel this song couldn’t have existed on any other CHVRCHES album. It pays homage to the artists we all love like Depeche Mode and Nick Cave. I’m taking religious imagery to what belief systems and other things in life. We were thinking about ‘Like A Prayer’-era Madonna, and Nick Cave, and Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion.

‘My Enemy’ (ft. Matt Berninger)

We met the guys from The National on a summer festival a few years ago. We admire them as a band and as individuals. Matt has such an amazing storytelling voice. When we wrote this song, we kept talking about how amazing it would be to have Matt shape the melody of it. We sent it to him via email and told him there was no pressure if he didn’t want to do it. We just wanted to see what he thought of it. About 20 minutes later he replied and said, “Yes, I can record it tomorrow. Let’s do it.” He is very efficient. And hearing him sing our lyrics and reinterpret them is so cool.

‘Forever’

This song reminds me of a Molly Ringwald movie, it’s got that total ’80s energy and it’s about relationships and letting go. It’s a fun one to play live.

‘Never Say Die’

This song really sums up the emotion of the band. It’s got this hooky R&B chorus/melody but also has think weird noisy section everywhere else. I feel that is the balance we always have tried to find in CHVRCHES – we’re like a two-headed monster and we love those alternative anthems.

‘Miracle’

We recorded ‘Miracle’ with Steve Mac. It’s also the song which music video producer Warren Fu made for us. Sonically it’s full of contrast – from airy synth work to a 90s vibe. I feel it’s got a real strong pop direction and it was fun to make.

‘Graves’

This song was also recorded in September 2017 and is the most extreme juxtaposition between the lyrics and the music. For me this song is about trying to not give up. There is a lot of people in the world who are comfortable turning a blind eye to things, this is about trying to push forward and through things. It’s about knowing you won’t get a second chance.

‘Heaven And Hell’

This song is about my relationship with women in media and the use of social media. People think this song is our response to the #metoo movement, but we finished this record before #metoo was even a thing. I find the hypocrisy in the media quite confusing, upsetting and frustrating because there are media and brands who will talk about women in empowering ways, but everything they’re doing isn’t empowering. It’s like they’re paying lip service to feminism and equal rights. To me that song is about the Madonna whore complex. I often get described as a small diminutive wallflower, or a cold hard bitch. I don’t think that either are true, but it’s about allowing women to be people and individual without a label.

‘God’s Plan’

Martin wrote the words for God’s Plan. It’s quite connected to ‘Deliverance’ and about growing up and the influence of religion where we grew up. It’s about segregation and separation and being old enough to look back and know we feel differently than we did as kids.

Martin Doherty: This song is a stream of consciousness and spontaneous vocal delivery. I was in a particular mood that day and Iain was working on a modular sequence which runs through the track. Once I heard it, I just grabbed a mic and recorded it almost as you hear it. We really felt we were onto something. It was a special moment. I remember sitting at a keyboard and the melody coming out. I was feeling quite isolated in that moment in time and that song came to me over the course of recording when I felt most alien alone in New York. I don’t speak about depression, I am not that guy. I have experienced it and in those moments, you can catch a wave as a writer and you can write what you feel and connect with it in a certain way. Sometimes it can let you know how you feel.

‘Really Gone’

It’s one we produced ourselves. That was a real lesson in knowing when to stop in terms of adding instruments and production and let it be sparse and raw. That was important to leave it like that to get the vulnerability across.

‘ii’

This song was originally part of ‘Wonderland’ – it’s just an extended intro that we included.

‘Wonderland’

This is the last song we wrote with Greg and it’s fitting it closes the album. For me it’s the most forward-facing songs and begs the question of how do you move forward.

Something Else