If you love driving fast with the windows rolled down playing top 40 radio at full volume and you play in a band, you usually have one goal: get your songs out of your garage and into the worlds’ collective car speakers as soon as humanly possible. Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty certainly fit this bill. They unabashedly adore music of the wind-in-your-hair variety. And, of course, they play in a band, the Scottish synth pop group, CHVRCHES.
And yet … Since emerging in 2013 with the glistening brightness of their breakthrough single, “Recover,” CHVRCHES have always projected an insularity, a subtle but unmistakable wariness about leaning into their obvious Hit Song of the Summer-writing potential. At their core, CHVRCHES are true blue Glaswegian punks. They’ve wanted to protect themselves, and protect that undercurrent of melancholy that gives depth to their sunniness.
To this end, the band members have always kept their creative process close and tight. They’ve been diligent to the max about managing the way their band is portrayed. And, of course, they have historically produced every piece of music themselves, including their 2013 debut, ‘The Bones of What You Believe,’ and 2015 follow-up, ‘Every Open Eye.’ “Certainly not,” was their go-to response, Martin recalls laughing, when asked to consider collaboration. “We knew that if you get led down the wrong path it can completely derail your career.” But if there’s a theme in CHVRCHES’ world as they prepare to release their third record, ‘Love Is Dead,’ it’s willful, determined openness, both ideologically - more on that in a minute – and in terms of actual creative process.
This time around, instead of Lauren disappearing for days at a time, the trio stayed in the same room even while Lauren was writing lyrics. As a result, the album “feels a lot more coherent,” she says. Lauren also consciously pulled from a different psychic well when writing those lyrics, one that's less introspective and more expansive and imagistic. “I tried to write less about romantic love specifically,” she says. “And more about the overarching concept of love.” And, for the first time ever, CHVRCHES opened their proverbial doors to outside influence. The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart served as the band’s de facto mentor, providing insight Lauren says “really pushed us to focus on the artistic integrity of the album and everything that surrounds it.” Steve Mac co-produced the soaring ode to hope, “Miracle.” And thanks to some extremely productive time spent in what Lauren calls his “Aladdin’s Cave,” Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia) wound up co-producing eight of the record’s twelve tracks. “We had similar musical tastes and we clicked in the writing process pretty quickly,” Kurstin recalls. “I got to pull out all of the things I don’t have a chance to normally use.”
This conscious move towards openness in the creative process reflects a bigger, deeper existential theme as well. “We live in a time where the death of empathy is pretty evident,” Lauren explains. “You turn on the news and see story after story about how selfish and unkind people are, but also stories of strength and resilience and resistance. How do we deal with both those things?” That question, of how to honor our justifiable despair about the state of the world, while moving towards hope and love, mirrors CHVRCHES’ sonic blend of dualities. As Lauren exhorts in “ii”, the instrumental / spoken word intro to album closer “Wonderland”:
Truth exists somewhere between the dark and the light
It’s that quest for balance that runs throughout Love Is Dead.