Photography by Campbell Parish
Just ahead of CHVRCHES performance in Boston at Roadrunner on August 4th, Programming Coordinator Ryan Kipnis sat down with lead vocalist and drummer Lauren Mayberry. They discussed what it was like collaborating with the Cure’s Robert Smith, how their new record Screen Violence draws influence from classic horror movies, and more.
THANK YOU FOR MEETING WITH ME TODAY, IT’S SO WONDERFUL TO GET TO TALK TO YOU.
LM: Yeah, thank you for making the time to chat… we’re excited. We’re playing shows, man! Who knew that this would be a thing we get to do, so thank you for talking to us about it.
IT’S INCREDIBLE AND I’M EXCITED TO SEE YOU PLAY ON THURSDAY IN BOSTON.
LM: Yeah, man — we always have really fun shows in Boston. Like even since the first first shows we played there people are really kind to us. And it feels like a really good music town in terms of: people really show up for the bands when they show up for the shows. So I feel like it’s gonna be good.
HOW HAS MUSIC SHAPED YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ACTIVISM?
LM: Honestly I don’t know how much that has to do with music necessarily. I think that it’s just— it seems more visible because of the job that we do. So when you say something, more people pick up on it than they normally do than if you were in another job.
But I don’t necessarily know that the things I’ve experienced are different. They’re like a variation of what all women receive in all walks of life. But I definitely think my relationship with the internet is different than it was, even like four or five years ago. Now, I don’t really feel the need to comment. I feel like if people can know what our moral stance is, I would rather be doing something practical than getting into it with people online.
HOW WOULD YOU IDEALLY DEAL WITH THE COMMENTS YOU RECEIVE?
LM: Honestly I don’t want to deal with them at all, frankly. But I don’t know, I just kind of got to a point where… getting into it with people online wasn’t actually doing me any favors.
I understand that [there is a] version of you that is ‘the person that is doing the job.’ And that is the person who has to do the PR and stuff. But you still are a human being. I think that’s the part that gets exed out of the conversation. And I feel like I got to the point where I felt like there was no need for me to be justifying things online. I don’t think it’s positive.
HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AFTER THE TYPES OF CONFRONTATIONS YOU MENTIONED AND AFTER BEING ONSTAGE?
LM: Honestly, I try not to be online very much. I try to be present to do nice things with the fan community, because our fans are really creative and cool and kind to us.
But beyond that, I just feel like I’m in a very different place in life than a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about. I think this is just a narrative that’s been put around the band, by [the] media. Stuff [that’s come up] because we said something about it at a couple of points when it wasn’t as mainstream a conversation.
But I think that’s why this last CHVRCHES record is part of it. Because I feel like when people ask us questions about “how does this impact you,” “what do you think about this,” then you can point them to the record. Because a lot of those experiences fed into making the album that we made.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE YOUR NEW ALBUM?
LM: Screen Violence was something we had written down ages and ages ago. [It] was gonna be a potential band name. We had this massive spreadsheet of good and very bad names. And that was one. We hovered over the idea of Screen Violence for a moment, but then we thought it was maybe too specific, or too tied into a certain imagery. So we thought of the idea of maybe an album, maybe a tour, we’ll call it that.
We all really overlap on a love of horror movies and the soundtracks and the composers involved in those kinds of films. So, it felt nice to have a kind of an aesthetic or a theme in mind going into the record. We’d never worked from a title beforehand. Normally we write all the songs and we name it after the fact.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HORROR MOVIE, OR A PARTICULAR MOVIE THAT INFLUENCED YOUR PART OF THIS ALBUM?
LM: Ooh, it was very fun to have a lot of research to do, if that makes sense. Because at first we thought it was gonna be a specific concept album, and it would be about horror. And in the end, it didn’t really end up being that.
After we’d written a handful of songs it kind of became clear to me what was going to happen. [It was going to be] sort of like [if] you were writing about your experiences… oftentimes sort of female experiences… but you’re putting them in this kind of horror verse.
So then, it was nice to research films and go back and watch the classic horror movies and see how female stories are told within them. We were talking about this the other day. Because I’m a stupid millenial I think Scream is probably one of my favorite ones. And it kind of fits with the album because it’s quite meta. And then Carrie. Can’t beat Carrie— you just can’t. Stephen King, the master of horror.
HOW DOES THE STYLE OF CLASSIC HORROR MOVIES AND THE STYLISTIC WAY THEY PORTRAY WOMEN INFLUENCE THE ALBUM?
LM: I think it was really fun to really dig into the imagery and make sure there was a little bit of spooky, horror, dark imagery in each song. And like the kind of easter eggy nature— like a little reference to a line from a film.
There’s a song called “Violent Delights” on the record and one of the lines in the chorus references, “never sleep again,” which is [from] Nightmare on Elm Street.
And there’s a song on the album called “California” which I wrote after watching The Lost Boys. It’s not about teenage vampires, but it’s the idea of thinking about California and Los Angeles as this kind of vampiric ghost town kind of thing.
So yeah, it was fun to give ourselves the license and the freedom to do stuff like that. Which, I don’t think we would have done had the world been in a normal space. But because we were all just on our computers, alone in our houses, we could kind of do what we wanted.
WHEN YOU START WRITING A SONG, WHERE DO YOU START FROM?
LM: Normally the guys will make a kind of instrumental bed and we will start with a sample or a sound or a guitar and work the melody at the same time. And then lyrics will go on after the fact. So I’ll go away and write the lyrics while the guys are working on the production.
WHO ARE SOME ARTISTS WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU BOTH AS A PERSON AND AS A MUSICIAN?
LM: Oh man, that’s a big question. I guess for the band it’s always been stuff like Depeche Mode or the Cure and things. The Cure especially, because they are such a great example of a band that has singles and have super melodic super poppy moments, but then they make this album that is a real statement. There’s such a duality to their band and I think that’s something that I’ve always admired; being able to walk both sides of that line.
YOU RECENTLY COLLABORATED WITH A MUSICIAN FROM THE CURE, RIGHT?
LM: Yes! Robert Smith, the singer/guitar player from The Cure.
WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
LM: Well I mean we were all such huge fans of him, and he’s been so influential on all of us as writers as well as the band. So when that came about, we were all quite confused, honestly. But he was just so incredibly generous and kind to us, musically and otherwise.
I think he probably listened to the song and said, “Yeah, I get that you were trying to create my guitar style — do you want me to just play it?” But yeah, it was really amazing. We were doing it all over email in 2020 when everyone was in lockdown and stuff so it was a very surreal thing to be happening. For a while we thought maybe this is a really elaborate catfishing but it turned out that it was real. So it was fine in the end. He’s a very nice man. A lot of the time they say don’t meet your heroes. But I can confirm for anybody that was concerned, Robert Smith is very funny, very nice. All the things that you would hope.
DO YOU HAVE A GO-TO PUMP-UP SONG BEFORE SHOWS OR SOMETHING THAT YOU LISTEN TO TO GET ENERGETIC AND HYPED?
LM: Ooh um, for this album we made a specific playlist that’s either songs from horror movies or inspired by or thematically connected to that. So, we play that in the venue for people waiting for the show to start. And we play that backstage as well, so we’re kind of on the same wavelength as people that are out front.
And every night before we go on, we play the theme from Nightmare on Elm Street as the warm-up song right before we play. And I think now the fans know that that’s the song that plays before the set starts, so it’s quite nice to hear people starting to get excited. It’s nice to dig into the drama of the whole thing. Because at the end of the day it’s supposed to be fun, isn’t it?