Interview: CHVRCHES’ Martin Doherty on PH fans, covering Justin Bieber and Beyoncé
MANILA, Philippines – CHVRCHES – as in “churches” with a “V” – is a “band born on the Internet,” as they’ve frequently said in various interviews.
“The blogosphere and social networks have arguably been the key reasons anyone knows about us at all – labels, media and members of the public included,” wrote lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry, an ex-journalist and self-avowed feminist, in a scathing opinion piece against online misogyny for The Guardian.
The Scottish 3-piece made up of Lauren, plus multi-instrumentalists extraordinaire Martin Doherty and Iain Cook – as a Late Late Show joke goes, “met in the Glasgow music scene, not in seminary.” The choice of name is just for the sake of an easy Google search. After all, there are thousands of churches out there.
They came from different bands before coming together way back in 2011. The single “Lies,” however, was their first foray into the public sphere through a record label’s blog in 2012.
It has been an upward, meteoric trajectory since then, culminating with the release of their debut album The Bones of What You Believe in September 2013.
Its tracks sound like instant classics with synths ablaze like ‘80s/New Wave tunes, but at the same time, they’re unexpected marvels as Lauren’s pure, birdlike croon (in an unmistakable Glaswegian accent) seamlessly weaves into dense, hook-driven arrangements.
It was a little later in January 2014 when I saw them live for the first time in Laneway Singapore. They were easily one of the standouts at the music festival that year, where I remember the crowd singing “Go-oh-oh-oh” in unison to the indelible anthem “The Mother We Share.” There were also the vengeful words of “Gun” sang by way of a soaring, exuberant melody.
In November 2014, I saw them again in their Manila headline gig, but this one was in a totally different league. There’s no place like home, people always say, and this holds true even for concerts.
The jam-packed, cavernous Samsung Hall in SM Aura pulsed and radiated with so much energy. The band was in total command of the stage, and surprisingly, Lauren was equipped with a whole new arsenal of dance moves. Of course, in true Filipino fashion, the crowd was a wall of pitch-perfect sound.
The band had a string of successes, which includes doing “Dead Air” for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack.
But we fast forward to September 2015 with Every Open Eye, their sophomore effort which noticeably sounds more crystalline and polished. Lauren also described the album as “emo with synths in it” in a podcast for now-defunct sports and pop culture site Grantland.
Martin Doherty told Pitchfork, “After making one record that people really like, some bands reject the things that everyone liked about them, and make some really deep, thoughtful, dark record – but I wanted to avoid making a ‘mature’ album.”
“That said, it’s not like we’re making saccharine sh*te. There’s important lyrical content, and we’re still pushing the same emotional boundaries, but also trying to make it as accessible as possible,” he added.
It has been wonderful to see the band grow – from the time they were just on the cusp of fame to the extraordinary performers that they are now. In a phone interview with Martin Doherty, we discuss this and more.
First of all, how are you guys and how’s touring been for you?
Martin: It’s been great, man! I’m in Australia at the moment. It’s been a really, really good start to the year.
I saw you just recently in Laneway Singapore… Needless to say, I’m a fan and you continue to impress.
I also saw you the first time in 2014 at the same festival, and I noticed how there have been changes with your live shows. I noticed new dance moves from Lauren, and Martin, well, we’ve seen what you’ve been doing with “Under the Tide.”
How do you come up with these moves, and what is this so-called Martin Doherty Academy of Dance?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah… You know, the kind of energy of the show has become an important part of it. It’s been really interesting to watch Lauren grow into the performer that she is now.
With me, I’ve always just acted as a natural reaction to being onstage. I don’t really have any other gear. I like to have fun, and I think it’s important to have fun for the audience – you know, to be energetic. Because if you give that energy, you often get the same vibe from the crowd, and everyone has a better time for it.
The last time you were here in Manila for a jam-packed show, you had a couple of interesting encounters with fans. Can you remember anything from these?
Martin: We met a lot of people in Manila when we were there the last time. I remember kind of getting a lot of people at the DJ set that we played after the show one night. We had to escape at the back door. We met so many people. It was incredible.
The fans in Manila and the Philippines have really taken us by the hearts, and we’re really grateful for that. It was important for us to get back to the Philippines as soon as possible, and you can see that. We’ve managed to make it back in time, [in the] midway stage of the [Every Open Eye album] campaign.
Listen to the band speak about their November 2014 Manila concert at a media Q&A at Laneway Singapore 2016:
Now, let’s talk about your new record. What were the best and worst parts of working on it?
Martin: I’d say the best thing about working on it was the relief of finally being home in the studio again after months and months of working away and touring. Came back to what we were best at: creating in that room like we always wanted to. We had an amazing time recording this record.
There were some challenges, of course. We set ourselves really high standards, and maintaining the quality of control of the first album was the key challenge, you know. We wanted to make sure we made a record we could really stand behind and something that could live up to [the first album] – I think we did that.
Can you talk about some of your favorite tracks off it?
Martin: Probably “Clearest Blue.” I think it’s one that really stood out. It didn’t take a long time to write. It really just kind of poured out of us.
I kind of like “Bury It” a lot as well. It was a song that went through a number of hilly demo stages before we eventually found the voice of that song. I’m really proud of the record as a whole.
You’ve done a few fun covers, but I’d like to focus on your take on Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” What drew you to cover the song? What do you like about it?
Martin: I just thought that it was really a clever piece of writing. That Bieber song, you know, is something that had a really immediate melody. I like how sort of understated it was in the original recording.
Actually, we did what we do, and turned up the heat a little bit on it. But you know, it’s like – I can appreciate good writing, good pop, no matter where it’s coming from, you know. I think it’s mandated more than ever: it’s okay to like what you like.
Would you consider performing a song by another artist at your shows? What would it be?
Martin: I don’t know if we would be covering anything new in a short time. But probably if I was to cover something next week, it would be the new Beyoncé song. I think that’s amazing. “Formation,” it’s called, I think.
new beyonce is amazing— martin doherty (@doksan) February 7, 2016
What’s one geeky fandom that all of you share?
Martin: You mean like a fandom that we all appreciate? Star Wars is a safe bet. We all went to the cinema to see it [The Force Awakens] on opening night. We loved it.
What can you say to your fans here awaiting your return?
Martin: I just want to say to the fans in Manila: thank you for sticking by the band, and we hope to repay that by coming back again and again. And I suppose as long as people want to listen to our music in the Philippines, we’ll be there to play for you guys. I’m very, very excited to be back.
CHVRCHES will be playing with Passion Pit, Stars, Oh Wonder, Busy P, and more at GoodVybes Fest. The music festival will be held at the Aseana City Open Grounds in Parañaque City on February 20, Saturday. – Rappler.com
Paolo Abad is the Desk Editor for the Lifestyle & Entertainment sections of Rappler. A self-confessed concert junkie, he used to cover mid-sized gigs and stadium shows for the site as a contributing writer and photographer before joining full time.
Banner photo by Paolo Abad/Rappler