Lauren Mayberry, lead singer of the Scottish synthpop band Chvrches, is more than a songwriter. The 27 year old holds a master’s degree in journalism and runs the online feminist magazine and blog TYCI. We spoke with Mayberry about political songwriting, The Cure and the aftereffects of the piece she wrote for The Guardian about the pervasive sexism in rock and roll.
You’ve been fairly outspoken as a feminist, and there are certainly some feminist overtones in your songs. How much do you find that feminism plays into your songwriting?
For me and most other women, feminism is political, but it’s also personal. It’s something you think about in your day-to-day life and in your personal relationships. A lot has changed for me personally and professionally in the last couple years, and this album does feel politically more assertive than the first record, and I think that is probably because of a shift in the way I look at things and how I conduct myself in the world.
Do you try to hold those opinions back when you’re writing?
I don’t think so. Although we’re not a political band in a way that something like Rage Against the Machine is, I think those things come out in your writing if that’s how you are as a person. I like to write from my own personal perspective, so everything I write in my lyrics is from personal experience. We want to be genuine and authentic in all aspects of our writing, so it makes sense for me to write lyrics in my own voice about how I feel about things. There’s never really been a discussion between us about whether we should try and reach into certain parts about how we think and what we feel. It’s very democratic between the three of us. I guess it’s about trusting people to do their part the best and giving them the space and freedom to do that, but then also having an equal say on everything and making sure everyone feels comfortable and agrees.
How do you balance the responsibilities of editing your magazine, TYCI, with the responsibilities of the band?
The good thing about TYCI is that we run most of it online. There are a handful of ladies in Glasgow that I run it with, and we have shared planning groups and work through email and Google Docs. We can run it with each other even if we’re in different time zones. I think it’s good for me to have something to focus on that is creative but isn’t necessarily related to the band. It’s really quite calming for me, maybe because it has to do with the things I used to do for work. I think it’s nice to have some outside work to focus on, and it’s also a very positive space to be in. Sometimes I only have a half hour a day to do something, even if it’s just checking my inbox or scheduling a post, but it makes a difference to everybody else. I do it year-round, so I need to organize my time more carefully. If I’m working during a band week when there’s a lot of promo and there might not be Wi-Fi, I try to schedule posts in advance and do work when I have internet and have time. Everyone just gets on when they’ve got time to. Google Docs has been a life-saver because we’re able to leave each other random notes.
Have you seen a reduction in the negatives messages you receive since your piece about online misogyny ran in The Guardian, and have you found better ways to cope with them when you come across them?
I think the main difference we see is the way people talk to us about it. For me, I always think there’s a sliding scale of sexism in the world. There’s the very obvious horrible and heinous aspects of it, but there’s also everyday things you see. Now when people write about our band and the fact it has a woman in it, at least they write about it in reference to feminism. There are hundreds of pieces about our band before we made that statement which are just about the way I look, or likening me to a “little elf pixie.”
But the best thing is when we do signings and young guys and girls tell us that what we’ve talked about resonates with them, and that, to me, is the great thing about promoting conversation about those kinds of things. If that makes someone feel less isolated, I think that’s a good thing. For me, that was the main overriding feeling; it does feel isolating to be out there by yourself. I think making a statement on it was helpful for us in terms of feeling like we could be more in control of the situation. We can’t control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we react to them and how we respond. The best thing we can do is shine a light on it and continue to do what we’re doing in exactly the way we want, because that’s what I think those comments and threats are about. It’s about scaring and intimidating you into not doing what you want to do because it makes somebody uncomfortable. The best revenge you can have is to continue to make them as uncomfortable as you like.
What is your songwriting process like?
Normally we’ll start with an instrumental sketch of a song, so we’ll get hooked on a sound, a sample or a beat, and once we get it to a certain demo stage, I’ll go write the lyrics while Iain and [Martin] work on the production. Then we’ll come back together and talk about how we need to adapt the production, or what works and what doesn’t. It’s very collaborative.
This time around, it felt like we knew each other a lot better and how each other works a lot better. There was a lot more trust and respect in the writing process, so no one had a problem with me going off and writing for a day and I didn’t worry about not being in the studio while they were working. I feel that we’re all very much on the same page about what we envision for the band.
Who are your favorite songwriters?
I grew up listening to a lot of indie rock stuff, so I don’t know that I’d be the person I am today without stuff like Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie and things like that. For some time, some people viewed that as painfully uncool, but I feel like, from my point of view, it doesn’t really matter what kind of music we’re making, as long as I can feel that the emotional content is real. That can be true in any type of music. You can hear it in dance music, classical, or a pop song here on the radio. As long as somebody is really putting themselves and their whole heart into what they’re writing, you can tell the difference between that and something that was created in a lab.
What is the most perfect song ever written and why?
My karaoke jam that I always want to do, but I’m too scared because I’m sure everybody does it, is [Don Henley’s] “Boys of Summer.” I think it just sums up that time and that place in music and the feeling of being that age and having that experience. It sums all of that up so perfectly. I probably have fond memories of it because my dad was a big Don Henley/Eagles fan. As an adult, I don’t know if I should love it as much as I do, but it still has that special place in my heart.
What has the highlight of your career as a songwriter been so far?
I feel proud of us at this point because we’ve grown a lot as people and as writers since we’ve been a part of this band, but I think the proudest moment for me was when we listened back to this record. I feel like it’s the first time we’ve properly made an album, if that makes sense. The first record, as much as we were all really proud of it, felt like a collection of songs. It was a summary of where we were at that point, but it was written over such a protracted period of time, I don’t know how coherent it felt. I listen to this record and feel that it should all exist as one body of work. It feels thematically and sonically more connected and a lot more sure of itself than the first album.
If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would you choose?
The Cure, probably. We’re all huge Cure fans. As much as we all generally listen to different music, we all agree on certain bands like Radiohead and Depeche Mode. And I think Disintegration by The Cure is one of my favorite albums of all time. Give us a call, guys.