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CHVRCHES: Scottish Synth Romantics Maintain a Refined Human Touch


Who: Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, the production duo behind Scottish synth-pop upstarts CHVRCHES, met in the right place: a “computer music” class at the University of Glasgow. Having long played in separate but intersecting indie-rock outfits, the two set time aside to finally collaborate without guitars or a “roadmap” in August of 2011. Once they had some demos in hand, Cook, 38, approached Blue Sky Archives frontdynamo Lauren Mayberry to come by the studio and sing over them. “It was immediately a great fit,” Cook says. “The thing that attracted me to her voice was how idiosyncratic it was: it’s unmistakably unique and it didn’t sound in any way like a generic electronic artist’s might. Her accent comes across really strongly but it’s quite natural. You hear some bands, especially from Glasgow — and I’m not naming any names — whose accents [on recordings] can sound much stronger than when they actually talk. With Lauren, that’s how she sounds when she talks. “

Cloud Cover: “I think the weather has a massive influence on the music that comes out of Britain,” Cook says, pointing to northern cities like Glasgow and Manchester in particular. “There’s a melancholy that comes from perpetual grayness and clouds and colds. It’s inseparable.” And while he concedes that said melancholy might be difficult to detect amid the candied surfaces and effervescent melodies of CHVRCHES’ debut EP, Recover, Cook insists it’s there. “That vein runs through everything we do,” he says, just days after wrapping up the recording of the trio’s first full-length last month. “Lyrically, and in the melodies, I think that’s something that we can never really shake even if we wanted to.” 

Organic Android: But the transition from guitars to synths, Cook adds, was surprisingly fluid. “It sounds really cheesy, but it’s just about doing what sounds right,” he says of maintaining some semblance of the organic. “We think of ourselves as an ‘indie’ band in a lot of ways, but instead of guitars we use synths. We tend to distort things and drive things and put them through boxes. Electronic artists have really pure synthetic sounds, but we beef them up a bit to make them sound a bit more lively. We push the vocal element — the treatments and backing vocals — to make everything more human.”

Cram Session: When their first MP3, “Lies,” appeared online last May, there was an intense demand for live performances before CHVRCHES had even rehearsed. “It was bloody terrifying,” Cook says of their first official gig at Glasgow’s Stereo club. “A lot of people came up from London record companies; A&R guys and publishers. The pressure was really high, and we’d only done a couple of secret shows under a different name, just to ensure that we could do it and it wouldn’t be awful. But our friend runs the venue so we managed to get it for a couple of days before, just so we were able to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse in the room we were actually going to be playing in.” He laughs. “We weren’t expecting anyone to give a fuck, but we were delighted when they did.”