“We’re not a band who will put out one-off things, we want to make statements …” - hmv.com talks to CHVRCHES
Chvrches re-release their all-conqeuring second album Every Open Eye this week, complete with eight extra tracks, including 'Warning Call' from the Mirror's Edge Catalyst soundtrack and a new version of 'Bury It' with Paramore's Hayley Williams.
Before the album came out last September, we spoke to multi-instrumentalist Iain Cook about the making of Every Open Eye, getting ready for the biggest stages and why they ended up channelling Michael Jackson in the studio…
Your new album Every Open Eye is out today, are you nervous or just excited for people to get their hands on it?
“It’s a weird mixture of both. I remember feeling like this right before our first album dropped, you’re full of nerves and anxiety, but more than anything this time it’ll just be great for it not to be a secret anymore. We’re sitting on all these songs and feeling great about them and we just need people to hear them, it’s a nice relief it’s out.”
How long did the album take all in all? Did you start writing on tour?
“We did little bits of demoing on tour, mainly towards the end of the campaign, we started writing and recording on the 15th of January and we wrapped in the middle of June so it was a solid five months. We used the demos as a starting point, but mostly with this band it’s what happens in the studio that makes CHVRCHES sound like CHVRCHES.”
You self-produced the album again, are you pretty self-sufficient as a band?
“Absolutely. Me and Martin (Doherty, multi-instrumentalist) have backgrounds in the music production and it comes naturally to us, but, that said, we’d never done anything on this scale before. We were a bit nervous and we did talk about getting an outside producer in, but in the end we decided to stick to our guns and do it ourselves. I’m glad we did too, it’s important for us to do it ourselves, whether it goes well or not, we need to be able to stand behind it and not have other people come in and write songs. I know that’s rare for a band these days, but for us it feels like the right thing to do.”
How it did compare to making the first record? Did it change how you worked knowing that there were people waiting for you to deliver an album this time?
“It was certainly at the back of our minds, we knew there was a degree of expectation, but we were quite careful to safeguard the studio environment from all that. It doesn’t help creativity if you’ve got this hammer hanging over your head. Pretty soon after we started and we realised that the creative dynamic was still there we stopped worrying.”
Have you got a lot more gear than you used to have?
“We do. It’s great because quite a lot of the time actually all the new technology we get ends up inspiring us, we find new sounds and new sparks. For the second album instead of taking the money we were given to make the record and putting it into somebody else’s pocket or going off to LA and having a nice time, we thought it’d be better to invest the money in building up our own studio. So we went out and bought our dream synthesisers and decked the place out. It saved a lot of time too, we’ve got access to a lot more sounds now, it definitely sped up how we wrote.”
For guys who love music production and synthesisers making your studio must have been a lot of fun…
“Absolutely, we were on tour while it was getting built so we were getting email updates the whole time and seeing it come to life. Walking into it for the first time was so cool.”
Self-producing an album is always a challenge, did you miss having a third party in the room to give you discipline and guidance?
“We’ve got a pretty full-on work ethic and good quality control in this band. We’ll never let anything out of the studio we’re not totally happy with, if the album had taken two years that would have been a viable option. We didn’t have a release date and we told our manager and our label not to put any pressure on us. We were pretty disciplined, we did seven hours a day, five days a week, we’d do five ideas in the first week, then five more the week after, then the week after that we’d go back to the first five. We carried on like that until we had it done. It gave us perspective on the material, if you keep hammering away at a song you can lose what’s great about it.”
When you make music electronically there must always be a temptation to add too much, how did you keep things lean?
“We’ve learned a lot on the first record about that. When we were making The Bones Of What You Believe we only had three synthesisers so there was a lot of layering, but if you do too much of that it actually makes the record sound a lot smaller, so this time we wanted larger sounds and fewer elements. We were really inspired by what Quincy Jones did with Michael Jackson, you take a song like ‘Billie Jean’ and there’s only three or four things going on at any one time, but it’s so carefully crafted it sounds huge, we wanted to make things bigger and punchier.”
Were there any songs that took a lot longer than others?
“The most problematic was ‘Afterglow’, it started life as this uptempo Erasure-like pop song and we couldn’t agree on what to do with it. We almost threw it out and it was only on the last day we had the idea to slow it right down. It was a bit of revelation, we’ve never done anything that stripped back and emotional, it’s a great way to close the record.”
How does it work lyrically? Do you leave that all up to Lauren (Mayberry, singer)?
“We don’t put the lyrics on until the song is nearly and a melody is in place. She takes the demos away and gets ideas down, then when it comes to put it all together we sit down and refine it line by line and make it all fit together. I guess that’s unusual, I know bands who are lyric-driven, but that’s not how we work.”
Do you get a sense that this album is about a broader spectrum of topics than The Bones Of What You Believe?
“I think so. I can see Lauren maturing as a writer, the first album was a lot more scattershot in terms of what the songs were about, this is more consistent.”
Martin sings one of the tracks on the album again, do you think you’ll do with every album you do?
“We had a discussion and we decided it wasn’t massively important, if the song demanded it then we’d do it. It didn’t matter if there were two or three songs by him, or none at all, it was just that song suited his voice and didn’t really work when we tried it with Lauren’s. It’s fun to change things up a bit.”
Where did the title come from? Obviously it’s a line from ‘Clearest Blue’, but why did you decide it summed up the record?
“We’ve had a mad couple of years and at times it’s been kind of overwhelming, it’s been great, but exhausting. We like the duality of that line, it’s not necessarily a negative thing and not necessarily a positive thing.”
You’ve got some big shows coming up, are you having fun putting your live show together?
“We’ve stepped up the production, we’ve got a new light show and new video show, I can’t wait for people to see it. People seemed to like what we did on our last tour a lot and we wanted to step it up.”
Are there any shows you’ve really taken inspiration from in putting the show together?
“I remember seeing Nine Inch Nails about eight years ago and they had all these big solid colours on these huge screens. That’s what we like, really powerful lights and screens, not too much going on.”
Do you think you’ll do as much touring as you did for the first record?
“I hope not. It was fun, but exhausting. If it goes well then we’ll be doing a lot, put it that way.”
A lot of dance music is pretty geared towards singles now, but you guys still feel like you’re driven by making albums...
“It does feel a bit like people are gravitating a bit towards playlists. We think of ourselves as a career band, but we’re not a band who will put out one-off things, we want to make statements with our albums.”
CHVRCHES’ new album Every Open Eye is out now.