(First published in Electronic Sound magazine #81, September 2021)
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Her early inspirations include Annie, Whitney and… Louis. And if you’ve ever done something unspeakable in a Glasgow urinal, then Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry has a few things to say about you
Interview: Bob Fischer
“My mum always played Whitney in the house when we were kids, and I was deeply obsessed with the film The Bodyguard… which I don’t think is that appropriate for a child! To me, she was just the most beautiful person. Full stop. She had the voice, but I was also amazed by her skin, and when she sang vibrato I’d think ‘Even Whitney’s tongue is beautiful!’ To the child me, she was just perfect.
“Time has shown that she was one in a million. More than that. In primary school, we had to write ‘What I Want To Do When I Grow Up’. And I either wanted to work at John Menzies, or be the person who got Whitney Houston’s food shopping for her! Now I’ve experienced a tiny percentage of that level of attention, it makes me sad that my childhood self clearly wanted Whitney to be taken care of. And my adult self is sad that no-one really did take care of her.”
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU
“When you talk about feminism, people always want you to have an intense academic discovery story. But my 12-year-old entry level was 10 Things I Hate About You. I remember leaving the cinema thinking ‘Kat Stratford is the coolest person I’ve ever seen in my life’. She reads The Bell Jar. And Heath Ledger’s character is talking about a band, and he says ‘They’re no Raincoats or Bikini Kill, but they’re OK’! They’re all Hollywood-ised versions of the discussion, but as a 12-year-old I’d never heard about any of these things.
“It’s based on The Taming Of The Shrew, and it has a knowing intelligence. And I think I might be the reason Borders bookshop in Glasgow went bust, because I’d go there and read all their feminist books in the seating area, then put them back! And now, I love the idea that 12-year-old girls going to Taylor Swift shows might pick up the same message. I’ve grown up to be a cantankerous and rage-filled woman, and I found it from a teen movie! [Laughs] You get there how you get there.”
SHE BANGS THE DRUMS
“I learned to play the drums when I was 14 because I was into bands like Jimmy Eat World and Foo Fighters. But also – I was doing Higher Music at High School in Scotland. We needed to be able to perform with two instruments, and I didn’t want my two instruments to be piano and voice. Because I thought singing was deeply embarrassing and I wasn’t very good at it! I didn’t want to spend a year singing in front of roomfuls of people and a board of examiners. So I thought if I learned drums over the course of the summer, I’d never have to sing in front of people again…
“That plan did not work out! But it’s interesting to look back. It was about insecurity and confidence, and I’ve had to work on that a lot – that idea of standing in front of people, wanting to be the centre of attention. With Chvrches, I’ve had to figure out how to do that.”
“I studied journalism at university, because I was obsessed with Louis Theroux! My entry essay was about Louis, Nick Broomfield and Jon Snow from Channel 4 News. But Louis was my favourite, because he approaches his interviews with both curiosity and empathy, and the subjects he covers are so broad. For any creative person, trying to understand people is a big part of what we do. So in theory, Chvrches’ music has nothing to do with Louis Theroux’s documentaries, but I feel it’s all motivated by the same stuff – why are we the way we are? Why am I like this to you, and why are you like this to me?
“Although when I was trying to get into TV, I never wanted to be a presenter. I wanted to be involved with researching. Just as, with the band I was in before Chvrches, I was never the frontperson – again, I was playing drums and keyboards. I guess you don’t know what’s good for you, really…”
“I think you can immediately tell the difference between a musician who’s worked a minimum wage job in a bar, and one who hasn’t. Even to this day, when we have the longest Chvrches work days of our lives, I am not as dog fucking tired as I was at the end of that. If you’re doing a job to pay for your rent there’s a different mentality to your music. It’s forged in a fire. You can’t fuck around. And I think it informs how grateful you are, and how much you want to work for it.
“Every time anyone says something about the band, I think ‘You know what? I cleaned a lot of fucking urinals to get to where I am, so I don’t feel bad about it.’ Maybe now things look very shiny, but I tell you… there needs to be an academic study on why drunk men in Glasgow like to shit in urinals. When we’re playing big shows, I think… never forget where you come from. I have cleaned several turds out of urinals, and I feel like that’s the making of the person.”
“When I was a kid, my mum had Annie Lennox’s album Diva. We listened to it on the way to school, on the way home, on evenings and weekends. My older sister and I became so obsessed with this album, we tried to recreate the cover – which is such an amazing, striking image. We were at home, and I remember having a red scarf wrapped around my head and lipstick all over my face, thinking ‘Yes! We’ve nailed it!’. As an adult, I know that Annie Lennox is really fucking cool. As a kid, I wasn’t picking up on that – but I guess it’s an early example of art making you feel something and want to do something. The seed was sown.
“And then… we worked with Dave Stewart around the time of the last Chvrches album. And we were having dinner, and Dave said ‘By the way, Annie’s coming down’. I almost fell off my chair. She was incredibly lovely, thoughtful, intelligent and kind, but I didn’t tell her that I’d once dressed up as the cover of ‘Diva’! I tried not to be weird. I didn’t want to make her feel weird. I just stared at her, then looked away when she looked over… [Laughs]”
The new Chvrches album Screen Violence is out now.
Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” –is published monthly, and available here:
Support the Haunted Generation website with a Ko-fi donation… thanks!