Sitting in the kitchen of her flat in Glasgow, Chvrches‘ Lauren Mayberry is daydreaming about having her own superhero-style cape.
The 27-year-old Scot has become a real life hero to thousands of young people over two years of constant touring with the arena-packing electronic outfit. The intelligent, melody-heavy synth pop she makes with bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty has caught the popular imagination across continents, sparking a passionate and vocal fanbase of people who will tell you that Chvrches is ‘their band’. Anticipation was thunderous ahead of their new album, Every Open Eye, which came out on 25 September.
But it’s more than that.
Lauren’s voice is at least as powerful when she’s not singing hits like The Mother We Share, or shimmering latest single Leave a Trace. She is a vocal supporter of street papers, taking part in INSP’s #VendorWeek in February to support international street paper sellers. And she has garnered many, many headlines for speaking out about the intense levels of online misogyny that women face when they are in the public eye. With comment columns for The Guardian and an appearance on Channel 4 News, she is rapidly becoming a figurehead for the new feminism.
That has, she says, had the effect of “painting a target on my back”. The grindingly predictable scumbags of 4Chan, plus assorted other online misogynists, have completely lost the head at this woman, who looks like a china doll but is whip-smart and indomitable. So they have embarked on a campaign of rape and murder threats that would be shocking if they weren’t so common.
Lauren hasn’t backed down one jot. Which is why a cape is in order.
“It’s firefighting on all fronts,” she says of her battle against the trolls. “I can’t ban them from real life but I can ban them from the Facebook page, so that they don’t say abusive and horrible things to the other fans. It’s within my power to change that. But I can’t do it in real life.”
That’s a shame. “Yeah. I’d like to see an anime cartoon of that. I like to think I’ve got a cape in this scenario, and I’m going around blocking people in real life. ‘Get away from her! Get away from her! POW POW POW!!'”
To anyone who tries to brush this stuff off as “just silly boys on the internet”, Lauren has a clear message: “If you think that those guys turn off their computers and walk away and conduct themselves in a respectful and sensible way and don’t have those opinions in real life – you are very naïve.”
When Lauren first walked into the offices of The Big Issue, as a student journalist on work experience in 2010, it’d be fair to say that none of our team guessed she’d be a worldwide star and bona fide leader of (wo)men in a couple of years. Honestly – as the arts editor at the time – I thought she seemed a bit on the quiet side, at least by comparison to rest of that passionate and animated office. Time hasn’t half proved me wrong.
Her copy was always sharp, though, and so she became a semi-regular freelancer for a while. Looking back at her journalistic experience now, Lauren says it was helpful in allowing her to effectively control the band’s public image – and her own.
“It helped to have my head screwed on in terms of the media stuff around the band,” she explains. “Coming into this band and having even a small amount of media background helped in terms of putting us on the offensive a little at the start. Maybe that sounds quite sad – and at the time I wondered if I was being overly paranoid or overly cynical – but I was very aware about how people would try and write about our band and what they would try and make us into. And what they would try and make me into specifically.”
Lauren, Martin and Iain are all aware that they could sell more records, and get more media if they were a bit more willing to push their striking singer out in front and allow the beardy blokes to fade into the background. Sex sells in all industries, and that goes double for music. “But I always ask myself – would people say that to Thom Yorke? Would they say that to Alex Turner? They both front a band but the band is still a band.”
With a contrary sense of humour, Chvrches now enjoys every time they force a magazine that really wanted to put “the 20-something-year-old girl” on their cover to also include the “30-something-year-old guys with beards”.
“When it happens it’s just sweet, sweet joy,” laughs Lauren. “We don’t fit in the cookie-cutter mould of what a band that sounds like us should look like. But we made that music in a basement in Pollokshields. We didn’t have someone A&Ring us from the off, we weren’t made in a label laboratory. If I was 16 and reading about our band, I think I’d find that to be pretty fucking cool.”
Plenty of 16-year-olds have indeed been drawn to Chvrches’ authenticity. They have sets at Coachella and Glastonbury under their belts and their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was released in autumn 2013.
“It’s amazing to play massive festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury, but the other side is just seeing how much people have brought that music into their own lives,” says Lauren. “The emo teenager inside of me lives on, because when people say to us after a show why a certain song means something to them or an experience they’ve had and why that resonated with them, I always find that stuff incredibly touching and really important.
“I just have to quietly excuse myself at meet-and-greats and signings every once in a while so that I can go have an emotional cry in the car park and them come back.”
For Every Open Eye, Lauren says fans can expect a “record it sounds a lot more sure of itself, musically and lyrically. It feels like a Chvrches album, but slightly more assertive.” It’s the sound of a band whose hard choices have been vindicated – an evolution of an already clearly thought-out vision.
Presumably thinking ‘if it ain’t broke…’, the band followed a very similar process to the last record. Eschewing big time producers or glamorous recording locations, they returned to Glasgow for another round of intensive self-produced recording sessions. But thanks to her personal connection to The Big Issue, Lauren was keen to take some time out from the basement to support this year’s #VendorWeek.
An annual celebration of the 14,000 men and women who are using street papers to turn their lives around, #VendorWeek featured a series of guest vendor events this year in countries as far-flung as Australia, the US, Greece, Denmark and Switzerland. In Glasgow, Lauren donned the red vest of the UK’s Big Issue and spent an hour selling the magazine in the bitter cold of a Scottish winter.
“Street papers are an incredibly powerful thing,” she says. “It’s a way of giving people back control and autonomy in their lives. The people working selling it on the street – I can’t imagine how painful it is to feel like everything has been taken away from you – and the idea that they’re able to take control of a certain aspect of their lives, and make money, and have that kind of purpose is really awesome.
“But it’s also really hard. We were only out there for one hour and it was freezing. I was lucky that people came and bought papers from me because they knew about the band. Were that not the case, I don’t think I would have shifted even a tiny percentage of what I managed to sell that day.”
Nonetheless, Lauren is unwilling to be too critical of the people who just walk on by when they see a vendor. “It’s not even that people who walk past street paper vendors are bad people, it’s just that we’ve learned to look away because it makes us uncomfortable,” she explains. “I think that was what that day said to me – just how easy it is to ignore something that you don’t think is your problem, but how terrible it is to do that.”
Just as she’s started a conversation about how to deal with misogyny and online trolls, Lauren was keen to talk to her fans about getting behind street papers. Through putting more than 100 copies of the magazine in the hands of young people who are “probably not people who would think in their day-to-day about buying The Big Issue”, she hopes to have encouraged a new generation of regular buyers.
She may not have a cape yet, but you can see why their young fans think Lauren Mayberry and Chvrches are already super heroes enough.