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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Thursday 26th September, 2013 9:46AM

Glaswegian indie pop trio Chvrches burst, seemingly from nowhere, onto the international music landscape eighteen months ago with single 'Lies', and quickly followed that up with an official single-turned-hit, 'The Mother We Share'. Although the band has risen rapidly, all three members have long - and at points pretty torturous - musical careers. UnderTheRadar caught up with Iain Cook (a few months ago actually, during their first Australian tour) to discuss this new band, as well as his years playing in Glaswegian shoegaze bands, before deciding to write "music people actually want to hear".

Hey Iain, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?

We’re in Sydney at the moment and then I believe we’re heading to Melbourne.

Are you excited about playing Australia?

Yes very excited, this is great! This is our first time personally or band-wise in Australia so yesterday was just a case of fighting the jet-lag and and we’re over the worst of it now so we’re really excited.

And the shows are in pretty small venues for the popularity that Chvrches has now, so that should be fun.

Yeah I think they're about 500-capacity venues or something. When we booked the shows I think we just wanted to see what was here for us and if people were interested or not. It’s great that they sold out so quickly so hopefully next time we’ll play slightly bigger places.

I’m interested in talking about your personal music career a little bit first, because you've had a myriad projects before Chvrches, right?

OK, well I guess the main band that I was involved with was a band called Aereogramme – I’m trying to think where it started. Craig (B.) - who was the singer and main songwriter in that band - and I had been friends for a long time and started working together around 1993 – perhaps a little earlier. We went in and out of different projects, and he formed a band with a guy called Campbell McNeill who is actually Chvrches' manager now, and I joined them half-way through recording the first album, and then toured all over the place with them. I did that for a number of years and we made a few records, which I’m still very proud of. But it came to a point where we'd reached our peak and we couldn’t take it any further – we certainly weren’t making any money from it so it was very difficult to sustain.

On the last record that we made as Aereogramme, called My Heart is a Wish that you Would Not Go, we had a certain Martin Doherty on-board helping with production and he became a touring member of the band on the last few tours we did together. Obviously Martin is now in Chvrches with me so that was the beginning of our relationship creatively.

After Aereogramme there was a gap of a few years, and Craig and I started a band called the Unwinding Hours, which picked up where Aereogramme had left off but with just the two of us, and we made a couple of albums and did a few tours, particularly in Europe. Likewise with Aereogramme the Germans were really into what we were doing so we were happy to go back there and play shows, and I think that’s probably something that we’ll dip in and out of over the years. I feel like Craig and I have an ongoing creative partnership and I would hate to draw a line under that, and say that we’re never working together again because we've had very fruitful collaborations in the past and we’ll probably re-visit those in the future, but for the time being this band is my main and only concern – I'm just trying to put everything that I can into it.

How did Chvrches form and how did you develop the sound for Chvrches, because it’s quite a lot poppier than your earlier projects, right?

Yeah, it really is. I guess it all came back to one night on tour with Aereogramme, when things were going horrendously badly. There was one show we turned up to in Texas where we arrived at the venue and there was no-one there, and the cleaner told us that the gig had been cancelled due to an overwhelming lack of interest. It was one of the darkest days of my life so far, and it was the point at which we realised that no-one gave a fuck about our band. That tour was bad, but, there was one night during which Martin and I sat down in a hotel and were like “let’s just do something that people actually want to hear”. Also, when you play that indie-rock music a lot of the time you’ve got a room full – or in our case half-full – of beardy guys stroking their chins and nodding and getting really emotional, which is lovely, but we wanted to do music that would energise people and get people dancing, because it’s something I’d never experienced before as a musician. We talked about this on and off for a few years – this was in 2007 – and finally got some time where our calendars aligned and we were able to sit down in my studio for a few days with no plans and no road map. We quickly realised that there was a really rich vein of creativity that hadn’t been explored before. We went at it as fast as we could, just getting ideas down. At this same time I was working with Lauren (Mayberry) on her Blue Sky Archives EP, and I played Martin a couple of her tunes and he loved it. I sneakily asked her if she wanted to come down to the studio and hear what we were working on and try out some backing vocals. She did, luckily, and we put some backing vocals down and quickly realised that if we muted the lead vocals we had an amazing lead vocalist on our hands, so from that point on we started talking about how to move forward. We started writing together as a three piece and quickly realised we were going to try and make a go of it.

The Chvrches sound, while it definitely is poppier than your earlier work, still encompasses a morose, shoegaze attitude, right?

That’s absolutely the case and it’s why we hesitate sometimes to refer to the band as synth-pop or electro-pop, and I’m glad that you picked up on that. It’s in our bones. We’ve been playing in indie rock bands for years and writing darker, deeper material than a lot of the stuff you might hear on the radio charts. It comes down to a taste thing I think. Whenever we put down a really up-tempo rhythm track, we feel like we have to pull it in the other direction with the lyrics or something else. Vice versa, if the lyrics are really up-beat we want to redress the balance by making the music darker and harder. It all comes down to personal taste when we’re in the studio – we’re waiting to get to a point that feels right for all three of us.

I think the other thing is that Glasgow is a very rainy city and a very dour outlook or whatever and so we can't help it.

Glasgow has a strong heritage of shoegaze music – did you feel part of that growing up as a musician?

Very much so - that’s exactly what we listened to. We were all big fans of the music coming out of Chemical Underground – Mogwai, Arab Strap and Aereogramme was on Chemical Underground too. That's definitely in our musical DNA and it 100% makes us part of that city and that city’s musical output. Glasgow does have a poppier side top though because you have bands like Teenage Fanclub and Orange Juice and more recently Franz Ferdinand who are bright, poppy upstarts.

But even though those artists write pop, they're still quite intellectual about what they do which seems to be quite unique to Glasgwegian bands.

I think so, it must be the rain – I’m putting it down to the rain.

You've been in bands before that haven’t picked up the momentum you would have liked. It happened for Chvrches pretty quickly – how did it feel to be part of something that was gaining traction so quickly?

It was something that really took us by surprise. We had no idea how our music would be received because no-one had heard it aside from our friends - we were locked in that studio for months before we put anything live online. So when we did and people reacted to it so strongly we were very much taken by surprise, but we were also aware we had to get things moving really quickly in terms of learning how to play it live. By that point we’d also written the bulk of the album, so we were as prepared as we could have been. If we’d only had a few songs written at the point at which it started to go mental we probably would have lost it a little, but luckily we were reasonably well-prepared.

It’s been a really interesting year since our first show which was in July 2012. We’re asked about being a “buzz band” quite a lot, which is a term that I think is a little fraught...anyway for us it’s just a case of focussing on the task at hand and taking it day by day, and not concentrating too much on what people are saying about us, which is distracting either way. If people are saying that we’re great then it’s not helpful and neither is people saying we're terrible. We just need to stay focussed on what we’re doing.

I guess the focus at the moment is on releasing the debut album The Bones of What You Believe. Tell me about writing and recording the songs the record.

It’s been a continuous process since that day I mentioned when we went into the studio. Any spare time we’ve had we’ve been writing and recording in that basement studio – we’ve recorded everything in there apart from one vocal, which was done in our motel room in El Paso. There was never a break where we said “OK, that’s the album written, let’s go to another studio and do this”. We were very keen to keep the whole thing in-house and make it a personal musical statement that was 100% us – we didn’t want to involve another producer, or tart it up in some fancy studio.

Now that it’s a finished product and you can see it as a full body of work, is there anything sonically or thematically that stands out as the glue that holds the album together?

Yes, definitely. There are two songs that appear on the album that have Martin singing lead, and we put those – if you’re listening to the record on vinyl – at the end of Side A and at the end of Side B (we sequenced the album as if it was a record because that’s how we like to listen to music). I think those two songs in a way glue the record together, because Martin has a lot of backing vocals on the record as do I, and so for the most part it’s about three voices. Those two songs allow people to see the other side of the band. I think we’ve always thought it was really important that this is a band, and that there are three personalities and three voices. You know how you get these bands where it’s like “here’s the young pop starlet with two producers”? That was never our intention from day one – we’ve always been keen to assert each member of the band as an integral creative part. So those songs 'Under the Tide' and 'You've got the Light' represent a darker, more melancholy side to what we do and I think they help to hold everything together.

Over the past year or so you’ve had some amazing experiences. Is there anything that sticks out as the most memorable experience?

Yeah it’s all been pretty crazy. Actaully playing the Jimmy Fallon show in America was probably one of the most surreal experiences that we’ve had. Playing that show that we’ve seen so many times on television and seen so many of our favourite bands play was simultaneously terrifying and amazing. Also playing in front of the Roots who are one of the best bands on the planet was really scary too.

And Jimmy Fallon rules so it must have been awesome to meet him…

Yeah is amazing, he’s such a lovely guy.