Chvrches takes a live approach to electronica

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There’s a video on YouTube that features Chvrches members Martin Doherty and Iain Cook (and their MIDI tech) showing off all the equipment they use on tour. For non-gearheads, their rig probably seems mind-bogglingly complex, with all of its computers and rack effects.

What’s most striking, though, is that in spite of all the electronics, the Glasgow-based trio operates very much as a live band, with the three members playing (or at least triggering) everything in real time.

“There’s a lot of complicated setup involved in harnessing all the different keyboards and making it all be in time and triggering properly,” Doherty acknowledges when the Straight reaches him by phone at a Chicago tour stop. “I mean, you could just karaoke your way through a set. But coming from a live-music background, we’d never do something like that.”

Indeed, all the members of Chvrches are veterans of the Glasgow music scene. Cook was a member of Aereogramme and the Unwinding Hours, and his old university friend Doherty was part of the Twilight Sad’s touring lineup. Singer-lyricist Lauren Mayberry’s previous projects include Boyfriend/Girlfriend and Blue Sky Archives. When the three got together, they decided to form a synthesizer-based outfit, forgoing live drums in favour of electronic beats.

“I think it’s just the way that made the most sense to us,” Doherty says, “the way that we could maximize as a three-piece, playing to all our strengths. I’m sure if there was a phenomenal drummer in the band, maybe it would be one person on kit, one person on keys. I mean, I look at a kid like [New Zealand–based drummer] Ben Barter—what he brings to the Lorde show is incredible. I think he’s a great player. There’s many ways to skin a cat in terms of electronic music, just as long as it’s not the climbing-up-and-pushing-Play method. That doesn’t work for me.”

That approach would also get pretty mind-numbing after months on the road. Chvrches has been on tour pretty much constantly since the spring of 2013, when its debut EP, Recover, was released. That was followed, in September of that year, by the trio’s first full-length, The Bones of What You Believe. That record received much praise for its fresh approach to indietronica, which situated Mayberry’s tough-yet-fragile vocals over neon-wave synthesizer arpeggios and the type of pitch-shifted vocal loops more commonly found in hip-hop or trap music—something like the ’80s-obsessed missing link between the Knife and Young Chop.

Doherty reveals that a follow-up is already at the demo stage, but the serious work of making a new album will have to wait until Chvrches is finally off the road in November. He says that he’s looking forward to settling into a routine, although he admits that, after spending over a year and a half on the road, there will inevitably be a period of adjustment.

“It will just be like a normal job then,” he says. “You go to the studio every day, and you come home and have your tea and watch television. Instead of this, which has bizarrely become normality, being on the other side of the world. It never seems to stop. I don’t know what to do with myself when I get back from tour. It feels like I’ve been released from prison or something like that, or coming home from the army. I have absolutely no idea what to do with myself.”

Chvrches plays the Squamish Valley Music Festival’s Stawamus Stage on Saturday (August 9).

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