In May 2012, Scottish band CHVRCHES posted a song online entitled ‘Lies.’ According to Cook the intention behind the release of ‘Lies’ was to “dip our toe in the water and gauge the response.”Three years later, Iain Cook, multi-instrumentalist and occasional vocalist for the band, is calling me from his hometown of Glasgow in the midst of the ‘calm-before-the-storm’ run-up to the release of CHVRCHES second album.
“We felt confident that it was good, but you don’t ever really know how wide the appeal is. We were blown away by the response and thought that we better learn how to play it live- and we’ve been learning to play live ever since.”
The success of the first single led to the trio releasing their debut album ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ in September 2012, an album they wrote, recorded and produced entirely themselves. It garnered widespread critical acclaim and sold some 500,000 copies.
The album featured glitteringly poppy soundscapes that morphed into angular rhythms in one beat, while singer Lauren Mayberry’s pure voice lent itself to the bleakly erudite lyrical content. Reviewers and listeners alike were enchanted by the chiaroscuro of CHVRCHES, who offered a refreshing slant on synth pop. ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ heralded that the times were changing for the genre.
After touring for two years and performing 364 shows, an experience that Cook felt “really fortunate and grateful for” CHVRCHES retired to the studio to create their second album Every Open Eye. Following up a successful debut is daunting for any band, and initially, CHVRCHES were no different. “We hadn’t written any songs while we were touring except for two (Hunger Games track Dead Air and Get Away) because it was difficult to get the three of us in the same room with the right set up, with no distractions” Cook remembers. “So we were wondering if we could still do it, if we still had a good creative energy. Then people start asking you in interviews if you feel any pressure, and you really have to tune that stuff out, otherwise you start thinking yourself into a corner and that’s never a good thing creatively.” This level-headed approach held the band in good stead. Day One back in the studio, the band found that while “things were exactly as they were when we first started the band and finished the first album” they felt that as a band they had developed and progressed.
Rather than ensconcing themselves in a flash studio, CHVRCHES chose to return to the same place they recorded The Bones of What You Believe- a converted flat in their hometown of Glasgow which they have dubbed Alucard Studios. “There was an element of superstition [in returning]. There was something in that room that made it onto the record, and we didn’t want to lose that, so we decided that we would go back to exactly the same place and do things in exactly the same way to hopefully get back to the same place.”
Although the result sounds like CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye showcases a band that once again hangs in the balance. When people are listening to the album, Cook says the band “want people to feel a sense of familiarity because it’s from a band they know, but also show that we have developed. We wanted it to sound bigger and stronger, but were really keen to pull out a lot of elements that we didn’t need from before.” While recording The Bones of What You Believe the band were layering three different synth sounds on top of each other until they sounded big, but Cook observes that “experience taught us that’s not how you make things sound big. It’s about getting one sound and making sure it’s the best it can be. It gives the album more space but still feels expansive. There are fewer elements on Open Every Eye, its more stripped back- but hopefully the result is more. It’s simple but still complex.”
This simplified complexity is juxtaposed against Mayberry’s lyrics which can be both defiantly aggressive and vulnerably soft. Cook feels that this adds to the overall feeling of strength within Every Open Eye. “She’s a lot more assertive and a lot more aware of herself both as a woman and as a public figure, and that’s reflected in the lyrics.” They are words that mostly speak of “adapting to change, taking what’s gone and making the most of it.” As a band, their main focus was on “classic song writing. Our focus isn’t to make songs of the moment, because that often leads to things sounding dated really quickly or really easily pigeonholed and we don’t want that.”
The album’s title Every Open Eye takes its name from a line of Clearest Blue. While they had created their debut as relative unknowns, now “people are watching it is a different situation, we are aware of the eyes of the world on us.” In this writer’s opinion, it will continue to be in the best way possible.
This article was first published in Rip It Up Magazine on August 10th 2015.