ATP! Interview: CHVRCHES
We got the opportunity to speak with keyboardist Iain Cooke while the band was beginning the fourth US leg of their tour.
Alter The Press: How did you guys come together as a band?
Iain Cook (keyboardist): Well Martin and I had known each other over about 10 years, we met when we were at university, and we kind of hit it off one day. He was wearing a P.J. Harvey t-shirt and I was like, “Oh nice t-shirt!” We collaborated over various projects so production-wise and band-wise over the years. Right around 2007 we were on tour in America with a band and [we were] just like, “Let’s do something totally different. Let’s do something that people can really dance to.” Not necessarily dance music but something that was really acceptable and fun. You know music that would be great for us to play and great for us to listen to. We were so used to playing that kind of post-rock, shoegaze, that sort of thing. So it took about five years for us to actually sit down in the studio and get something together. We had a couple of sessions, and at the same time I was working with Lauren with her band Blue Sky Archives. I was producing an EP with her band. Right about that time Martin and I got in the studio together and we basically tried backing vocals with Lauren and couple of other things with what we were doing. We immediately realized that we got along really well and just started writing together. Things slowly fell in to place and sounds started to emerge and eventually we came together as a band.
ATP: How would you describe your guys’ music to a random person on the street?
Cook: I don’t know. I would say its electronic music in that we mostly use synthesizers, but it doesn’t feel like electronic. It’s more like inde-rock or pop. We have a very strong influence from like Depech Mode, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and lots of pop music. We love the production like R&B music especially with a lot of the vocal ideas and ultimately just a mash-up of the things we love.
ATP: What was your guys’ creative process and idea behind The Bones of What You Believe?
Cook: Well there was no master plan. There was no idea that we were gonna be this band that would play live and have an album. We’ve just been kind of following our noses since day one just like going with our gut and think about our decisions. Most of the time it just started out with the three of us in the studio together and just throwing an idea on a drum machine, or using a vocal sample, or like a chord, or just a really simple seed of an idea and it just grows and grows really quickly. Normally the melody comes next, and then we kind of pick our idea and usually the lyrics are the last thing to go on. Both can take a few days to finish, it could take a couple of months depends on which song. The Mother We Share took a long time if I can recall, but most of the other ones were a lot faster than that.
ATP: What were you guys listening to when you were recording it?
Cook: I have a feeling that we weren’t listening to very much when we were recording it. We were mostly just kind of throwing ourselves in to our own music. It feels we took our part in the studio; it was a time start our music and not look in to other people’s music as much. But with the labor of actually writing in the studio, the focus needed to be on us. Because other people’s ideas are being made by what’s currently out there. I think there needs to be a distance and a focus on actually creating stuff.
ATP: What do you want listeners to think or feel after listening to your record?
Cook: I think it’s kind of an emotional record. Particularly with the lyrics and the backgrounds have a little more melancholy moments on the record as well. Ultimately I think it has a various range of emotions on it and I ultimately want people to listen to our music and feel better. Better about their life, and the world.
ATP: How is it being back in the U.S. of A.?
Cook: It’s great, this is the fourth time we’ve been here this year. It feels like a home from home now, it feels like we’ve never really left this place. But it’s a wonderful place, I love touring in America it’s absolutely my favorite place to tour. Because American audiences are just so enthusiastic I never want to leave.
ATP: The record has gotten such a huge positive reception across the globe. How has it been touring internationally?
Cook: It’s been a real blast so far. Been quite exhausting at times, but [we] haven’t had any bad shows other than when the keyboards don’t work or something goes wrong. That tends to be a bad show, but in terms of the audience it’s really really nice. It’s been a lot of fun particularly going places that we’ve never been personally before like Australia or Japan. Going to those places for the first time and experiencing [those places] as a band that people are interested in is a really great way to see the world.
ATP: What have been your guys’ favorite parts about touring in general?
Cook: That part is just being on stage really. The rest of the time it can be a bit of hard work depending on the day. But I always hate the time before the show even starts, that kind of build-up of energy. Other than that, actually being on stage is easily the best part of the day by a long way I think.
ATP: What has been your favorite song to perform live?
Cook: I guess we all have our own favorites live. I love to play ‘The Mother We Share’ because it’s a song that people really respond to. Like being in a band and people go for just that song and just go mental. I just love playing that song a lot. There’s a new song called ‘By The Throat’ that we do on our album which at the moment we do kind of last.
ATP: Funny or scary tour stories?
Cook: Not scary ones yet. On our last American tour we were going in to Canada and it didn’t look like we were gonna get in the country. They wouldn’t let our bus driver across the border so we had to call people from the venue to drive vans and pick up us and all of our gear so we could get to the venue. That was scary because it looked like we weren’t gonna get to play the gig. But there haven’t been any actual, genuine, life-threatening scares so far.
ATP: What has been your favorite city to play in thus far?
Cook: It’s so difficult to pick just one. I’m gonna say Tokyo because if I say a state in America then the other ones will get jealous. The audience was so respectful over there. People are deathly quiet before a show. We were walking up to the stage and didn’t hear any sound from the crowd. There was no music playing, no one talking, just complete silence. We walked on stage and wondered, “Is anyone actually there?” It’s just a different culture, people are very respectful. It’s not like the kind of rowdy gigs that we were used to in the west I guess. But when we got on stage people were in to it. People were singing to all of the lyrics.
ATP: Where do you guys think “indie/alternative rock/pop” are heading? People like HAIM, Lorde, and you guys would have been considered “indie” but have gracefully gotten popular. Where do you think “indie” or alternative is heading as a genre?
Cook: That is a really difficult question! I don’t know I’d probably need a crystal ball. It’s just the internet having a massive impact on not just how music is sold or marketed but how it’s made in a sense as well. It seems like people have a lot more of a connection with the fans just across the globe. And knowing if people like it or want to talk about it. So really everything is changing so it’s really difficult to say but generally people are writing more music that’s more “poppy”. It seems to be becoming more credible and acceptable. I think that looking at the past, like five years or more, it’s become more less of a messy word. People are realizing that people like Katy Perry and [people] like that are writing great songs and actually Taylor Swift is writing great songs and they are singing great songs. But it seems that five or ten years ago that would have been dismissed as trash or disposable. I think pop is becoming more credible and that really affects me, because I love a good melody or a song that you can sing along to and I can appreciate the craft of electronic productions that’s almost unmanageable or even seeing it’s structure. But at the end of the day I love a good song. I love a good melody. That’s something that we as a band are starting to shoot off with and I hope that other people do the same thing too.
ATP: What can we expect from CHVRCHES in the future?
Cook: Well, we’re gonna be playing a bunch of more shows, probably until the end of next summer. Right after that we’re just gonna get straight back in to the studio and get right back in again. We’re gonna be writing a bunch of pieces and then hoping it comes out over the course of the next nine months. I just can’t wait to get back in to the studio and get really intense with the song writing again. I don’t know, there are a lot of ideas there’s no concrete plan to change direction or go to go a particular way. We just want to keep writing music. If it evolves dramatically that’s great, but we don’t really have a roadmap because we didn’t start out with one and we’re just gonna go that way and follow our instincts.
ATP: Well thank you Iain and good luck on the road to you guys!
Cook: No problem, thank you!
- Jordan Wyman
The Bones of What You Believe is out now via Virgin Records.