For about a year there, Chvrches were everywhere you looked. On the back of their second studio album, 2015’s Every Open Eye, the Scottish trio played shows well into the triple figures, dropped a half-dozen singles, and made it out to nearly every continent. Then, for about a year, Chvrches were nowhere to be seen. Sure, they’d earned a break – but this felt like a hibernation. All the while, however, the band were plotting their next move – on their own terms, of course.
I can’t be doing other things like playing shows if I want to be in a position of writing
“For me, writing has always existed on this binary of sorts,” says Iain Cook, who provides synths, keyboards, bass, and occasionally guitar in the band. “I can’t be doing other things like playing shows if I want to be in a position of writing new material. I’ve always had a lot of difficulty in marrying the two. It’s actually kind of funny – Martin [Doherty, keyboards/vocals] can pull out his laptop and his headphones and start working away at a song in any dressing room across the world. I haven’t ever been able to shift myself into that kind of gear.”
Hence the reason Chvrches were out for basically all of 2017: they were piecing together what would become their third studio album, Love Is Dead. As law dictates, the album is an equal and opposite reaction to its predecessor – while album number two was born out of a rush of creativity, Love Is Dead was slow-cooked to perfection. “Every Open Eye was out the door pretty quickly – it was all done within about five months,” says Cook.
“With this album, we really wanted to have a bit of breathing space. I actually think that’s reflected in the music itself – there’s a real sense of exploration to these songs, I think. There’s a really interesting journey on this record… and, normally, I hate the word ‘journey’ being used when describing music. I think we all really opened up as musicians and as songwriters in making this record together.”
One key aspect that differentiates Love Is Dead from the previous two records is the fact Chvrches had other people involved in the songwriting and creation of the record. This was a considerable step forward for the Glasgow-based band, as Cook testifies: “In the past, we’d been pretty aggressively opposed to it,” he says.
“The way we saw things, we had carved out a real niche for ourselves without any kind of external input. It was a big deal to us to reach a point where we could open ourselves to the idea – just to see what would happen. It really left a mark on us.”
I think we all really opened up as musicians and as songwriters in making this
Greg Kurstin is a key co-writer on much of Love Is Dead, additionally co-producing the album. The single ‘Miracle’ also features contributions from Steve “Mac” McCutcheon, who is behind hits for Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX, and Pink. An early session for the album also saw the band working with Eurythmics’ multi-instrumentalist half, Dave Stewart. Although no songs from their session made it to the record, Cook sees their encounter as wholly influential on Love Is Dead‘s overall sound.
“I would have to say that it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had as a musician,” says Cook. “The guy is like no-one I’ve ever met before. He doesn’t think the same way as anyone else. He has all these brilliant, highly conceptual ideas. He’s really inspiring – I don’t think the record would have gone in the direction it did if it wasn’t for his early input. It was a really big deal for me, because Revenge was actually the first record I ever bought. They say to never meet your heroes, but sometimes they turn out to be great blokes.”
If that wasn’t enough, Love Is Dead boasts the first ever feature vocalist to make it onto a Chvrches record, and only the second in their career behind Hayley Williams‘ assist on a re-recorded ‘Bury It’ in 2016. ‘My Enemy’, the album’s second single, features vocals from none other than Matt Berninger, best known as the frontman of The National. “We’d run into those guys a few times at festivals around the place,” says Cook. “Lauren [Mayberry] got to sing with them a few times, which was a huge honour – we’re all such big fans of that band.”
“Later on, when we were tracking ‘My Enemy’, we had the demo as a co-lead between Martin and Lauren. I loved it, but Martin was very critical of his vocal. The idea of asking Matt came up – his voice is in a similar range to that of Martin’s, so it made sense. Lauren emailed him, and he got back to us on the same day asking to hear the song. The very next day, we had his vocals in her inbox. We were really lucky – it’s not every day that you’re getting Matt from The National singing your song.”
On the subject of other people singing Chvrches songs, one can’t help but wonder what the band made of Australia’s own Grinspoon giving ‘Get Out’ the Like a Version treatment on triple j just recently. “That was insane!” says Cook with a laugh. “I guess it lends itself well to a downtuned guitar – especially transposing the opening synth part. It’s a real honour to have our songs re-interpreted like that.”
Chvrches play the Hordern Pavilion on Sunday, July 22. Love Is Dead is out now through Glassnote / Mushroom.