WXJM Interview with CHVRCHES
Derek: This is Derek Niver from WXJM Harrisonburg sitting here with Martin Doherty of CHVRCHES at the National in what appears to be some sort of green room or waiting room…?
Martin: Yeah, it’s at the end of one of the many corridors or labyrinth-style rooms they have here at this venue, which actually is quite lovely.
Derek: So from what I understand, you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Scotland? How was your first?
Martin: Um yeah, yesterday, we did it. Kind of classic style, we went out for dinner at the hotel and had a nice sit down Thanksgiving experience. Then got drunk and watched a bunch of football on TV.
Derek: [laughs] Classic American Thanksgiving. So you’ve been in town for two days, is this your first time in Richmond?
Martin: It is, yes! I’ve actually never been down to Virginia before. We were in Norfolk, 3 days ago and we had a couple days here, really lovely.
Derek: What’s your take on all this Black Friday craziness?
Martin: We were kind of harboring plans to go to the mall last night and of kind of see if its as crazy as everyone says it is. Or as crazy as it gets reported, you know in the UK all you ever see of Black Friday is shots of people fighting each other to grab 20% off something, but yeah… I’ve not really sure I’m that kind of guy, I’m more of an online shopping guy. Rather just sit in my house and not get involved.
Derek: Not get trampled, or have to kill for a tv?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah I’m not in the business of killing for consumer products.
Derek: So you’ve got Thanksgiving and Black Friday under your belt. What so far has been the biggest cultural shock for you so far experiencing the US and our weirdness?
Martin: You know there’s not so many differences between here and the UK. I mean I’ve grown up on American culture. You know food and TV and American movies. So there’s not, I feel there’s not so much of a leap as if you’re going to mainland Europe or Japan or somewhere like that, because we share so many of the same tricks and that makes it a lot easier for me. It’s a lot easier to tour here because there’s things that actually remind you of back home everyday and that’s fine. I mean there is the occasional time, where you happen upon a town that’s really small and you kind of assume that your customs will be the same, because you speak the same language, but then ultimately, when you think of the size of America, it’s pretty diverse. Much more diverse than you might realize…
Derek: So many different sub-cultures.
Martin: Yeah, I just try and take in as much of it as possible actually, and just enjoy it as much as possible.
Derek: When you’re on tour and go into the next town, what’s your first priority for food? Is there any food you consider yourself the connoisseur of? That you have to try everywhere?
Martin: Well.. yeah it kind of works with localities, you know, if I’m in Texas I’m going to try and get BBQ, if I’m in California, I’m looking for tacos, or tex-mex. The different sort of local delicacies are what we are usually after. And you’ve these amazing applications these days that just sort of tell you where is good, instantly. So we always eat well. And there are those days where we just kind of wander off somewhere and make a huge mistake.
Derek: So I think I speak for a good amount of WXJM when I say your first album, The Bones of What You Believe, is one of the best of the past year. Im currently compiling our station’s top 10 albums for the year and at least for our staff writers, it’s on everyone’s list. Aside from being lyrically smart and melodically addictive. One of the things I love most about it is there is not a bad song on it, you know it is very much a complete album, not just a couple singles and some filler.
Martin: That’s a really nice thing for you to say, because we really worked on it in that way. We could have easily held back a few singles and then just filled out the record and hoped some of the songs connect- like a lot of people seem to do these days. But that was never what we were going to be about. We don’t believe that the album was a format, instead we believe that it is the best way to get an idea of where people are coming from musically and still listen to it for the record. And we spent a lot of time making sure every song was right and every song was good enough- at least in our eyes, you know. It’s a nice thing for you to say.
Derek: So when you all go into production or start tinkering with how to put together a song, do you all have a certain role amongst yourselves or is everyone kind of chipping in with writing lyrics and everything else?
Martin: Yeah it’s kind of a democracy, in that respect. There is a lot of pitching in and a lot of changing, but again we each play to our strengths. Mine would be the writing of melody and of production, Iain and I share a lot of strengths in those departments. Lauren handles most of the lyrics these days, but it’s not like no one can challenge each other’s input and i think that’s why it works. It’s important to be able to tell people when they’re going off on a tangent or when something trips your radar that’s not good enough and maybe we should explore other avenues. That’s a big part of the creative process.
Derek: Where do you most readily find inspiration- dreams, or just from parts of everyday life…?
Martin: No, umm… Inspiration for songs, or melodic ideas really comes from… they kind of just come in a specific moment. I never just start humming a specific melody and take it to the studio. It’s usually formed by an interest in a loop or an idea that we got going on in the studio that will instantly become… you know just takes your brain to a unique place in terms of melody and its all sort of spontaneous. And the bones of a melody or a skeleton of a tune can form very quickly after you get that first loop or that first idea and you can go… and the melodies for these songs can often come out by accident and its like a moment of excitement and panic as everyone tries to grab for the mic and record it down on tape before you forget it! That’s kind of, that’s a cool thing and I think 90% of the music we recorded was never really studied. You know, what should we do here? What should we do there? It’s all just very spontaneous and in the moment and that’s just very cool.
Derek: From what I understand you and Iain first met back at University almost ten years ago right?
Martin: Yeah… It was back in… 2005, so yeah something like that, almost 8 years ago. Iain was lectured in computer music and I came through as a student and we became friends. He was one of those guys that did so well in his courses, they just gave him a job as soon as he graduated. So there wasn’t that much in terms of age between us, but we agreed on a lot of the same things. He was in a band that I really respected at the time and we became friends very quickly. We would play off each other’s ideas and come up with things to the point where he got me to come work on the final album that their band made. That was the first record that I ever made and we always talked about doing something, where we were the principle songwriters. Because neither of us had been that in the previous bands that we had been in and like 5 years past or something like that where everyone was busy doing their own things. And finally we sat down for fun and actually found Lauren and started working with her and then things really started to snowball in the beginning, or well towards the end of 2012 really.
Derek: CHVRCHES really sort of had overnight success on the internet, but you all had been working on these songs for well over a year before you released your first single Lies, right?
Martin: I think we had started writing in October of 2011 and then the first time we ever put a song on the internet was in May 2012, so we spent those months writing and writing and writing, making sure that our house was in order and if anyone was interested in what we doing, we wouldn’t get caught short. We wanted to have a lot of material we were excited about before we let anyone know we were doing anything. Anytime somebody asks me my advice about how to move forward, I can tell them all of the mistakes I have made. And the one time I got it right was- don’t let them know anything! Don’t do anything. Don’t play a show, don’t tell anyone about it, don’t boast about it in the pub when you’re drunk- just do your thing in a very, very quiet way. And when you’re completely ready, then you can move on. And that’s how we did it.
Derek: Solid advice. When you all are out of the road, what’s your favorite past-time or hobby? I heard ya’ll did a little cover of The Game of Thrones theme song, are ya’ll big fans?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah we just did that in the studio for fun one day and it ended up getting reported by every website in music and we were like- oh shit, maybe we should think twice about- well I don’t know, I think everyone could tell we were just having fun, it was just a little joke.. Um.. but I spend a lot of time, either working on DJ mixes or working on songs. When I’m not doing that I’m playing table tennis, mostly.
Derek: Nice, you have table tennis on the bus?
Martin: Well we bring out the table with us, so I can whip the crew’s butts everyday. [laughs] No but its gotten quite competitive recently. It’s a good way to pass time. Oh, also this thing called T25, it’s like an insane workout.
Derek: Is that like P90X?
Martin: Something like that, like Insanity and all of those things. Exercise is important and its just a 25 minute a day workout that you can do in front of your laptop and doesn’t require that much floor space and it can get pretty intense. But you gotta get your exercise on the road somehow, right?
Derek: So you all are gearing up to leave the United States and head on a world tour right? I think I saw Singapore and New Zealand are some of the first stops. Can we expect CHVRCHES shirtless with killer abs?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah well… we’ll see. we’ll see… We’ll be in Japan and Australia, yeah Singapore and New Zealand, that side of the world in late January, early February and then come back to UK and smash out a European tour. And then we’ll go straight back here and hammer out as many shows in the US as we can, because this is where we feel the connection is strongest with this band, that the people we can see every night with ticket sales and how everyone are at the shows. It seems like a very special territory for us, this is the fourth time we’ve been here this year and we’ll be back as much as possible next year. You know it feels like we’re kind of right on the edge of something right now and we’re sooooo close to tip it over… and then it will really go. But we’re in such good spirits and we sort of take this thing as sort of a privilege. And we’re just going to have the best of times, you know?
Derek: Well thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!
Martin: Oh no worries, it was a pleasure.
Derek: Let’s get out of here, its so cold.
Martin: Yeah, it’s fucking freezing right?