Every year, we get the opportunity to attend the Sasquatch Music Festival to promote our programs as well as the amazing female identified performers at the festival. This year we were fortunate enough to line up an interview with Lauren Mayberry from one of our new favorite bands, CHVRCHES (http://chvrch.es/.)
In preparation for the interview, we did our homework and were excited to find out that Lauren is not only concerned about gender equality – especially in the music industry – but also did her post graduate dissertation on how the media portrays women *and* founded a women’s art, music, theater, and politics collective in Glasgow. Swoon!
Following their Sasquatch set, we expected a 15 minute conversation, but we ended up getting to talk to her for over 45 minutes. It was a blast! Our takeaways – and what we want to share with you all in this article – are:
- Lauren Mayberry is a smart, funny, talented role model and you should totally be a fan. (She also has great taste in music, books, and TV shows.)
- We (all) have to do a better job of how we promote women artists and talk about gender and music.
- CHVRCHES write fantastic, smart pop music and their creation process is modern, unique, and collaborative.
Here are our questions and her answers!
Natalie Walker: What are some of your influences or role models?
Lauren Mayberry: There was a really good second hand shop in the town next to the one that I grew up in. I got a copy of Dig Me Out when I was 16 and I was like, “This is the best thing ever!”
Lauren Mayberry: I think I packed the Doris Lessing one, Nora Ephron, and Virginia Woolf. I think I’ve read Ann Carson one about a million times and it’s quite sad. I always try to keep up with some fictional reading to some extent just in terms of keeping the brain going. Being in the van, there’s really awesome dudes, but the ratio is like 5 guys and me in a bus. And I was like, “I’m going to be watching tele with my headphones.” They’re really nice to me and they give me the bigger bunk so that I can get changed and they don’t interrupt me when I’m watching Buffy reruns.
Jenn Johnson: We read that you did your dissertation on gender and media. Can you talk more about that?
Lauren Mayberry: Yeah, it was a bummer. I did a one year journalism post grad thing. The dissertation title was, “The idea of femininity in women’s magazines” and it looked at things like advertising, imagery, and tone of voice. It was depressing – I’m not gonna lie. Mainstream women’s magazines are directed at white, middle-class, straight, female. If a woman is single it’s only a temporary thing until she finds someone. At times a tone of voice gets used that tries to encourage a community because women want to be included and together, so I was like, “Wouldn’t that be nice if you could do that with something positive and not by telling people the only way you can fit into a community is if you fit into strict set of criteria?” Once you start thinking about stuff like that, you kind of see it and go, “Ah! It’s everywhere, it’s overwhelming me!”
And I guess we’ve been pretty lucky in CHVRCHES. Maybe it was helpful that before we were in this band, I already worried about that kind of stuff. I wonder if people think I’m not trusting, but I don’t really trust you to take individual photos of us and do something terrible with it. We have an only full band photos policy at the moment. Not that there’s anything wrong with anyone who does otherwise. But it’s really early for us and we’re trying to make sure we’re seen as a band and not, like, two guys and a singer.
Natalie Walker: Have you had any experiences where you felt like sexism contributed to how you were treated?
Lauren Mayberry: At a soundcheck once when I was a drummer, I checked all the different pieces of the kit. The next logical step is to check the whole kit, as is the standard pattern. But the soundguy said check the kick and I didn’t hear that because he didn’t have a microphone, so I checked the whole kit. He came up and totally dressed me down in front of the room and was said, “You need to listen to people. You think you totally know what you are doing but you would learn something if you took a minute and listened to people.” And because I was like 18, I quietly had a little sulk. But then I was like, “He never would have said that to a six foot two guitar player guy.” I was like, “Wow, I thought that was a myth, but that totally happened.”
Another good one where me and my other drummer from my other band had booked a tour of the UK and we got to play a gig in London. He went around front to get them to open the back door. I was trying to go in the back door after I had reverse parked a splitter van and the bouncer was like, “Sorry, girlfriends have to stay upstairs until sound check is done.”
Most of the time I’ve been lucky to be in bands with guys who are like very aware and supportive. So, I mean, I would never want to be tarring everyone with the same brush. But occasionally you come up against a dinosaur who doesn’t seem to realize that the 50’s aren’t happening now.
Natalie Walker: What do you do to combat that when they happen?
Lauren Mayberry: I used to find it really upsetting, hence the kick drum crying thing. Now I guess it pisses me off more. I try to say one assertive thing to the person and then just walk away. I don’t know if I want to get into a massive debate with somebody in the middle of a venue. So I think, no, if I just continue doing things as good as if not better, maybe that’s the best way forward.
Also, it’s been helpful to have TYCI [the women’s collective Lauren founded: http://www.tyci.org.uk, https://soundcloud.com/tyciblog]. It’s been helpful in terms of meeting other women in the community. That feels like a positive thing to do. With this kind of stuff I sometimes worry it’s quite easy to be like, “This is rubbish. That’s terrible.” And concentrate on the negative stuff and not say anything about the positive stuff. My angle is to be aware of the negative stuff but try to focus on the amazing number of female musicians who are doing great things and try and bring out that somehow. I’m an idealist. Probably won’t work, but we can try.
Jenn Johnson: We do this campaign where we promote the women who play festivals like this, but also point out that it’s a pretty small number of the total artists on stage. This year, it’s only 7% at Sasquatch. We think that the work that we do – running music programs for girls and women, creating a community around those programs, promoting local artists in our community – is one way to to help change that. Do you have thoughts on other ways?
Lauren Mayberry: I’d be really psyched if music journalists would stop referring to any women in bands as, like, “A girl band, oh my god!” That’s always the way that it happens. It’s just bizarre. I read a review of The Savages new album and every other sentence was like, “Blah blah blah, all female band.” It shouldn’t be such a niche. I get why you’re mentioning but it shouldn’t be the only thing you’re talking about. And it’s kinda hard to change that. Yeah, music journalism. And technically I can say that as a former music journalist. It’s always about what somebody was wearing or what somebody looked like. You wouldn’t do that to Thom Yorke. They’d just be like, “He’s Thom Yorke.” No one says that about Martin (from CHVRCHES) and Martin is a way more ridiculous dresser than me. I mean, I love the guy, but the caps! And I suppose that’s what you see, so it’s just a natural thing that people do. So, that’s kind of a bummer. If it’s anything, it’s changing music critics. That would be great, but how to do it, I don’t know.
Jenn Johnson: Would encouraging more women to become journalists help?
Lauren Mayberry: Well, sometimes the most depressing thing is when it’s done in an article about a female musician and it’s by a female journalist. That’s almost the worst! It’s the worst crime! There was an article about us based an interview where at no point did I talk about physical appearances or anything. The questions were like, “When are you touring? When is the record coming out?” The whole angle of the piece, though, was about how the only reason the author heard of us was that some of their male friends said that they really fancied me or something. And I was like, “That’s really fucking offensive.” If it was an opinion piece, it would be one thing, but it was an interview. If they’d asked me those questions, I would’ve had the opportunity to respond. What’s the point of doing an interview if you already have your angle all planned out? There’s no need for me to take time out of my life to answer. I decided I would no longer look it. There’s nothing I can do about that right now, it’s done. After being in a rage in my kitchen, I was like, “It’s just… bad journalism!” But it made me feel better; it’s bad writing. I’m sure she’s a nice lady. But you know, things like that- it’s lady-on-lady crime! It’s hard enough, don’t make it worse.
Natalie Walker: Do you have any advice for younger musicians?
Lauren Mayberry: Although it feels really nerdy when you’re in your teens to practice loads, when you practice loads it helps you get an edge. I used to go to use the school drum kit at lunchtime because I didn’t have my own yet. There was a lot of piss talking because there was a female music teacher and they were like, “Lauren’s a lesbian because she goes to play drums at lunch.” And I was like, “First of all, I don’t think that’s what a lesbian is, and second, SHUT UP!” When you’re fifteen stuff like that really hurts your feelings. That they would think I was a weird weird person, but then now if I bumped into someone I went to school with at Tesco – do you have Tesco here? Probably not. At Target – and they would be like, “Ah Congratulations!” And I’d be like, “You weren’t saying that a decade ago when you were making fun of me.” I guess I’d say that stuff that seems like a really big deal and is really upsetting when you’re fifteen isn’t.
Natalie Walker: How did your band form, and do you have any advice to women and girls who are trying to form bands?
Lauren Mayberry: CHVRCHES formed because Iain was producing an EP of my old band, Blue Sky Archives (http://blueskyarchives.bandcamp.com/), which is more of indie rock stuff. We did 3 days of recording with him and then he said he wanted to start a writing project with his friend Martin. They played together in a band called Aerogramme. So I did a session with them. We just kind of went in to write something less obscure, I suppose – more poppy. He’d just gotten a bunch of analog synths. I’ve always managed to meet bands through other people. Even the first band I started, it was like, you’re going to shows – like going to unders gigs [all-ages shows] in Stirling and meeting people. And it was always like, friends of friends, so I think obviously going out to stuff and trying to meet people. It can seem a bit intimidating, but I think once you kind start doing it, then you get to meet people. Just try you hand at as many different things as possible is always good. I can almost see a linear pattern – if I hadn’t been in that band, I wouldn’t have met those people, I wouldn’t have done that. So I guess it’s all about meeting people. And you work better with different people. With CHVRCHES we’re able to write songs quickly. We’ve only known each other for a couple of months but we can write. I guess that’s helpful, because now we’re like, “Ah! Everything is happening!” But we’re able to work really fast.
Jenn Johnson: Speaking of writing, we read that you use collaborative Google Docs for songwriting. We’re totally Google Docs nerds, so that was exciting to hear. Can you tell us more about your process?
Lauren Mayberry: Yeah, it’s very organized. Mainly what we do is try to make it as much of a three part writing process as possible. So even though I write the lyrics, I’ll put them in a Google Doc where they can see, and in another column I’ll write alternative lines in case things don’t stand as well.. I think it’s pretty good in terms of getting to know someone’s writing style. If they say, “No, that’s terrible,” you have to trust that they’re saying it for good reason. So we have a veto process. If something’s really bad if it trips your cheesy radar and you’re like, “No, it’s too cheesy. You gotta take it out, you gotta take it out.” We’re always going to try to make things not as cutesy as they could be. Because we know that it’s pop music and some people say “pop” like in a dirty, condescending way. I think in terms of production and stuff we always keen to try to make things sound a little more twisted cuz if the vocals quite sweet, then it kind of works, it’s like juxtaposition. That’s my hope, anyways.
Jenn Johnson: When you write, are you creating narratives? Writing personal stories? Exploring a theme? All of the above?
Lauren Mayberry: Some people ask, “Is it different writing pop song lyrics?” But I don’t change the kind of lyrics that I write depending on what band, and I don’t think I’d be getting out of bed in the morning if I was writing sunshine songs and like, “Oh, baby.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just don’t really want to write songs about going to the club. It just doesn’t make that much sense to me. I guess most of the time it’s from a personal perspective. I think for me, if I find songs that I really love lyrically, that must be from a personal perspective, but it’s universal enough to be able to combine the two. My mum told me that she thinks the lyrics are very morose. In a way I think that’s nice because it contrasts in a way with the cute stuff. Martin describes it as “pop with teeth.” I quite like that.
Natalie Walker: Anything you’re looking forward to on the tour?
We’re going to Portland tomorrow, so I’m excited about that because I’ve been there once when I was on holiday as a kid, but I kind of just want to go and make all the Portlandia jokes. I’m worried about upsetting the crowd. I’m going to try to find a t-shirt with a bird on it and be like, “I put a bird on it!” But it will be good fun. I kind of want to see if the feminist bookshop is actually real. We’re playing two nights in Chicago and I’m excited because I have two friends there. We’re playing in Montreal. We just finished our tour in Germany with a band called Young Galaxy and they’re from Montreal and there’s ladies in that band, the drummer’s really awesome. And we shared long conversations about 90’s TV shows that we both watch on tour. I take stuff on tour that hopefully stimulated my brain, but you can’t do that all the time, so the other day I watched a documentary about Viet Kong, and then 2 episodes of Dawson’s Creek. So, it’s a good balance. (It doesn’t stand up that well on a rewatch. Everyone’s really whiney. But I when I was watching it the first time I was like, “There’s these issues! So much emotion!” But there was an episode where Pacey referred to himself as a thesaurus of emotions and I’m like, “No teenagers speak like this.”) So, I’ll take that, and Degrassi and My So Called Life, everything! I want to watch it all! So hopefully maybe they’ll come to the show and we can catch up on reruns we’ve been watching in the van.
CHVRCHES plays Friday night, September 6, in Seattle at Showbox at the Market. The show is sold out, but they have an an in-store performance at Sonic Boom at 2pm the same day. Their new record, The Bones Of What You Believe, will be available later this month and is available for pre-order now on iTunes. We recommend listening to ”The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” and “Recover.” We also took a video of one of their performances at Sasquatch at The End’s acoustic tent.