On Tuesday night at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, the dance floor was packed. The band headlining that night—CHVRCHES—sold out the gig, as they almost always do. The audience included everyone from middle-aged couples swaying in the back to sharply dressed friends ready to dance to grade-school age little girls wearing CHVRCHES shirts who stood excitedly on chairs to get a glimpse of the stage. All eyes in the room were on frontwoman Lauren Mayberry, whose powerful presence and shimmering voice made her magnetic. In between the dark, electro-pop songs off CHVRCHES’ new album, Every Open Eye, Mayberry quickly cracked a smile, making small jokes with the audience in her delightful Scottish accent.
Mayberry was working as a music journalist in Glasgow before friends Iain Cook and Martin Doherty asked her to sing vocals on some demo tracks they were working on. CHVRCHES was born and quickly gained acclaim—they're one of the heaviest touring bands in the business and are currently in the middle a global tour that runs for 18 straight months. As their first album blew up, the fame also brought a dark side: rampant sexist commentary and online harassment aimed at Mayberry. She has spoken up about the harassment in several powerful statements, including a widely read column in the Guardian and a recent viral video where she shut down a heckler shouting “Marry me!” repeatedly at a show. Many fans of CHVRCHES connect not only with the music, but with the way Mayberry stands her ground. In the face of nasty criticism from opinionated bros, Mayberry has had to learn how to defend her music, ideas, and her time—while also leaving space to hear from real fans who feel her sincere lyrics resonate deeply. In addition to regularly using their shows and merch to raise money for charities, the band sets up a mailbox at every stop on the tour so anyone who wants to tell them something directly can just drop in a letter. Snail mail: It’s like Twitter without all the haters.
On one of the band’s very rare days off from touring, I talked with Mayberry about douchebags, self-care, and the emo roots of CHVRCHES.
SARAH MIRK: I wanted to talk about your mom. You just mentioned that you got off the phone with her and I've never heard you talk about your mom before.
LAUREN MAYBERRY: Oh, she's a real lady.
Ha! Can you tell me about sort of what your parents think of your music and what they think of your stage show?
Yeah, I'm really lucky; my parents have been really supportive of all this stuff since I was a teenager, and they would drive me to gigs with my drum kit and stuff. And they've definitely put in the hours of coming to not-that-awesome gigs in quite scary venues in Scotland. So yeah, I think they're very happy with where we are now, and I guess it's the most accessible music I've ever made. So they can actually enjoy it sonically, which is nice. My parents came out to the New York show we did at the start of this tour, and I'd like to believe they would be quite proud of it. But they're also still definitely parents. They're never gonna let you get ideas above your station. I think that's a good thing.
In what ways do you think your parents won't let you get above your station? Are they like, “That was fine, but you know, so-and-so's better.”
Well, my mom keeps tabs on stuff online, which I find deeply worrying in many ways. But she's always like, “I saw this thing that this person said, and I disagree because of this.” And I'm like, “Thanks, Mom.” But yeah, I think also sometimes she does the, “Are you really, are you gonna wear that?” thing. And I'm like, “Yeah, why? What's wrong with it?” She's like, “Sigh. Nothing.” But I think in her head, she's like, “Why are you dressed so scruffily? What are you doing?” But yeah, I think that's good. I don't like the idea that you've become obsessed with the idea of yourself. You know what I mean? Cuz a lot of the time when people talk about us or write about us, it's kind of abstract, you know? So I think it's nice to focus on the actual real world and have that separation between band persona and real person.
Yeah, so your mom kinda helps keep you honest and say, “I know who you actually are. You might be cool to millions of people in the world, but maybe you're not that cool to me.”
Well yeah, it was nice when I was speaking to her on the phone just there. We were catching up on some things, and she was talking about her opinions on just some stuff that people had written about us or said about us. And she was like, “I disagree because of this reason.” And then it was very nice. She was like, “And if you ever want to just phone me and talk about it, you could do that.”
That's so sweet!
Thanks, Mom! But then also, I was like, “Don't read that!” Cuz it can't be nice for a parent to read that. I'm like, “Don't look at it. Look away!” But she's a tough cookie.
Has your mom kept up on you writing about misogyny and the sorts of terrible comments you get online?
Yeah. I think they've been really supportive of that. And I guess also for a parent, that can't be nice to find out about. That can't be pleasant. They raised me to be, I hope, a really thoughtful person with empathy for people. So I guess it is weird for them to think, “Why would somebody say that to my child?” But no, they're very supportive of it. And I don't know. I feel like my mom's been a lot more engaged with those kinda issues in the last few years as well. So it's nice for us to have those things to talk about and kind of look at it through a different lens, generationally speaking.
That's really sweet that she says, “If you ever wanna talk about it, just give me a call. I can listen to you.”
It's nice cuz I guess when we're talking about it, she's like, “I see things! And then I wanna reply, but I know I can't cuz you'll be upset with me.” And I'm like, “Yes, don't reply! Don't. Don't talk to them. Don't engage. Look away.” But no, I think it's nice, and I guess I'm very lucky to have that.
Has your mom ever jumped in to defend you online?
Not that I'm aware of, unless she's got like troll accounts. I think my mom could be like the ultimate troll in the true sense of the word “troll,” you know when people are just taking a rise out of people or noising you up for humorous purposes. To me, that's what “troll” means. So when people say, “Trolls do,” I'm like, “They're not trolls! Those aren't trolls! That's not funny. To be a troll, you need to be funny.” But yeah, maybe she's got like parody accounts somewhere so she can do that, but no, we have quite a strict “Don't reply to them, Mom” policy, so.
When I started writing online, my parents would definitely leave comments under completely obvious names. My dad commented and his super secret name that he made up was El Daddo.
I was like, “Don't do that. Don't be El Daddo.”
I can understand the urge where you don't wanna just leave your child out there. You've been protecting them their whole life. You don't wanna just leave them there in front of the bus, but yeah. I guess it's helpful to have the moral support more than anything else.
Photo of Lauren Mayberry by Henry Laurisch (CC).
Yeah. So you guys tour more than anybody else I know in the entire world. You're on tour all the time! I believe right now, you're on tour for 18 straight months. Is that correct?
Pretty much, I think. I guess we'll take a little time off for Christmas, and there will be a few-day break between tours. But I don't think I'm not going to be back in the UK until just before Christmas, I don't think. So, busy times.
Is that your decision to tour so much? Is that important to you?
I guess it's always just been the kind of way we wanted to run the band, I suppose. I think when we started, it was very much a thing that existed online, and that was great, and that's how we gathered a lot of the fan base. But I think it was important for us to take that out of the abstract and put it into people's real lives. And I think, also, the kind of musical background we come from is a lot more kind of alternative rock, tour-heavy, and it's just the way that we know how to be in a band. And I guess it would be worse if somebody was saying, “You need to tour this much.” But it just feels like, I don't know, it feels right to us to do the band that way rather than relying purely on press or yeah. I think it's good to, I like that kind of basic hand-to-hand interaction with people, I think is a lot more constructive feedback than media criticism all the time.
Does it feel really authentic to you when you're onstage, and people are in the audience listening to it? Or does it become dulled after a time, like oh, another crowd, another place? I'm just doing my thing, another day in the row.
I guess there's always days when people are tired. And everyone has good work days, and everyone has bad work days. But the shows are never the same because the front row's always different, and there's always a different kind of feedback going on. And I think to me, that's—like as cheesy as it sounds—that's a really helpful reminder of why you're doing what you're doing, you know? We make music cuz we wanna be creative and make something that means something to us, but ultimately we always wanted that to communicate with other people. And I've been in a lot of bands where that hasn't been the case. So then, when you see people responding and bringing those songs and that music into their lives, I think that, for me, is the best feedback you can get. And there's a lot of bullshit that flies around in the industry that we're in, but I think it's nice to, at the end of the day, focus on that and see how the music is connecting with people. I think that's the best thing.
What are you thinking about while you're onstage? What's going through your head when you're performing?
I think for me it's changed a lot in the last couple years. I used to get very bad gig anxiety, which was quite weird cuz I'd never had it in other bands. But I think this is the first band I've been in where I wasn't playing other instruments. And as much as we didn't do anything we didn't feel ready for, it did change a lot. Like, we were playing small clubs, and then it was just getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger all the time. I don't think at that time I'd found a way to deal well with people talking about us and telling us—just, you know, everyone's got an opinion. It's just like all this white noise coming at you. So I think there was a lot of gigs where I was just focusing on counting bars— it would be like, “Okay everything's going a little purple. I should breathe more, I should breathe more.” I think it's just been helpful to allow ourselves to grow at our own pace, and now I think when we're playing shows, it's a lot more comfortable. And really, that's now one of the more comfortable parts of being in the band. I think it's a lot better now. We had six months off at home to make the record, and I tried to kinda use that time just to feel like I was getting more on top of my own shit, you know? Cuz I feel like I spent a lot of the time on the first record feeling like I was catching up with myself all the time.
What's that mean?
Just like, if everything is constantly changing, and it's becoming bigger and bigger and bigger, and I'm like, I'm not a professional musician. I don't know what I'm doing. And just like having the world's biggest imposter complex. I think it was helpful to have that time off to step back and look at what we had done, which was really great, but then also think about this is my job, this is my life now. But how do I wanna do that, you know? And then I was like, okay, well I need to be more dedicated with exercise and trying to be more mindful and aware of self-care routines. Just kind of thinking about: Do you want to constantly be defending yourself, or do you want to be on the offensive? And for me, it feels a lot more positive this time around because I feel like we're just running it the way that we want to run it, and I feel that's a good thing.
Do you hear from fans a lot who say like, “This song got me through a hard time” or “this song means this to me”?
Yeah, we speak to people after shows or at signings and stuff, and I just started using this mailbox that we leave on the merch stand. Basically, people just put in letters, or they can put in stamped, addressed envelopes, and we can try and write back to them and stuff like that. A lot of the time, it's just people talking about when they first saw the band and what it means to them. Sometimes, some of the stuff is really fucking sad, and it's really upsetting that terrible things happen to these people. But then they found something in the music that made them feel better for a time, and I think that's a really wonderful thing. And to me, that's more of a valuable feedback, is reading that stuff than sitting online and reading reams and reams of criticism about it, you know? I guess I was like that's actually reality, is sitting face to face with that stuff. And maybe I'm just a big emo in disguise. I don't know. But I think it's important to be aware of that stuff.
That's really sweet. It feels kinda old school, like people writing you actual, physical letters on pieces of paper.
We've got a really great, solid base there. I think it is nice. You know, we live in an online world where everything's on screens, and everything's in the internet. And I think to me, I quite like the idea of an old school letter going to somebody in the post. And I guess I was a teenager that was in street teams and on band message boards, and I was in the Blood Pact, the Alkaline Trio fan club. They sent me a patch and a letter when you joined, and I remember being so fucking excited when it came in the post. It's interesting that people have a lot of assumptions about us because of the sound of the music we make. But then, to me, you can technically feed in to the community around you however you want to, and it makes sense to me to take that old school approach that we would've used in other bands. I'm sure if I put a post box on the merch stand at other shows when it was like eight people there, nobody would put anything in it. So now we're in a place where people do want to communicate with us, and I think it's important to be respectful and reflective in that way.
What kind of shows did you go to as a teenager?
Well, I guess I lived in the kind of rural wilderness. So you would get a bus and a train to Glasgow, and then you would go to a show there. And I guess I was pretty into stuff like Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab and Brand New and Bright Eyes, stuff like that.
You’re an emo kid at heart!
I am an emotional, kinda emo core, but I don't know. I don't really subscribe to that notion that people can be snooty about emo, and I'm reading the Andy Greenwald book about emo just now. Cuz I've never read it before, and we went on his podcast and he was very nice. And I was like, I should read this book, actually because I am a teenager of that era. And I was reading it on the plane yesterday, and I was like, this is so true. Cuz he was talking about technically you know, emo came out of hardcore, and technically that's what emo is. But also, emo has morphed completely, and it was like it doesn't even necessarily refer to a kind of music. It refers to an idea, and what is emo for someone who is a teenager in my generation will be different than somebody else. And basically, they were like, it's just it's more about the way it communicates with the fan base and how that is reflected in the band. I don't know. I like the idea that you can take that kind of approach and apply it to different kinds of music.
I remember as a teenager going to shows every once in a while. I also lived in a small town. So there weren't many shows.
There's not a lot going on.
Not a lot going on.
But just being in a crowd of people at a music show was such a unique and powerful experience. I always have trouble articulating what that feeling is, like why does that feel so important and why is it something so many people want, you know?
You sit and you listen to those records by yourself, and you think about how much they mean to you and why. And that's your totally personal experience. And then you go into a place where you're with so many other people, and it's a public experience, but it's also so personal. I think there's certain shows I went to when I was a teenager, and sometimes now—maybe I'm jaded—but just like the vibe of it, there's totally something in the air because everyone's brought in that good and bad emotional baggage with them. But to me, that's the best kind of show is when people are emotionally invested in what's happening; they're not just kind of standing there, stroking their chins and analyzing it. They're living it, and I think that's pretty awesome.
Do you feel like your music comes out of emo, or is that just like a part of your identity that you keep kind of locked up?
I think my personality definitely grew out of that. I don't think if I hadn't, yeah, if I was a teenager that hasn't listened to stuff like Bright Eyes or Death Cab, I don't think I would write the way I write. Not that you're ripping people off, but you know, just informing how you're gonna be as a writer and what you want to do. And I guess I've tried to write abstract narratives and stories, and I just am bad at it. So maybe I'm so self-involved that I need to write about my own shit all the time. But to me, I'm like that's just how I like to write. It always feels more authentic to me to write those kinda things. And I never really—I think I have a strong cheese radar. I'm quite a strict editor on myself, but I never really look at writing about emotions as a negative thing. To me, that's a positive part of music is that you're saying something, communicating it, and maybe that'll resonate with somebody somewhere.
I think that's a big deal, actually—trying not to apologize for having strong feelings or getting upset about something. So often, especially with women, we say, “Oh, I'm sorry I'm crying. I'm sorry I'm upset about this.” And I'm always like, no, empathy is good. If you're reading or hearing something and it's provoking a response in you, that's always a good thing
I think so. And I guess especially when people started writing about the band, I think people were like, oh it's weird that they make pop music, but lyrically they're not making pop music. But then to me, that's a good thing about our band is that we didn't change what was at the heart of the music we like to make because we were making it pop, you know? And I think it can still have depth, it can still have a heart. It doesn't need to be super polished and super shiny in order to make it into people's lives or into a chart, which is pretty cool. We tricked the system somehow. I feel like they're gonna figure out and come get us and take back all the gig sales, but no. I feel like at this point I think it's good.
That speaks to that feeling of faking it again.
Yeah, someone's gonna come back at me like, “It was all a massive joke! This is all a big prank. Iain and Martin are actually actors. None of this is real [laughs].
Do you feel better about that this tour? Like less of that imposter syndrome feeling you were speaking to? Do you feel like you've gotten better at dealing with that, or is it always there, and it's hard to feel successful?
I think to an extent, if that's in your personality, it's always gonna be there lurking under the surface. But I watched that Amy Cuddy TED Talk she did about body language and it influences your emotions and vice versa. And then, trying to think about stuff like that and just basically the whole fake it till you make it thing. And there's a bit where she's like, “I faked it until one day I woke up, and I was like holy shit! I am it!” And I guess I was like, okay, maybe that's, you know you're tricking yourself in a way. And yeah, I just think finding a more positive way to reframe what we're doing was important for me rather than feeling like I was constantly defending my turf or under attack or something. I think I was just okay, well, how do we actually want to do it? And then do it that way.
So you mentioned ways to rethink the work that you're doing to make it more positive, rather than feeling like you're constantly on the defensive and being swamped by commentary. Maybe that ties in to self-care and taking care of yourself emotionally and psychologically when you're touring. Can you speak to that, to both how you try and be positive about the work that you're doing and not being defensive as well as trying to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, psychologically?
Well, I guess I think it was just important for me to set boundaries, and as much as I want what we're doing to be as genuine as possible, I think eventually I was like I need to draw a line between real life me and band me. So yeah, I guess for a long time, I think probably cuz we've put so much of ourselves into our music, and also lyrically it's very personal. So you know, I want that to be the case, but then I want to be able to step back and separate when people are being negative and being hurtful and offensive, I want to have a thicker skin on that regard and just be like you know, “I respect what you're saying. I disagree because I don't think that's factually correct.” Move on, you know?
That's extremely generous: “I disagree because I don't think that's factually correct.”
You're human. You're a person. If someone's saying god-awful, heinous things to you, it is gonna affect you. But I think I've just kind of gotten better at trying to put a pin on it and move on. And I try and not read about the band wherever possible. And yeah, I read something the other day that someone had tweeted us repeatedly, and then I looked at it. And I was like, okay, well, you can't win though cuz you're not feminist enough for some people. You're too feminist for other people. And I read this thing that was like, “She's a really stupid tumblr feminist, and she uses her platform for terrible things when she should be talking about these really important issues, and she's not. So she's just vapid and giving everybody a bad name.” And then I read that, and I was like well, that's offensive cuz I don't feel like that. And then, I wrote out this angry four-paragraph Word document where I was like, technically this is really offensive. Cuz I do give a shit about these things, but when's anyone ever standing there actually asking my opinions on reproductive rights or funding for shelters? No one's asking. So and then I was like, I know what I do in my free time and in my personal life for those things. And so I was like, well, that makes me feel fine. You don't know me, so it's all good. It's kinda the end of it, you know? Whereas, I think for a while, stuff like that would've followed me for a long time, being like, oh, that person thinks I'm a horrible, fucking person. And I don't want to be. I came to the conclusion a while ago: I was not really kind to that person that grew up wanting to be a singer in a band so that people would adore you and slather you with attention and all that stuff. Nobody wants to be hated, do they? And I was like, nobody wants to get up every day and be on the receiving end of tons of hateful shit. But you don't need to internalize it, you know? I look at that, and I'm like well, that's the perception you have of me based on what you've read about me or what you think you know, but that's all come through a filter. It's all come through a media lens. But I don't really need everyone's approval. You shouldn't do good things so that other people pat you on the back, you know? I feel like you should be able to keep that inside of yourself. And you've got your own moral code. Try and abide by that. And I think it's a more positive way than being like, “Why is everyone an asshole?!” Which is sometimes what I think about the world. I'm like, why is everyone so horrible to everybody else? This is the tip of the iceberg; I'm just in a band. How awful must it be for other people? So yeah, I feel like I'm in a more cheerful place. And the blocking function online is so, oh. The satisfaction is so good. I take a screen grab of the aggressive [comments]. I'm like screen grab, block, put it in a Dropbox folder. Screen grab, block, Dropbox folder. So we've got them all on file, just in case, you know? Just in case, you know, just in case.
Yeah, that does feel good. I think that's an ongoing process, of letting go having everybody like you, you know? It's easy to say. I mean, everybody learns that growing up: Not everybody's gonna like you. It's okay. You can't please everybody.
The scale of it has changed immeasurably, I guess. As much as we get a lot of positivity, and that's great, but also you don't want that all to go into your head and for you to think that you're the best human that's ever existed. But the scale of good and bad goes up at the same time.
I'm 28 now, but I was 23, just about to be 24 when I met Iain and then started playing in the band. And I feel like a lot of people grow up a huge amount in their 20s anyway, and I guess I've just done it under a microscope, being in this band. And I think in my personal life and my professional life, I've just kind of figured out what lines I want to draw and what boundaries I want to set, and just finally being like, no, don't, you know? Just learning not to be a pushover and also learning not to take everything on your own back, if that makes sense.
So I just read the interview you did with Corin Tucker in Interview magazine, which was really great.
That was like, I was trying to be very calm during that experience, but I was just sitting at the kitchen in my house, and I was like, Corin Tucker's on the phone! This is fucking insane [laughs]!
So you were like fan-girling out, being like, “It's Corin Tucker!”
I was like, someone's playing a joke on me. What does she want to talk to me about? I don't have anything useful to say.
Well, one line I really loved from that interview was you talking about how eventually, everyone's going to find out about your “god-given feminist rage.”
I want to talk to you more about that. How did you realize you were full of god-given feminist rage? Tell me about how you deal with that productively rather than just walking on every day, being like, “The world sucks so much!”
Yeah. I guess for me, it's been like a real learning curve, I guess. I think when I was a teenager, I was like oh, “I'm interested in feminist ideas and trying to figure that out.” But I think that was like a very fun, enlightening time, and then I think I definitely hit a point like a couple a years ago where I was just very angry and upset about everything. I was like, “How can people be so awful to each other all the time?” I think for me, I was like, we're all aware of the negative stuff, and we should talk about it, and we should constantly be advancing that conversation and bringing different people into that conversation. But I think you can get into quite a bad mindset if you just are constantly bombarded with negativity. You can't really change in a couple of days, a couple of years, a couple of decades. So I guess for me, I was like, it's important to feel like I'm putting something positive out into my tiny part of the world as well. I think that's been a nicer way to do it, rather than being like constantly outraged by things. Especially in the kind of industry we work in, some people are like, “Ugh, she should just toughen up. She should just get over it.” But then, you know, that's happening every day. It's like chipping, chipping, chipping, chipping away at you. And there was this video that went viral of me telling a heckler to shut up at a show.
Yeah, that was a really recent show, actually, where some guy said—he was in the audience—he yelled, “Marry me!”
Yes. What the video doesn't show is that that guy had been doing that the entire time. He was doing that the whole show. People around him must've been like, “Could this guy fucking shut up? We're trying to watch the gig!” So I was like, okay, I'll just engage with him to be like, “You're not being respectful of the gig.” He's not being respectful of the performance. He's not being respectful of people that've come with him. It's interesting to see how when that gets taken out of context, how people perceive that. People were like, “She's very rude to her fans. That's very disrespectful.” And I was like, well, I would argue that's not a very respectful way for you to conduct yourself. And then when people were saying, “Well, nobody complains when little girls are shouting 'marry me' at an N'Sync concert.” And I was like, “Yes, I see what you're saying, but I'm not in a boy band. It's different. It's a different thing.” Also, we don't get through a show now where that shit doesn't happen to us. Like the day after, we played in Philadelphia, and somebody threw a jockstrap on the stage with a roll of condoms stuck in the front. So you know, when someone's like, “Why is she being such an uptight bitch?” I'm like, “Maybe I am being an uptight bitch but you don't live in my experience.” They don't see every day. To me, I was like, well, “We grew up playing club shows where you respond to the heckler, and you shut them down.” And if I was a dude fronting a male band, nobody would have a problem with it, I don't think. So I'm not sure. I would never be rude to the fans. That's the meanest thing you could say to me. I would never do that. I set up the post box. I go through there and write all the letters.
When you told that guy, “That's disrespectful, stop doing that, you're being very rude,” did that feel good to you? Or afterwards, were you like, “I shouldn't have said that! I was being so mean to that guy who was being a jerk.”
No. Well, I guess I view that as you know, that's not the best or worst thing that happened to us in that day. But it's just like, gig cat-calling, essentially. I was like, I don't think that person's a fan of our band. If they're gonna look at our band and break it down to separate me from the others purely based on gender, then I'm like, well, that's stupid anyway. But I didn't even think that much about it after the show cuz it was tongue-in-cheek. It was sarcastic, but it made the point. So I didn't really think anything about it. Part of me was like, “Oh, maybe I should not respond to hecklers anymore.” But then that's us changing the way we conduct ourselves because of what other people think, and you can't do that in life, you know? You have to just do what feels right to you at the time. And I think at the time, it was just frustrating because he'd been doing that the whole way through the set. So I was like, all right. I'll take two minutes, deal with you. Cuz you know, you are singing and performing, but also you're the front man. So I was like, okay, for the benefit of the gig, you need to fucking shut that guy up and then proceed. And then people were like, “She's so rude to him.” And I'm like, “Well, what's the appropriate response? I don't understand.” [giggling]
Well he was taking up an undue amount of space and time and emotional energy from you. I mean, if you could hear him through the whole show disrupting your line of thought, and you're the person who's singing and the person that is putting on the show. You said it’s “gig cat-calling,” and I think that's really true that it's a form of harassment. When somebody yells at you on the street, you have to figure the best way to respond. And the response or non-response totally depends on the situation and how safe you feel and how angry you are that day.
To me, that's the difference. That's one of the few times in life where a woman literally has the microphone. So I can literally tell you to shut up, and there won't be any comeback on me apart from the internet afterwards. But I don't know. Mainly, my response at the time was like, “Ugh, shut up, you douchey dude.” But also, “You're ruining the gig for everybody around you. Shut up.” So I don't know. I wouldn't take it back. I stand by it. I would do it again.