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BBC Sound of 2013: Chvrches

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

media captionWatch: Iain Cook, Martin Doherty and Lauren Mayberry visit their favourite pub in Glasgow

Glasgow electro-pop trio Chvrches have come fifth in the BBC's Sound Of 2013 new music list.

The list, compiled using tips from more than 210 tastemakers - made up of music critics, editors, broadcasters and bloggers - aims to highlight some of the most exciting emerging artists.

We are revealing one artist from the top five in reverse order every day until Friday, when the winner will be announced.

Musical polygamy is everywhere.

Sixteen of this year's number one singles had a featured artist. Calvin Harris and David Guetta collect guest singers like Top Trump cards. Flo Rida it seems has appeared on roughly 1,300 songs in the last 12 months (you do wonder whether he's heard them all).

Collaborations are now so commonplace, it's easy to forget what it must be like for the singer.

You walk up to a studio door, swallow hard, and enter another musician's world. Presented with a song they've been working on for days, you've got to deliver the goods in a measly afternoon.

Lauren Mayberry knows the feeling only too well.

Last October, she was called away from her band Blue Sky Archives to sing on a couple of demos by her producer Iain Cook and his friend Martin Doherty.

"My fear initially was that I was going to go in there and it would be two guys who had written the stuff and they just wanted me to sing it," she recalls.

image captionAt 25, singer Lauren Mayberry is the baby of the group. Martin Doherty is 30, while Iain Cook is 38

"But it wasn't like that at all, and that was definitely a relief."

In fact, the sessions went so well, they ditched the demos and formed a new band. It was christened Chvrches, using a Roman "v" so Google wouldn't confuse the group with actual churches.

"We were really fortunate that each of our strengths matched up to make this easy," Mayberry says.


All three members of Chvrches had played in bands before. Doherty toured the world with brooding noise terrorists The Twilight Sad, while Cook was a member of Aereogramme and supplemented his income by writing music for film and TV.

"Lots of adverts and a couple of children's TV series," he says, adding mysteriously: "The names will remain a secret."

When the trio began writing in earnest last winter, the songs came thick and fast.

"There was something really exciting about that time," says Doherty. "There was no attention on the band, no-one knew who we were. We were doing it all behind the scenes."

The Mother We Share, one of two singles that tickled the armpits of the internet last year, took just 48 hours to write and record from start to finish.

In lesser hands, it would be a catchy, but unremarkable, pop tune. Chvrches shove it face-first in the dirt, roughing up a pretty "woah-oh" chorus with corrugated synths and distorted samples.

image captionPrince is a big influence - but the band also cite Depeche Mode, Eliot Smith and Kate Bush as inspirations

"My vocals are kind of quite sweet," says Mayberry. "If the music was produced in a certain way, it could be horribly saccharine and awful.

"The fact we have that sweetness in the vocals means you can go a bit further - making it a bit darker, a bit dirtier."

Mayberry's vulnerable delivery is the band's secret weapon. Raw and untrained, her voice cuts through the clattering synths with an unexpected emotional resonance. And it's all delivered in her soft, Glaswegian accent.

"It's not put on, or anything," she protests.

In fact, she can't understand the fuss that's being made of her Scottish twang.

"I don't think singing in your accent should be a badge of honour," she says. "I also don't think it's something you have to bury so your band will be more acceptable on radio. That's twisted."

Mayberry mentions she recently started taking lessons in an effort to build up her vocal strength.

"I'm pretty sure if I had done that before, I wouldn't have the horrible vowel sounds that I do!"

Tour terror

By September, Chvrches' first two songs had earned them hundreds of eager converts online. Among them were US indie darlings Passion Pit, who invited the trio on their recent UK tour.

For a group who had only played nine shows in total, the first night - playing to a sold-out crowd at Dublin's Olympia - was a "terrifying experience".

"I certainly felt for Lauren," says Cook. "In all her previous projects, she has had something to hide behind. She played drums in a couple of bands and then she was behind a keyboard. Now she's the singer."

"She is good with a tambourine but you can't hide behind a tambourine," he laughs. "Although I suppose you can channel the spectre of Stevie Nicks..."

image captionThe band survived their first major gigs with "only a few" technical hiccups

"We're still finding our feet in terms of the live shows," concedes the eyelinered singer. But, aside from a few technical wobbles, "the response has been good".

The band celebrated the end of the tour with a smaller headline show in London's Electrowerkz - a venue so small that Mayberry "could see into the toilets from the stage".

She serenaded the sinks with a cover of Prince's I Would Die 4 U - a song which has rapidly become a staple of their live set.

"Prince is one musical touchstone that we all have," Cook says.

With the tour wrapped up, the band have retired to Glasgow to work on their debut album in Cook's basement studio.

"We have 18 songs in various states," says Cook. "We're going to try and finish all of this material by the end of January and then take February to come up with a couple more."

They keep office hours "wherever possible" ("it's good to have a regime," says Doherty). Someone has even set up a collaborative Google document for the band to suggest ideas for an album title.

At the moment, Cook says, "it's completely devoid of text".

Nonetheless, things are moving fast... Phones ring, emails demand attention, and people are hassling them for an EP.

It's already making the band nostalgic for the peace and quiet of last year.

"I sound ungrateful, and of course I'm not," says Cook. "But at the same time, it's harder to stay focussed."

Meanwhile, Chvrches have one non-believer left to convert.

"It's my mother," says Mayberry, who holds a law degree and a masters in journalism.

"She still cries herself to sleep that I didn't pursue a legal career!"

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