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Monday, November 8, 2021

Writing about CHVRCHES' new album, Screen Violence, for The Skinny back in August, Sam Moore stated that the album's "cinematic influences like Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg" make "for cathartic music you can have a sob to, dance to and play loud while you’re pounding a punch bag." Also back in August, Illinois Entertainer's Tom Lanham delved even more into the album's cinematic influences:
Chvrches had already planned on taking 2020 off after two solid years of touring behind its third **Love is Dead opus. And as she [lead singer Lauren Mayberry] dug into her horror-flick schematic for Album No. Four, watching a slew of gruesome gorefests in the process, she again stumbled across Joel Schumacher’s 1987 cult-favorite **The Lost Boys. Around the same time, she was delighted to discover a newer entry like **Final Girls. Set in the fictional seaside California town of Santa Carla, **Lost Boys wound up inspiring her moribund “California” lyric. “For me, that song was like writing through the lens of freaky Santa Carla, about people dying in California, and they’re being killed by vampires — that’s one read on it,” Mayberry says. “But then an actual read on it is how we moved here to get writing jobs, and how none of that really matters now, and now you’re probably going to die in California, completely disconnected from all your friends and family. And you only know one guy ([Martin] Doherty), and he’s in a house down the road, but you can’t really see him.” She takes a deep, calming breath, exhales.” So it was a VERY cathartic piece when we wrote that one, I think,” she adds.

However dark their firmament, the stars all seemed to align for Chvrches in 2020, just the world shuddered to a halt. The band name was still in the public eye, thanks to the Marshmello collab and “Death Stranding,” a track commissioned for a video game of the same name by renowned **Metal Gear Solid designer Hideo Kojima. Mayberry had an empathic new understanding of her own songwriting skills — ‘Plays well with others,’ her pandemic report card would have read — and Cook and Doherty were feeling the urge to revisit vintage synth-rock sounds and warmer textures from the ‘80s, via fave bands from that period like OMD, Depeche Mode, plus New Order and its Joy Division precursor, and even — on the sinister-carnival-evoking Final Girl itself — Rio-era Duran Duran. They had even set aside the suggestive album title, which Mayberry had found in a decade-old book of nixed potential band names. It didn’t take them long to agree on an allegorical theme, where Elm Street crosses paths with Camp Crystal Lake — machetes optional.

“We were really lucky for the most part because we’d planned to take 2020 off to make the record,” says Mayberry, who got into the spooky swing of things by growing her hair long and dying it blonde to resemble Drew Barrymore (perhaps channeling Barbara Crampton) in one of her all-time favorite nail-biters, Scream. “We only had a little summer touring planned, and that was a fortunate position to be in because a lot of bands we knew were just gearing up to put out albums (at lockdown). So I think there’s an energy to this record that’s really special because it was made in a vacuum — we worked remotely, and the band didn’t really exist outside of the three people that were in it anymore.” Sans tours, press junkets, and promotional duties like TV appearances, she asks, rhetorically, “What IS a band when you take all those things away? It’s about writing, and last year, that became a steady, consistent thing. We’d meet up every day on Zoom and do our writing, and you’re working on music with your colleagues, but also your friends, in real-time, talking about the horrible shit that everybody was going through.” As awkward as it sounds, she adds, she’ll treasure that trial by fire, always.

Spare time, of course, was spent Netflixing down the ghoulish rabbit hole for film research. Besides Final Girls, Mayberry can easily pinpoint three spectral favorites that topped her list after repeated viewings: Carrie (“Stephen King writes female characters so well, and that movie means so many things, on so many levels,” she praises); the original **Halloween (“Because John Carpenter is the absolute greatest — he’s making the music AND writing and directing the films, and it’s just impressive to me that he did that,” she says); and, of course, the satirical **Scream.

“And it makes a lot of sense as a reference for this record,” she reveals, “because it is that meta, talking-about-the-medium-whilst-making-the-medium kind of thing, and I think that’s incredibly clever. The sequels I could do without, but the original is great, and the whole point of me dying my hair was to kind of play with the tropes of women in horror. So if I can be blonde like the Drew Barrymore character, who only lasts for five minutes, what would people project onto you? Because in order to be the true final girl, you have to have an innocence, and the audience needs to root for you.” She pauses for effect. She’s given this considerable thought: “But what if you don’t have that? What if you feel like the Scream Queen, but you’re actually not the Final Girl? What do those things mean? So maybe only a few people other than me will pick up on these things. But that research was really helpful for my writing process.”

In the cover art for the album’s syncopated folk/pop/dance pastiche of a single, “Good Girls” — which sneeringly deconstructs society’s simpleminded sexist strictures for what constitutes a female of good moral breeding — Mayberry even taps into the Nagel-print-retro look of a Brian De Palma femme fatale, circa 1984’s Body Double. And she unveils her brilliant ideas in such an authoritative, rapid-fire volley that she effortlessly packs a two-hour talk into 35 condensed minutes. So we don’t have to discuss the new reigning pandemic Scream Queen, the brainy Samara Weaving of Mayhem, The Babysitter, and Ready or Not fame. But she has plenty of time to address the mascara-sporting white elephant in the room, singing along on “How Not to Drown,” a certain Mr. Robert Smith, The Cure being another musical influence that Cook and Doherty took on Screen Violence board.

“I still feel very what-the-fuck about it — I can’t believe that it actually happened,” Mayberry gasps, sounding fangirl giddy. “But honestly, it was just a bizarre, happy accident, which I feel has been on par for us. The biggest things to have ever happened to Chvrches have always been the loose things — it’s never been something that we wanted desperately or tried to get to happen in some way. It’s always been some weird accident, where somebody met somebody at a bar and said, ‘Oh, I LIKE that band!’” This boon came courtesy of Chvrches’ manager Campbell McNeil of Lunatic Entertainment, who casually informed a lawyer he shared with The Cure that his trio (which now unofficially includes drummer Jonny Scott) wouldn’t mind opening a few upcoming dates for the band since Smith was finishing a new album. Nothing more invasive than an innocent have-their-team-contact-our-team request, she swears. “Campbell was just looking ahead, you know? Doing what good managers do,” she recollects. “But Robert Smith doesn’t HAVE a manager, so then he got an email from him saying, ‘Aloha, Campbell! I hear you have been looking for me. What do you want?’ So then Campbell had to call US up and go, ‘Uhh, guys? I just did a thing…so what DO you want?’ And we were like, ‘What?! What do we ask for? I have no idea where he even came from!’” Chvrches dutifully sent Smith early Screen demos as work examples, she adds, and he happily opted to contribute to “Drown.” “That was the one that he picked out,” she says proudly. “And hearing his voice on that song is so insane, but hearing him sing words that I wrote is incredibly bizarre, as well, especially given what the song is about. It’s really a full circle, so you never know where things are going to end, I suppose.”

Script-wise, however, it’s supposed to end with the Final Girl dispatching the masked serial killer with his own chainsaw. Or, as Mayberry warbles blithely in the anthem of the same name, “And you know that she should be screaming.” But this defiant auteur enjoys no longer taking cues from any directors. “And with some movies, if you package them in a certain way, people are going to want to watch them, and they’re going to take on — and engage with — the ideas in a way that.

Might not have otherwise,” she firmly believes. So with Screen Violence,” she concludes, “I like that there are layers to it. Like, if you just want to listen to this record and think, ‘Oh, it’s a horror concept album that Chvrches made because they love horror movies because they’re geeks like that,’ then that’s fine. But it’s also a bit meta because it isn’t really about that at all.”

As CHVRCHES gets set to begin the tour for Screen Violence, Mayberry tells Cory Garcia at Houston Press, "I've seen the visuals and I will need to not get creeped out during the show." Garcia "asked Mayberry for her horror movie picks to experience the Screen Violence tour." Mayberry named four: Carrie, Hellraiser, Halloween, and Videodrome.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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