Glasgow synth-pop sensations Chvrches' Iain Cook reveals all about the band's first ever UK festival headline slot at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Chemikal Underground darlings Aereogramme, and how they dealt with a Chris Brown-fuelled online hatemob
IF there is one thing that a big artist always brings up before a Highland show, it’s their anticipation of a rowdy fun-loving crowd.
A cynic might consider this an easy way to get audiences on side with the band in advance of their show – “we heard you Highlanders like a party” is a cliché so well worn that What's On North could fund its lavish Christmas party by placing a pound in a jar every time we heard it.
But when Iain Cook – the producer helping to supply the big bone-crunching beats of critically-acclaimed Glasgow synth-pop stars Chvrches – brings up how much he is looking forward to Belladrum’s crowd, he’s speaking from experience.
Because Iain has visited the Highlands many times before, as part of Aereogramme – the noughties post-rock darlings and stalwarts of the legendary indie label Chemikal Underground.
“A long time ago, yeah!” Iain laughed as he remembered those old days. “I think it was the first show that I ever played in Inverness with Aereogramme was at the Raigmore Motel. That was a mad little gig! Crazy! It was absolutely bonkers!
“We were really quite surprised. Because I joined Aereogramme a couple of years in as a full time member, so I missed their first journeys up north. But when I got there and we were super excited to play there – and they did not disappoint, let’s put it that way!”
His latest trip north is a far cry removed from the Raigmore Motel’s stage. When he returns to the Highlands, it’ll be as headliners at its biggest music festival – Belladrum Tartan Heart.
And the festival has special significance for the synth pop trio – who also feature multi-instrumentalist Martin Doherty and vocalist Lauren Mayberry – for it marks their first headlining festival slot in the UK. “We’ve done a couple in the States, headline slots, but this is probably the first UK one. So what an honour to be doing it in Scotland, you know?
“We’ve never played Belladrum before but, you know, we hear such great things about it. And every time we’re up your neck of the woods, the fans are always right up for it. They’re mad in a great way.”
And anybody who’s ever played a sweaty gig in the Raigmore Motel is definitely qualified to make that judgement.
But the flit from Iain’s old life as post-rock guitarist to synth-pop producer might not seem the most natural at first – but when Iain explains it, it seems to make perfect sense.
“There was one summer I just had a notion – I was listening to a lot more electronic stuff and some new stuff that was coming from America that was between those two worlds. You know the kind of synth-pop electronic stuff and the more post-rock indie side of things.
“And I just bought a synthesizer, I thought I’m just going to buy a Moog, and that coincided with the time that Martin and I got together.”
“So in a sense it was sort of initially driven by technology, if you want – an instrument. But it was never pre-meditated – it was never, like, okay, let’s do a synth-pop thing. It was more like, ‘woah – okay, this sounds good!’”
Adding Lauren as singer, Chvrches have gone on to great success – after their first singles went viral on platforms like Soundcloud and Fader.
That was only six years ago, yet already the music industry has evolved so much since then – moving from these free artist-led platforms to the likes of Spotify and Deezer. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? I feel like it took everybody by surprise, the whole record industry just screamed and clutched their pearls, you know? What the hell is going on!?
“Because people think of music like they think about water – it’s just always there, and all they need to do is turn on the tap and it’s there. The whole history of music is at the click of a button, which is f****** amazing on one level but you have to do other things to make a living now.”
Like play live – Chvrches have built up a rather formidable reputation as a live band, their synth-pop jams resonating well with their crowds.
And after filling floors at venues like Glasgow’s SSE Hydro, that bodes well for Bella.
It’s certainly a far cry from Iain’s Aereogramme days. “I remember once in Amsterdam, we were supporting maybe Henry Rollins or something at the Paradiso.
“And there was a wee guy down the front row with a magazine or newspaper on the stage, reading it on the stage while we were playing!”
He laughed. “And it was like, ‘what the f-‘ why bother!? Why bother!? Go to the bar, f*** off, you know!?”
It’s horrible to see your close friends coming under that kind of slack for basically doing nothing, you know?
Live, Chvrches will no longer have to deal with such negative feedback. But unfortunately for them earlier this year they had to deal with negative feedback of a more insidious and worrying kind.
Always outspoken on issues they find important, the band – and specifically frontwoman Lauren Mayberry – found themselves at the centre of an online hate mob after speaking out against one-time collaborator Marshmello’s work with convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown.
Seeing his close friend dealing with this must have hurt. “Lauren bears the brunt of that stuff, because she’s the frontperson of the band and outspoken when it comes to things like that, I don’t really get involved with the socials,” he said.
“But I’m glad that it’s kind of settled so we can get on with things and get on with music and our lives, because it is a really stressful thing. It’s horrible to see your close friends coming under that kind of slack for basically doing nothing, you know?
“It’s just tragic. But it’s just cowardice, isn’t it – people sit behind their little fake Instagram names and just spew out vitriol and bile into the world.
“It’s like, we don’t need that in this day and age, we never need that! It’s pointless and a waste of time. I think it deserves to be treated appropriately – ignored.”
Getting back to focusing on what they actually want to do therefore is a godsend for the band. “Exactly. Which, at the risk of sounding like a f****** hippie, is bringing positivity into the world.
“I think that’s what musicians are ultimately responsible for doing. Making people’s lives better by writing songs that express, that people can identify with and feels expresses part of being alive and being human.”
And getting to headline Belladrum will be part of it – bringing positive vibes to the Highland crowd.
And maybe, the band might just enjoy a little of that positivity too. “Yeah – I don’t imagine there’ll be many Chris Brown fans at Belladrum, so I think we’re in safe hands!” Iain laughed. “I think we’re fine!”
Chvrches headline Friday night on the Garden Stage at Belladrum. For more info, go to www.chvrch.es