Being ahead of your time can often be a quite isolating, painful experience. Just ask Lauren Mayberry, the gutsy vocalist for Scottish synth-rock trio Chvrches who—five long years ago—grew so fed up with misogynist comments she received from males online that she penned a scathing op-ed piece for The Guardian about show business’s callous denigration of women, long before the sweeping #metoo movement took hold.
There was no chorus of sympathetic voices—standing up for herself promptly got her pilloried as a pot-stirrer. “And it wouldn’t have been so lonely if more women in the mainstream entertainment industry had been willing to put their names to these things back then,” she sighs, forlornly. “But when we were talking about (harassment) five years ago, it was so confusing to me because the concept seemed like a given—it wasn’t something that we should still be having to explain to people. At least now we’re in a really positive place since that conversation is being had on a huge mainstream platform.”
And this incisive songwriter’s tongue has just grown sharper ever since, leaving her lyrically on the attack throughout Love is Dead, Chvrches’ bracing, slightly sinister new third effort, co-produced by longtime Adele collaborator Gerg Kustin. And as a New York resident, she feels an almost religious fervor about the barren and soulless post-Trump landscape. While her two bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty house her in an almost sacred, rose-windowed cathedral of synthesizers and guitars, Mayberry becomes one with her Gothic surroundings in dark political observations “Graves,” “Heaven/Hell,” “Deliverance,” and “My Enemy,” her duet with The National’s Matt Berninger.
“And not commenting in some judgmental way? I don’t understand how you’re supposed to just stand by and watch these things happen—things that are about humanity—and not say something. Because this isn’t a political issue anymore—it’s about what kind of people you ultimately want to be.” No longer a lone-wolf martyr, she reaffirmed her outspoken stance to Paste, just as Chvrches’ Stateside juggernaut rumbles to life.
Paste: You’ve really gotten involved in American politics now. Kind of hard not to be right?
Lauren Mayberry: Well, I guess people here make more of a deal of us talking politics than they do back home in Scotland. But it just seems logical to us. Because saying nothing? I don’t think that’s how you’re going to convince anybody about anything. But we work in this country so much—we tour here, we just made a record here, we have friends and loved ones here. And I feel like so much of what occupies my mind now—as it has for the past five, 10 years—is growing up and realizing that this shit is serious, and you can’t just bury your head in the sand like a lot of others do. So it becomes more about how you deal with the disillusion you have about yourself, and people you know, and people you don’t know. And I used to be an optimist, and I feel like I want to hold on to that. But I don’t know. What do you do when you get to the point where all the stuff you thought was true was probably just an idealized version of the truth?
Paste: Nobody wanted to listen to your truth five years ago when you wrote that letter.
Mayberry: But now that conversation is less controversial than it was five years ago, and I feel like it’s in a positive place. The line in the sand is drawn. But there has to be more than white roses at the Grammys or talking about it on the Oscars red carpet. You can’t kick (Harvey) Weinstein out of the Academy and then give an award to Kobe Bryant or Gary Oldman, or keep people like Woody Allen instead. So if we’re going to do this thing, we’re really going to do it.
Paste: Are you still with your Scottish feminist foundation TYCI—for Tuck Your Cunt In?
Mayberry: Unfortunately, TYCI took a bow about a year ago. Just because a lot of its people had moved away. But it felt like a really important thing for us to do at the time, and it was great to meet other women who could tell me that I wasn’t crazy, that what I went through wasn’t just made up in my mind. Because there were a lot of women, mostly online, who would say, “Yeah, that’s a bummer. But she just needs to suck it up.” And casually accepting the situation? I call bullshit on that, because you’re a part of the problem if you’re not going to shine a light on it. So I hope that the #metoo conversation will really develop, because we’re at a point where yes, there is a discussion. But it’s not that diverse.
Paste: It’s easy to forget that it’s been over two decades since popular female-empowering books like Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolff’s The Beauty Myth. Easy for girls to forget such crucial texts, too.
Mayberry: There’s a song on the record called “Heaven/Hell,” and that’s a lot of what it’s about for me. I think there was a Naomi Wolff quote where she said It’s not the lipstick that’s the problem—it’s the methodology behind the lipstick.” Like, I have no problem with anybody doing a number of things, if you only knew why you’re doing them. That’s the whole relationship that media has with women—now, on one hand, celebrity X has is saying all these glowing things, but when you see them rehearsing, the message they’re putting out for young girls, a lot of times those things are just completely separate. These are the things that trouble me when I’m trying to get to sleep.
Paste: The Alicia Keys no-makeup movement seems to be catching on.
Mayberry: It’s just so insane to me that there’s a whole industry built on making women feel awful about themselves. Makeup and clothing and all that should be a fun way to be creative and express yourself. Just like in nature, where birds have all the colors. But instead, it’s all focused on the aesthetics of being attractive to men. Even if you really don’t think it is that, that’s what we’re doing. So I would rather paint my face because it’s what I wanted to express that day than do it to conform and make myself look more acceptable, visually. But as a lady in the public eye, I’ve learned that a lot of men have an opinion on the use of these things just because that’s the way they’ve been taught. I find myself doing it. I’ll scroll through Instagram but I have to take internet breaks. So now if I post something for the band, I’ll post it and I’ll leave—I don’t look at anything else. Because even though I’m a grown-ass lady, I’ll be looking through Instagram going, “Ohhh…” It’s just this idea that someone else has something we don’t, and they keep giving us all these tools to make us feel worse about ourselves. If you give me half an hour on the internet, I can hate myself completely by the end of that 30 minutes.
Paste: Russia used our own preening online narcissism against us.
Mayberry: Uh-huh. And I think it’s sad that we live in an age where you can’t believe what you see, you know? You can’t believe everything you read in a newspaper, or everything that’s coming out of the president’s mouth. And you can’t believe when someone posts a picture from their personal life because most of the time it’s staged—we’re showing each other these idealized versions of ourselves so that we seem better and other people will feel worse. It just makes me depressed.
Paste: And then you get to the real news, like [former] EPA honcho Scott Pruitt ordering some insanely expensive soundproof booth, and depression really kicks in.
Mayberry: What does he need a soundproof booth for? We know a lot about audio production ourselves, and it shouldn’t have cost you 54 grand. Somebody ripped you off, mate. Maybe Chvrches could have given you the number of someone to call, because that is insane! But I would probably sit him down and explain science to him first, because you have to believe that these global warming things are real. Because? Science! Because science!