Want to know if love is dead? Ask Chvrches' Martin Doherty

Want to know if love is dead? Ask Chvrches' Martin Doherty

Good intentions

Text: Adibah Isa

Chvrches' Martin Doherty talks about their third album, Love Is Dead, collaborating with the same man who produced Adele's 'Hello' and the band's new self-assurance

Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry may be the most vocal out of the band (literally — as the lead vocalist and go-to person for interviews), but Martin Doherty has all the right moves. Apart from his prowess as a multi-instrumentalist alongside fellow member Iain Cook, the Scotsman has also been noticed for the way his body wriggles and molds to Chvrches' electronic-driven beats, his fingers still thundering across the keyboard.

Originating from Glasgow, the Brooklyn-based musician would have been a history teacher if he hadn't joined the three-piece band back in 2013. The 35-year-old is one-third of a trio who has been partly responsible for your revisit of the '80s with their debut record, The Bones of What You Believe. With strong synths rooted in indie rock, songs such as 'The Mother We Share' and 'Recover' placed Chvrches on the map. Within a year, they were touring countries as far and wide as Singapore for Laneway Festival 2014, returning again in 2016.

Martin Doherty, Lauren Mayberry and Iain Cook
Released on 25 May, their third LP Love Is Dead sees a bolder, self-assured version of the band, one that has definitely grown up and gotten comfortable with their voices being heard. And what a voice it's been. Frontwoman Mayberry has been particularly vocal about the detriments of misogyny and sexism in the music industry, using her platform as a musician (and, interestingly, as a former journalist) to shed light on the abuse she's experienced as a female in entertainment.

After self-producing their first two albums, Chvrches worked with an outsider for the first time when they recorded in their Bushwick studio. They turned to Greg Kurstin — the same man who produced hits such as Adele's 'Hello', Kelly Clarkson's 'Stronger' and Sia's 'Chandelier' — to produce eight songs, and even roped in The National's Matt Berninger in 'My Enemy'. In 13 tracks, Love Is Dead encapsulates the band's growth by writing and singing about the state of the world. A grim reference? The death of young Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, in 'Graves': "They're leaving bodies in stairwells/Washing up on the shore".

Two weeks before the release of Love Is Dead, we got on a phone call with Doherty to find out more. 

It's about two weeks to the album's release. Is it a 'third time's the charm' kind of thing and are you nervous? Could you talk me through what is going on in your head at this moment?
Honestly, yes there is always some terror but I feel like I know this road a little bit better. I admit that I'm less stressed than I would've been in the past. Luckily there is a routine, we're trying out new ideas and I'm getting my way up to take this album on the road.

We have to ask: Is love dead?
The title is supposed to be provocative, you know, and intended to be a conversation starter. I don't necessarily believe that to be true, but some people do and some people don't. I think that's part of the reason why we chose that as the title.

How do you think you have grown the most in, three albums later?
I think we've become more self-assured than we were in the beginning. In the beginning a lot of us were just learning by doing. We had a realisation that no amount of apprenticeship in the music business could really prepare you for what that feels like when your band kicks off in the way that it did. I've gone through so many personal changes and professional growth — too many to mention — but certainly by the end, where I am right now is the most confident.

Why Greg Kurstin?
Greg is a really special musician and he really knows what feels good in terms of everything he does as a musician. We had a really special connection to what he was doing and he was excited about the dynamics we had and our existing chemistry.

Has Chvrches departed from anything musically in Love Is Dead?
I think in the past, there wouldn't have been a song like 'Really Gone' on a Chvrches album. That's literally just one vocal and a synth. I don't think in the past we would be self-assured enough to know that we wanted to just leave that song as bare as it was and present it. We always had the tendency to really juice things up and put as many bells and whistles on as we could, whereas that song is just a chord and a keyboard, you know?

Is there a song on the album that really speaks to who you are at the moment?
I only wrote the lyrics on one song, so I guess it would have to be that. It would be the song 'God's Plan', which is nothing to do with the Drake song, it's just really bad luck (laughs). We just named it and then we're like "Oh dear he's just released it". But yeah that's the only one that I wrote so I'll have to say it's that one.

You've been based in New York City for one and a half years now. How do you think living in New York has fuelled you creatively?

I think it does impact you in a sort of conscious way. There's no escaping that. It certainly has a really particular energy and has inspired in so many ways. Do I write songs about New York? Definitely not, but I can't ignore the fact that it does influence me in some way.

Has your Scottish-ness been phased out since you've been living in New York?
I'm exceptionally Scottish (laughs). I don't think I'll ever leave any of that and I think we're very proud of our attitude and our core values. 

Check out Chvrches' new album, Love Is Dead, here.