by Matt Kelchner
As the festival season begins to heat up again, Chvrches begins to prepare for another year of playing on some of the biggest stages across the country. In their short career, the three piece group from Glasgow, Scotland have managed to steadily climb the ranks and become one of hottest new rising acts. This Saturday, Chvrches make their way back to Philadelphia to help kick off Radio 104.5’s annual series of free summer block parties.
“We tend not to take our collective foot off the gas for any of our performances, large or small,” synth/guitarist/producer Iain Cook tells me as we discuss the the group’s performances. It’s something the band has not done since they first started releasing music. Even before the release of their debut and current full length album, The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches was out headlining their own tours.
After listening to a few songs, it’s easy to pick up the deeply rooted electronic background of Chvrches. Layers of synths, programmed drum patterns and samples can be easily distinguished. Replicating this kind of careful and meticulous songwriting in a live setting is not always an easy task, but Chvrches managed to master a setup that suits them wonderfully.
“We are aware that live music and recorded music are different beasts and we don’t try too hard to make the live sound exactly like the record,” Cook explains. “As a result, I feel like the live show is a bit looser and more dynamic than the record. We wanted it to feel more live and spontaneous and give the songs a bit more room to breathe.”
This spontaneity and extra breathing room can also leave room for errors and breakdowns during any given show. “There’s lots of small things that can, and sometimes do, go terribly wrong, but the last year and a half of touring has been an ongoing exercise in bug fixing and testing and incrementally improving the setup,” Cook tells me. It’s an x factor that he sees constantly popping up as they continue to add new elements to their show.
Without discussing what additions may be in store for the future, Cook goes over the elaborate system that Chvrches currently plays in. “Our setup is a bit of a complex hybrid of analog synths and computers. Sometimes getting everything to talk to everything else can be a challenge,” he goes on to say.
It’s at this point where Cook dives into more of the specifics of their stage setup, namely some of his favorite synths. “My favorite synth is the Moog Voyager,” he tells me. “Although I also enjoying the Moog Sub Phatty rather a lot. It’s a lot simpler but has some nice features that push the sound in a much gnarlier direction.”
Cook adds, “also getting to grips with the new Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12. It’s a stunning synth and really well designed.” We could have spent the entire interview nerding out over gear, but there were so many other questions I wanted to ask that we had to move on.
In the event that any of Cook’s synthesizers, or anything else in the band’s set up for that matter, begins to fail, they have an entire backup system ready to take over. Cook explains, “we have doubles of everything now and our tech knows the setup inside out and is very good at troubleshooting. We also have a backup laptop system that switches to another machine if there’s the slightest drop out in signal.” He later adds, “analog synths do not like 110 degree heat and direct sunlight it turns out!” It’s a very real problem that they have learned to overcome after many months of touring.
“Our touring schedule has kind of dictated that we haven’t had any actual time in the studio to make a proper start,” Cook says as we begin to talk about the follow up to The Bones of What You Believe. While not much of it has been worked on, Cook hints at the group beginning to brainstorm ideas for the album and looking to begin to properly start the songwriting in between their busy festival schedule this summer. “It’s something that we think about and discuss all the time.”
But right now the main focus is on touring, their upcoming shows and the number of different festivals down the road. “With festival shows, especially daytime slots, we aren’t able to make the most of the light show that we usually tour with which means that the performance tends to be more focused on the three of us.” Cook and I discuss the differences between the two types of settings. “It’s quite a bit different, less intimate but still as much fun and definitely more nerve wracking”.
Cook goes on to say that the great thing about playing festivals is that “you get to play to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily your fans, maybe they are hearing the band for the first time.” The same cannot be said for Radio 104.5’s show this Saturday. For months now, Chvrches has been in heavy rotation and the band is no stranger to the station nor their fans.
Typically their shows sell out whenever they stop by Philly, but this time is a different story. With a much higher capacity, as well as a low, low ticket price of $0, the show this weekend is a no brainer. And thankfully for the band, the weather is shaping up to be perfect springtime weather. Looks like we won’t have to worry about their backup systems kicking in for this show.