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CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry Talks Cyberbullying And Women In Music
Coming off the release of CHVRCHES’ sophomore record, frontwoman Lauren Mayberry is feeling good. The record, as a whole flows with less radio hits than the band’s debut The Bones Of What You Believe (and first single “Leave A Trace” showed that their sophomore album wouldn’t be a slump). Surprisingly (or not, depending on your views), over the past year, Mayberry has stood out among musicians outspoken against Internet trolls, misogyny, abusive relationships and the general sexist abuse that comes along with being a woman in the music industry. Though she obviously wasn’t aspiring to be the poster-child for feminism, her voice has resonated with members inside and outside of the music community. She’s fearless when it comes to speaking her mind, or standing up for what she believes in—it’s something that we at POPULAR admire about her the most.
While kicking ass on tour, Mayberry sat down with us in Brooklyn to talk about cyberbullying, how she felt like she didn’t count as a woman in music and what she wants to teach the next generation of female musicians.
When your first single “The Mother We Share” came out, it kind of felt like you were going to stay in this indie realm. Now, it seems like you’ve broken into the mainstream. Did you see yourself remaining in the indie space or breaking into the mainstream?
I think, for us, we’ve always kind of straddled that line. Even though we’re an alternative band in many ways, the music was a lot more pop-driven than a lot of our contemporaries, but at the same time, I don’t think we’ve fit into the pop bracket because of the way we came about. I think it’s really great because more people are listening to the band and more people are coming to the shows. In my head, the idea of indie has broken down so much in the last however many years. I think it’s about the mentality of the approach of what you’re doing and how you work in the business. I don’t think we’ve changed the ethos of how we’ve worked.
Do people ever say you look like Josephine Vander Gucht from Oh Wonder or Elena Tonra from Daughter?
I see it could be Elena because of the fringe. I used to get Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That, which is quite a compliment. Someone in high school was like “pre-makeover.” I was like, she always looked amazing anyway. I liked it pre-makeover because she had the dungarees and paintbrush in her hair.
Who are some of your style icons? Who do you look for inspiration?
I’ve always been a sucker for the 90s Winona Ryder, so it’s lucky for me that’s come back into Vogue. I read in an interview with her once about her style and how she personalizes it and using it sometimes as armor, but sometimes as comfort. I think it’s been important as we’re starting to do more and more things. I think it’s been helpful for me when we’re at shows or doing band-related stuff—to put a barrier between real-life me and band me. Hence the “all-black” look. Also, when we turn up for shows, we all match.
How do you make sure you have a personal life while you’re touring? Do you have time to date?
I guess it’s a very unorthodox lifestyle. We do travel a lot, it’s very long days and different time zones. I feel like all of us have tried to keep life as normal as possible in that regard. For me, smartphones are a wonderful invention so you can keep in touch with friends, family and partners. I feel like it’s nice to not feel as removed from the real world. I think it’s important for me to speak to people—like old friends who aren’t connected to the band, so that you’re not completely in that bubble. I have friends that I text every day and speak to on the phone. It’s nice to be off tour and be up to date on everything.
In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned you have a significant other. Did you meet your partner through music?
Yes, it was work-related. I’m very cagey about it. We always present genuine versions of ourselves in our music and in interviews, but from my point of view, I try not to talk about my personal life a huge amount because I feel like it’s important for me to keep some things separate. But, he’s a musician, and we met through the band.
You’ve been very outspoken about Internet trolls, anti-feminists and disrespectful folks. When was the first time you felt like you didn’t count as a female in the music industry?
For me, I grew up in a very supportive family environment in a very rural area. So, I was raised to think if you work hard and focus on something and you’re meant to have it, you’ll be able to do it. I played a lot of drums in bands, and I never thought anything of it until we started playing unsigned band shows and we were dealing with people that worked at venues, sound engineers or reviewers. It was only when we came across those people that I realized that somebody already decided that I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and they already pre-judged me because of my gender. I remember sound-checking a drum kit in a venue and I couldn’t hear the sound guy. I got to the end of the process and the guy at the end of the hallway said check the ‘kick,’ but I did not hear that, and I heard check the kit’. I started to do that, and then he came screaming down the hallway, put his hands on my cymbals and said, ‘that’s not how you do it. Maybe if you listened to somebody, you’d learn something.’ But, he didn’t say anything to our 6’2” guitarist when he pulled something out of the PA without muting it. Afterwards he said, ‘I’m sorry if I upset you, but you don’t know everything, and you need to learn that you need to listen to people who know better than you.’ I think I was 17 then and thought, well, that’s upsetting—I don’t really understand why that is. I remember once driving a six-seater van with all of the gear to a venue and our drummer went around the front of the venue to open up the loading door. When I went up to the loading door waiting to load in, the security guard told me ‘it’s band only for soundchecks, so you’re going to have to wait in the bar.’ It was like, I booked that show and I drove the van.
Was there anything that ever happened when you were being interviewed that made you feel the same way?
You might not see it as much now because we’ve made a stand on certain elements, but the way the band gets written about. It’s a sliding scale I suppose: yes, you get the most aggressive, heinous, horrible shit that’s related to being a woman in the music industry but it’s a sliding scale. I don’t read a huge amount of it now, but I remember when we first started out, you couldn’t read anything about the band without it saying ‘girlish, elvin or cute.’ One of the first things I read about us was the first American tour we’d done, and we played the Mercury Lounge in New York. I had done a 5 or 6 question email interview with this female journalist I really enjoy, and I generally, really respect her, but it had been a short email interview focusing on the band, album and tours and there weren’t any questions about anything other than that in there. Then, the title of the piece was ‘Lauren Mayberry is a Heartbreaker’ and the first two paragraphs are about how she only knows about the band because men in her office have told her that they want me to be their girlfriend. That made me very angry because she didn’t take the angle of the piece out of the interview we had (which is bad journalism) and she made a complete blanket assumption of who I am and what I stand for based on how I look. It’s not how we conduct our band or how I conduct myself as a person. I think it was worse because it was a woman. Like, why would you do that? I think it was a lesson for me at that point that I didn’t want to read most media about our band. That wouldn’t happen to a majority of male artists. I guess, it was important for us to work very hard to try and project ourselves in a way that was right for us. I’m glad that we have that now, so that not every interview is us fighting back against that.
What’s one thing you want to teach the next generation of female musicians?
I think it’s really cool when people come to shows and talk about starting bands or stuff they want to do. For me, that stuff is really cool because I love the idea that they don’t think there’s anything they can’t do. There’s that Sarah Silverman quote like, ‘Stop telling girls they can do anything. They never would have thought they couldn’t do it until you told them otherwise.’ I think that idea is pretty cool. That definitely was a barrier for me as a teenager to some extent. I think a space for those voices on the Internet, like Rookie and you guys. it’s really important to make young girls feel empowered. They started a girls’ rock school in Glasgow, and they never had one before. They said they sold out of places because there was so much demand for it. I think it’s so amazing. I get a wee bit wimpy and emotional at shows when I see young girls at shows brought by their mom and dad because it’s encouraging them to whatever the fuck they want. And that’s cool.
Your first album had a lot of hits on it. Every Open Eye, to me, seems more cohesive. Why do you think that this album seems to flow from song to song?
Well, I guess this time when we were starting the recording process, we came in with the idea of writing an album in mind. We came in with the idea of writing a record. When we came out with the first record, those songs had been written over a projected period of time. We’re really proud of the first album, but it felt more like a collection of songs that showed where we were as a band at that time, but this is the first time we made a body of work designed to live on a record together. I think when I hear it, it sounds more sonically and thematically more connected than the first one. As much as people say it, I don’t think the album is dying. We wanted to make something that makes sense as a whole.
Were you at all wary of the ‘sophomore slump’ that often comes with a second record?
I think when we went into it, we knew there was an audience for the band in a way that there wasn’t for the first record. People asked a lot about that at the end of last year: ‘do you feel the pressure? Do you think it’s not going to work?’ I think after a point we had to accept that everyone has worries and that’s natural, but you can’t focus on it because it won’t help you do any work. We just tried to go in and write for a few months. We had 22-ish demos, and then tried to figure out which direction the record has gone through.
You’ve obviously gone through a lot of cyberbullying and had to deal with your fair share of Internet trolls. What do you have to say to your haters?
I guess, from my point of view, I never really think that anything that we say will affect the opinions or actions of people who treat us like that. It’s more us deciding how we deal with it about how we conduct ourselves. I think the most positive part of us taking a stand is valuable to the wider community. It’s more valuable if people come to the shows and talk to us about how that resonated with us and why. It’s great because you can see the ethos of the band reflected out there.
Do you feel like you’ve become a spokeswoman for the whole community of female musicians?
For me, it just feels like I should conduct myself in my work life and creative life like I do in my normal life. So, it feels natural to me to have the same ethics and opinions in all of those environments. I hate it when people talk about good feminism and bad feminism. There’s so much time where women tell other women what to do. I just don’t have time for that. Feminism is a very personal thing, and people should define it how they want to. We never set out to make me the poster-child of feminism, but if it’s resonating with people, then it’s a good thing.