Cook is the oldest CHVRCH at 38, which gives him eight years on Doherty and a surprising 13 on Mayberry. Despite originally studying to become an architect, he’s also the most seasoned in rock, mostly coming from eight years as a guitarist for the once promising Glasgow post-rock band Aereogramme, and a few as a composer of film and television scores.
After a spirit-draining tour in 2007, Aereogramme dissolved. “It was the most depressing month of my life,” Cook says.
“We hadn’t been to America for a few years, and for some reason thought that if we came back after a few years away, then we could plug back into something. But it was about the buzz from 2003, when we put out the Sleep And Release album. And by the time we actually came back, it was all fucked, and nobody gave a shit.”
“There was just a psychological breakdown, and he was thrown right into the middle of it,” Cook says, nodding towards Doherty, who at the time just joined Aereogramme as a touring keyboardist. “We’d obviously seen how this trajectory had been going for a long time, but Martin hadn’t.”
Doherty and Cook have been friends for 10 years now, ever since Cook complimented Doherty’s Paul Harvey t-shirt one day at Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde, where they were both studying music. Doherty, however, comes from the opposite side of Glasgow, the West side, near the notorious Erskine Bridge – or as Cook calls it, “suicide bridge.”
“A lot of dark stuff happens off that bridge,” Doherty says. “Every night you sit in your house and you hear a helicopter, you’re like, ‘Somebody else has jumped off.’”
Cook would help Doherty’s first band, Julia Thirteen, record some of their first and only material – an area in which Doherty concedes they were desperate for a helping hand: “We couldn’t afford microphones.” Around then, they expressed a mutual interest in, someday, at some point, sooner or later, starting their own project.
After the fateful Aereogramme tour, a comparably reputable Glasgow indie rock band, The Twilight Sad, recruited Doherty for the same job: to be a touring, but not full-time, member. He stayed with them almost five years, which he calls the best times of his life – especially their 2009 American tour with fellow Scottish bleeding hearts Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks.
“It was some of the most debauched times that I’d ever seen on the road,” he says, in spite of his prior comment about musicians never partying anymore. “A lot of heavy drinking. Don’t put 15 Scottish guys on a tour bus together to travel around and play gigs.”
“Those guys will always be my best friends. But sooner or later, you come to realize that when you’re playing someone else’s songs, however amazing they are, there’s always something in the back of your mind saying, ‘You’re taking the easy way out. You’re on someone else’s ticket.’”
“I decided to get my shit together,” he says.
Enter Mayberry, who in 2011 was singing and playing multiple instruments for Blue Sky Archives, yet another Glasgow indie rock band that Cook was helping to record.
For the previous three years, she worked for various local magazines and websites in Glasgow, having already earned both a four-year law degree and a one-year journalism degree, also from Strathclyde. She’s written on music before, too – even interviewed pop stars including Kelly Rowland and The Strokes’ Fabrizio Moretti. Naturally, this bit of information begs questions about the nature of this very discussion, and whether she’d have strong words for anybody who’s written an unfair or unethical piece on CHVRCHES. Yes, she says, but she insists she accepted them as inevitabilities long ago.
“Here’s my theory,” she says. “We get to be in a band that we want to be in, and we’re doing stuff that we want to do, and that’s really great. And, people are going to write good things and bad things about you, and that’s their prerogative and their right to do that. But I don’t think it’s helpful for my head space to fixate.”
Cook and Doherty approached Mayberry to ask if she’d sing over some things they were working on: synth-oriented things, actually, despite each of their backgrounds in guitar-oriented bands. She agreed. The three found that they clicked, and they chose to finalize their roster immediately.
“When you have three personalities, you get shit done,” Cook says. “If there’s four or five, it’s harder.”
They settled on the name CHVRCHES, because they wanted one with “a lot of visual possibilities,” as Mayberry explains. Indeed, the band’s logo, stage lighting setup, and posters are all adorned with luminous 45-degree angles. The “V” also solves the problem of having a Google-resistant name, something that many of their electro-pop contemporaries – one of which, interestingly, is a band called Cults – don’t seem to care about.