Big Issue Vendor

Lauren Mayberry: “Chvrches weren’t made in a label laboratory”

Lauren Mayberry refuses to be the Chvrches's pin-up. Now, new feminism’s hero is leading the fight against sexist trolls.

Sitting in the kitchen of her flat in Glasgow, Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry is daydreaming about having her own superhero-style cape.

In the two years since the release of the band’s debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, the 27-year-old Scot has become a real-life hero to thousands of young people across continents. As well as being a vocal supporter of street papers – a former writer for The Big Issue, she took part in #VendorWeek in February – Mayberry has garnered headlines for speaking out about the intense online misogyny women face when they are in the public eye. Becoming a figurehead for the new feminism has, she says, had the effect of “painting a target on my back”, prompting a campaign of rape and murder threats that would be shocking if they weren’t so common.

Mayberry hasn’t backed down one jot. Which is why a cape is in order. “It’s firefighting on all fronts,” she says of her battle against the trolls. “I can’t ban them from real life but I can ban them from the Facebook page, so they don’t say abusive and horrible things to the other fans. It’s within my power to change that. But I can’t do it in real life.”

That’s a shame. “Yeah. I’d like to see an anime cartoon of that. I like to think I’ve got a cape in this scenario. ‘Get away from her! Get away from her! POW POW POW!!’”

To anyone who tries to brush this stuff off as “just silly boys on the internet”, Mayberry has a clear message: “If you think that those guys turn off their computers and walk away and conduct themselves in a respectful and sensible way and don’t have those opinions in real life – you are very naïve.”

I like to think I’ve got a cape in this scenario. ‘Get away from her! Get away from her! POW POW POW!!

Chvrches – which she formed with electronic-indie stalwarts Iain Cook and Martin Doherty in 2011 – released their new album Every Open Eye last week. Given their fast-track to international success, it is no surprise that it “feels like a Chvrches album but slightly more assertive,” according to Mayberry.

From the outset, the band has defied the media’s desire to make Mayberry the focus of attention. She says her time at The Big Issue, as a student journalist on work experience in 2010, gave her confidence to resist those pressures.

“It helped to have my head screwed on in terms of the media stuff around the band,” she explains. “Coming into this band and having even a small amount of media background helped in terms of putting us on the offensive a little at the start. Maybe that sounds quite sad – and at the time I wondered if I was being overly paranoid or overly cynical – but I was very aware about how people would try and write about our band and what they would try and make us into. And what they would try and make me into specifically.”

Mayberry, Cook and Doherty are aware they could sell more records and get more media attention if they were willing to put their striking singer in the limelight and allow the beardy blokes to fade into the background. “But I always ask myself – would people say that to Thom Yorke? Would they say that to Alex Turner?

We don’t fit in the cookie-cutter mould of what a band that sounds like us should look like

With a contrary sense of humour, Chvrches now enjoy every time they force a magazine that really wanted to put “the 20-something-year-old girl” on their cover to also include the “30-something-year-old guys with beards”.

“When it happens it’s just sweet, sweet joy,” laughs Mayberry. “We don’t fit in the cookie-cutter mould of what a band that sounds like us should look like. We weren’t made in a label laboratory. If I was 16 and reading about our band, I think I’d find that pretty fucking cool.”

She is particularly moved when those teenagers for whom Chvrches’ music has meant a lot reach out to her. “The emo teenager inside of me lives on because when people say to us after a show why a song means something to them, I always find it incredibly touching and really important.

“I have to quietly excuse myself at meet-and-greets and signings every once in a while so that I can go have an emotional cry in the car park and then come back.”

Mayberry’s deeply rooted sense of social justice, and support for those who might not have a chance to make their own voice heard, was demonstrated when she stood in the freezing cold of a Scottish February to sell The Big Issue for INSP’s (International Network of Street Papers) Vendor Week earlier this year.

“Street papers are an incredibly powerful thing,” she says. “It’s a way of giving people back control and autonomy in their lives. I can’t imagine how painful it is to feel like everything has been taken away from you. The people working, selling it on the street, the idea that they’re able to take control of a certain aspect of their lives and make money and have that kind of purpose is really awesome.

“But it’s also really hard. We were only out there for one hour and it was freezing. I was lucky that people came and bought papers from me because they knew about the band. Were that not the case, I don’t think I would have shifted even a tiny percentage of what I managed to sell that day.”

Every Open Eye is out now. Chvrches tour the UK in November. Courtesy of the INSP News Service.