Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry goes solo — and we got exclusive backstage access
Lauren Mayberry has been onstage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. before. Many times, in fact. The lead singer of the band Chvrches has played sold-out shows here — and all over the world. But this one, on Monday night, is different.
The posters and T-shirts don't say Chvrches, they say "Lauren Mayberry." That's because her bandmates aren't here this time. "Which is quite sad, but good for everyone to fly the coop for a little bit and then come back together," she says.
This is the first live concert of her new solo career. And, just before the show, All Things Considered sat down to chat backstage with Mayberry about this next phase.
Lauren Mayberry: Until about 20 minutes ago, I was down scrambling around on the stage, putting the final bits of stage set together, because really we've run out of time. And I'm not very well versed in such things. But now I can work a cable tie really quick. I was, like, putting them on, cutting them off, putting them on, cutting them off — it was great.
Ari Shapiro: Is it making you regret the decision at all, that you're now doing...
Mayberry: I mean in Chvrches, there's people to do the cable ties for you. But no, I think it's exciting, it feels exciting. It feels odd, it's definitely been an odd readjustment.
Mayberry has only released one solo track so far, which came out just a few days before the show: "Are You Awake," a slow piano ballad that sounds nothing like the electro-dance-pop of Chvrches.
Mayberry: Me and the managers and the label were like, "What song do we put out?" I definitely wanted to make it clear that I'm not just going to be trying to rip off the band all the time, but also it's not all going to be downbeat sobbing piano ballads.
I love the band, I'm grateful for the band, I'm never going to cut that grass — that grass is meant to be over there. And I think that's partly why I was like, something that's so different is a good palate cleanser. It kind of, like, scorches the earth. So people can be like, "Just so you know, don't expect that." But then there's definitely more bangers.
Onstage Monday night, she keeps that promise. As she tells the crowd: "There's two depressing slow ones, and then the rest of them have a bit of pep."
Mayberry performs a tight nine-song set — eight originals, and her only cover is not a Chvrches song but, rather, a fizzy rendition of Madonna's "Like A Prayer." Back in conversation with us before the show, Mayberry is a little bemused by it all.
Mayberry: I'm very excited and honestly baffled that people have bought tickets to these shows before there was any music.
Shapiro: Your advertising didn't even say "From Chvrches." It didn't reference your career with the band. It was just your name. And yet, I don't know if you saw this, people were lined up around the block before the doors opened to come and see you.
Shapiro: Just now, moments ago!
Mayberry: Now that's going to make me misty. Don't do that. I mean, I feel just really blown away by that. I'm very grateful. And I kind of like, in a way — first we were freaking out that we didn't have more music before the tour, and then we were like, wait, maybe that's actually quite cool and kind of old school in a way. You know, I'm all over the internet with, like, my socials and stuff and everyone's all over the internet, as well we should. But in a way, I think it's quite nice to not know something.
This show feels significant — like a moment people might talk about years from now as the start of something big. The stage is decorated with bouquets of flowers. The women on drums, guitar and keys join in with tight harmonies.
It's not a coincidence the musicians on the stage are all women. Mayberry tells us she has spent the last 20 years of her life in bands with dudes. And that required her to code switch. Sometimes, it felt like every interview about Chvrches was about her role as a woman.
Mayberry: I never thought about my gender a huge amount until we were in this band. And it was brought up to me over and over and over and over, and I kind of felt like it's just this thing that's being said at me, but I'm not really creating a huge amount to do with any of these experiences. And I don't feel like I was really using any of that in a productive way. I was kind of keeping it out of the creative and it was being brought at me all the time.
Shapiro: And so now the idea is you don't have to make yourself fit into a pre-existing box.
Mayberry: I think so. The stuff that I've always loved is things like Tori Amos or Fiona Apple or PJ Harvey. And I don't know that you hear a lot of that in the band universe. And I think in terms of, like, live performance, I'm like, I love this. I'm a theatrical bitch, I'm a lover of that. But that's just not a thing that indie rock bands did. And I think on the last Chvrches campaign we did, we did costume changes and there was, like, fake blood in the show and things like that. And basically every venue we went to, it was really baffling to everybody who worked in the venue because they were, like, "Costume changes? People don't do costume changes." Because most people that go to those venues are straight white dudes who aren't even taking any advantage of the theatrical fun that they can be having. And what kind of became clear to me was like, "Oh yeah, you love all this mad, silly s***, so maybe you should go do this mad silly s***."
Shapiro: So I was going to ask if seeing your name, Lauren Mayberry, like your birth name, your driver's license name on the marquee, the promotional materials, the door, feels vulnerable, like you can't hide behind the name of a band. But it sounds like, from what you're saying, it's almost more liberating. Like you can be who you are and nobody else has any say in what that is.
Mayberry: I think my brain is divided into two halves. It's like there's the the gremlin back part of my brain that's like, "Yes, we must create, we must make what we want, we must take the spotlight." And then there's the other part of me that when I got the the the tour poster through and it's just literally my face I was like [mime's gagging] I'm gonna be sick, I can't, I can't! I'm like putting merch together and I was like, I don't think you should buy a T-shirt with my face on it — why would anybody want that? But then I can kind of switch into the other part, and I think it's important that the two exist, the yin and the yang.
As Mayberry launches this new phase of her career, she knows the question she is likely to get more than any other. And she has a quick answer: No, this is not the end of the band Chvrches.
"Our plan is that we're going to do both," she tells us. "We've re-signed the band for more records. So everyone is confident and comfortable that that's what's going to happen."
As one post about the Monday night show put it: "Lauren Mayberry hasn't announced an album yet, but it sure seems like there's one on the way."
For now, she's on tour across the United States and Europe, doing something she's never done before: performing as herself.
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