It's not difficult to hear The Bones of What You Believe, the sharply charismatic debut from Glasgow trio Chvrches, as a concept record about power and the Internet. Amid the surging din of synthesizers and ping-ponging vocal samples on "Lungs," singer Lauren Mayberry intones in a high, clear melody: "Keep yourself a secret / You should know that / I will sell you a future you don't want / Like I did last time. / I won't go slow." There are other moments, scattered across the album's 12 tracks — from the dense atmospheric swoop of "Lies" to the clattering urgency of "The Mother We Share" — that also seem to hint at technological menace. As Mayberry tells the Scene by phone from the road, it isn't by design.
"I don't really think we sat and wrote a concept record," Mayberry says. "We were just kind of writing about what we were experiencing at that time."
So what were they experiencing at that time?
"Yeeeaaaaah, I'm not going to tell you that," Mayberry says with a laugh, her legal training perhaps showing a bit. "For me, I think the cool thing about lyrics is that they have to be personal to you when you write and when you record them, but I guess, beyond that, I don't really think it's important for people to know the minutiae. ... Hopefully the people that have enjoyed the record have found something in the songs and in the lyrics that means something to them, but is probably completely removed from what we thought when we were writing."
Still, Mayberry doesn't rule out the possibility of connective tissue between the songs. "I suppose if there is similar imagery," she says, "that's just because they were written over the course of the same amount of time."
That amount of time, starting with the band's formation in 2011, has seen Chvrches go from a bio-less unknown band posting a demo version of "Lies" to the Neon Gold blog, to an album-less but feverishly hyped band opening for the likes of Depeche Mode, to a Glassnote Records-signed band selling out venues as a headliner on the strength of a widely praised, if not conceptually unified, album. And they were already on the road before they had really figured out how to play their studio-born songs live.
"There was a headache for a while," Mayberry says. "How many cables do we need, and how long do they need to be, and what the contingency plan was if something broke." Sometimes Mayberry improvised through unplanned contingencies — she once delighted a crowd by chattering like a Jawa as technical difficulties were resolved.
Theirs is an ascent many have described as "meteoric." Of course, meteors don't rise — but more importantly, meteors are already moving quite fast before we become aware of them.
"I guess it's strange for us when people talk about how fast this has happened," Mayberry says. "We'd been working on that album for 18 months — almost two years — before it came out." Still, she acknowledges that even though she and bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty had been playing in other bands for years, the virality of Chvrches' emergence is a product of these digitally accelerated times. "I think 10 years ago, it would have been practically impossible for a band to get to where we are now in such a short space of time, and that must be down to the Internet and Internet radio stations and blogs."
So while Bones might not be a concept album about the Web, Mayberry has called Chvrches a band "born on the Internet," which she means for better and for worse. The band still insists on reading, if not responding to, all the messages sent to its social media accounts. In a September column for Britain's Guardian newspaper, Mayberry, who also holds a master's degree in journalism, decried the misogynist and sometimes violent language of some of those messages. "After a point I was like, 'We need to call people on this bullshit,' " she recalls. But she says the feedback since — from women and men — has been "overwhelmingly positive."
"You have to wade through that stuff to get to the really interesting, awesome stuff people want to share with the band, and people who want to use the online community for a positive thing," Mayberry says. "I think it's really important to us that we don't lose all that because of a minority of people who are negative."