Changing Shapes: Lauren Mayberry on her new era

After spending her 20s on tour with Scottish synth-pop phenomenon CHVRCHES, we catch up with Lauren Mayberry as she enters a new decade and a liberating moment of do-it-yourself artist evolution

Feature by Cheri Amour | 29 Apr 2024
  • Lauren Mayberry

“‘Whit's fur ye'll no go by ye,’ as my Granny used to say,” explains Lauren Mayberry knowingly, against the backdrop of her soft wood piano. “That’s what’s funny about all this now, it was a happy accident.” One third of bona fide Scottish synth-pop phenomenon CHVRCHES, Mayberry is opening up about moving into a new realm of songwriting. Back in the height of summer last year, the 36-year-old began reflecting on a decade of her career with the group announcing she would be working on an upcoming solo record. “Looking back on what we’ve achieved together, so much of it doesn’t feel real or even possible,” she shared with her 269k followers on Instagram. 

Since forming in 2011, the band has racked up four UK top ten studio album releases, bagged the Best Song by a UK Artist at the 2022 NME Awards (How Not To Drown featuring The Cure’s Robert Smith) and even co-headlined the mighty Hollywood Bowl with style icon Grace Jones. It’s not surprising that Mayberry feels like all the accolades and accomplishments have been whipped up from a dream. “It took several years for that to sink in [but] the best part about Glasgow is that nobody likes you to get too big for your fucking boots,” she says dryly. “It was good because it kept my head on my shoulders when mad things were happening to us.” 

Growing up in rural Stirlingshire, Mayberry craved being in a band since her early teens, scouring the high school message boards to connect with like-minded people. “I would go on my pilgrimage to get the NME and Kerrang! every week. I would read interviews and think 'Ah, wouldn't it be amazing to be a part of that community?' It was a form of escapism. When you’re 14 or 15, it’s exciting to imagine when you're in that kind of isolation.” 

Her short-lived high school band Boyfriend/Girlfriend hosted their ‘earnest rock’ on MySpace in the mid-aughts. Later that decade, Mayberry began performing as a vocalist and played drums and keyboards in post-rock rabble Blue Sky Archives. And it’s at this point that Mayberry’s path crossed with Iain Cook, the composer and producer behind CHVRCHES alongside synth sampler and fellow production maestro Martin Doherty. After producing Blue Sky Archives’ Triple A-Side EP, Cook asked Mayberry to sing on a couple of demos he and Doherty had been working on. In an article with Stereogum a few years later, her bandmate would describe Mayberry’s vocals as “the perfect electronic voice.” As Granny predicted, the happy accident was complete. 

But for Mayberry, her band members’ differing backgrounds flared up some internal anxieties she hadn’t expected, as she admits. “I've always been conscious that I'm the least trained person in every room we go into. I've never been the person that's had [any] lessons and then I joined a band with two people who had gone to music school!” Instead, her methods of crafting a song were far more rooted in the DIY scene, taking the building blocks of an idea and scrapbooking together the style of a particular verse or refrain. “If I want to get a point across, I have to find a reference song for the guitar tone that I'm talking about and then sing it at people.”

More recently, those sounding boards have expanded. After over a decade on the Scottish scene, Mayberry relocated to Los Angeles before the pandemic with her partner and two recently adopted rescue cats, Poppy and Cactus. They’re in good company on today’s call as my feline friend decides to make repeat visits, flouncing across my desk and the camera with his raccoon tail. (“So distracting, coming in here dressed like that!” Mayberry quips). It’s not the first time Mayberry has worked abroad, expressing how she lived in New York for a while before adding that she feels “way more foreign in Los Angeles though. I repeat myself constantly. Nobody understands what I’m saying.” Is it an accent thing? “I’m mumbly and fast,” she reasons. 

Photo of Lauren Mayberry lying on top of a white duvet, wearing a cream t-shirt and dark socks.
Lauren Mayberry. Photo by Scarlett Casciello

While the relocation hasn’t found Mayberry in her Joan Didion California era, the shift has marked a milestone moment. “I've been in a band for 12 years, and I've never worked with anybody outside of that,” she reflects once the cats have settled. “[LA] has been good for trying new things and not having it be a pressurised two-week trip where you must get it done.” Trying out new things included teaming up with Canadian artist and first-ever GRAMMY winner for Songwriter of the Year, Tobias Jesso Jr. The fellow LA resident applied his knack for a top hook in the first song to be launched from Mayberry’s solo cannon, tender piano number Are You Awake? The emotional “u up?” of pop songs, the lyrics hint at the pressures of finding fame in her small town surroundings as she soothes: 'Hometown hero is a poisoned chalice choice / If they all love you, you're just destined to disappoint.' 

Other tracks that we’ve been privy to so far – follow up and dark synth-laden Shame and full blown pop belter/unstoppable earworm Change Shapes – come courtesy of her collaboration with producer Matthew Koma. For Mayberry, the process was the permission slip that she needed to step out alone and get started on this do-it-yourself artist evolution. “When I started the solo idea, it wasn't even about music coming out. It was more about needing to get some self-confidence and self-respect. I needed to prove to myself that within three hours, you can technically write a song.” 

Mayberry didn’t decide to announce her solo record lightly though. On the subject of living away from home, she shares how she’s still got a very good network of pals at home that “don't give a shit about the band in the best way”. When I ask how they reacted to the news, she’s equally cynical. “I thought it was such a big deal and then I told my friend Amanda and she was like, ‘Yeah, great. You should do it!’ It didn’t require all this mental dialogue.” Because your friends are always rooting for you? “They spend less time mulling over the things that I can’t do, compared to me.”

The reaction so far, from friends and collaborators alike, has only been positive. As Koma posted on his own Instagram post, “I’d call it a solo era but that suggests some sort of temporary stay, and instead I think we’re seeing an artist beginning their most prolific years yet.” Last autumn, Mayberry translated these early efforts into a live set, performing a string of solo shows across the States, Europe and here in the UK. None of the advertising reflected the band. There’s no qualifying 'from CHVRCHES' on any of the listings and yet, on the first night in Washington D.C., the queue of punters snaked around the block to get in. 

During CHVRCHES' performance at last year’s Glastonbury, Mayberry opted for an ivory gown with feather trim from the RIXO bridal range and ended the set doused in blood. The once satin shiny dress was smeared with stains of vivid red. It’s almost as if she needed to dissect the precious parts of CHVRCHES and reform the pounds of flesh into this whole new phase of her career. Because while she’s revelled in a decade of playing with Cook and Doherty, as the songwriter reasons this is a moment of artistic liberation. “There are certain things that I would not write in CHVRCHES. There are certain things I wouldn't feel comfortable performing in CHVRCHES. When it came to this era, I thought these songs would be uncomfortable to play with straight men.”

Now flanked by an all-women band and determined to inject a more uninhibited creative backdrop, her solo shows include a newly devised cover every night, often rustled up in the hour or so she and the band have together during soundcheck. And it’s this feeling of spontaneity and creative chaos that Mayberry is grasping for as she enters a new era. Like her teenage years on those high school message boards, she’s changing shapes with no preconceptions. “I want to try and force myself to reconnect with music in a more immediate and primal way. I want to trick my brain into feeling more free.”

Change Shapes is out now via EMI; Lauren Mayberry's debut solo album will follow later in the year; stay tuned for more live announcements via