This is the kind of scene Chvrches’ new album, Screen Violence, brings to mind. The band’s fourth album is packed with intense imagery and sounds that are reminiscent of an '80s-era slasher film, and the band’s front-woman, Lauren Mayberry, is making it clear that she’s the fabled final girl.
When they first determined the theme for the album, Mayberry said she expected it to be purely conceptual. But as they began to craft the story and the lyrics, it quickly became personal.
For years Mayberry has been outspoken about the onslaught of sexism and internet abuse that the band — and she, in particular — receives daily, and many of those themes made their way into the album. The result is some of the band’s best work yet, even if it is significantly darker than anything they have previously produced.
The band is kicking off their tour through North America this week, following the release of their album in August, and if you go see the Scottish synth-pop trio at South Side Ballroom in Dallas on the 14th, you should expect to experience a much edgier side of Chvrches than ever before.
The band chose a horror theme in mid-2019, a few months before the pandemic gripped the globe, so it was only coincidental that Screen Violence was created almost entirely through screens during isolation.
“We didn’t anticipate that kind of macabre extra layer,” Mayberry says. “I do think that the album would have been different — at least lyrically ended up differently — if we hadn’t had to make it in such extreme isolation. But I knew from the beginning that I wanted there to be layers to the meaning of it, and that ‘Screen Violence’ could mean more than one thing.”
The concept takes three main forms of living “on screen, by screens and through screens,” the band explains.To fully understand the meaning behind the concept of Screen Violence, you have to take a look back at the band’s personal journey with screens, which began years before we all became trapped at home watching the horrors of 2020 unfold on our phones, computers and TVs.
“I think it’s easy for people to say, ‘Oh that’s not real. Don’t take that seriously. You should get thicker skin.’" – Lauren Mayberry, Chvrches
For Chvrches, their “screen violence” began when the band was created a decade ago. As a band that became famous on and because of the internet, their existence from the very beginning was on screen, by screens and through screens, which is something they’re incredibly grateful for, and Mayberry says they “never take for granted for one second.”
But their fame on and through the internet has been a double-edged sword, or, in this case, probably a dull kitchen knife. From the beginning, the band was vigilant about maintaining its social media presence because that was the primary space where their fan base existed and interacted with them. At the same time, Mayberry began receiving sexual harassment through those pages. When she spoke out about it, the abuse only grew worse.
In 2013 Mayberry wrote a piece for The Guardian, saying that even though she’s “in a band that was born on the internet,” she “will not accept online misogyny.” In it, she listed a sampling of the messages she receives, many of which included explicit threats of sexual violence or death.
Since then and for the better part of a decade, Mayberry has continued to speak out about the online harassment and the general sexism she has faced in the music industry, but the response has been a mixed bag.
“I think it’s easy for people to say, ‘Oh that’s not real. Don’t take that seriously. You should get thicker skin,’ but I don’t think your brain necessarily makes that distinction day in and day out,” Mayberry muses. “There’s only so much of death threats in your inbox that you can wake up to before it takes a toll on your mental well-being.”
Although she tried to simply ignore it, she hit a breaking point in early 2019.
“I pushed a lot of things to the side a lot of times,” she says. “After eight-ish years of doing that …
there were a lot of recurring nightmares and panic attacks and things like that.”
The album was born out of a desire for escape. They wanted to create a fictional world where they could work through the emotional and psychological trauma and be honest about that process.
“At the beginning, I thought we’d write a purely concept album,” she says. “I didn’t want to write anything that I feel because I didn’t want to kick that wasp’s nest. I just wanted to leave that there. But about three songs into it, I thought: ‘This isn’t about horror. This is a way to tell those stories.’”
That gave way to songs like "Final Girl," in which Mayberry wonders if she should “get out now while most of me is still intact” after graphically describing the fear of not wanting “to find your daughter in a body bag.” But in the end, she must push on and persevere in order to be the one left standing “in the final cut, in the final scene,” and she asks of the final girl: “Does she look like me?”
“A lot of people, but especially women, can relate to that feeling of being trapped, being hunted, being watched, having to negotiate for your own safety and for your own mind,” Mayberry says.
“Once we knew that’s what we were doing and that’s where we were going, it was like, ‘OK, well, here we go then. We’re going to take the tropes and write lyrics through these tropes and against this backdrop that allows us to tell these stories in a different way.”
Because the album was written and produced in the middle of a pandemic, that added another layer to the story and a new way for fans to connect with it.
In "Lullabies," she says to “televise the great disaster, we’re better off inside the screen sometimes.”
The song "California," which claims that “no one ever warns ya, you’ll die in California,” was intended to be a metaphor for “ambition to a fault,” according to Mayberry. Yet suddenly, the song also had an element of unintended realism.
“Literally, we were in California during the pandemic and we couldn’t get to our friends and family, so the lyric is quite literal in some ways,” she points out. “I feel like that’s the best way to tell the truth sometimes, is to take facts and to make it look like fiction.”
The beauty of the end result is that people can interpret the songs however they need to in order to better understand and process their own stories.
Don’t worry, it’s not all darkness and despair. No slasher film – or album based on one – would be complete without the sunrise at the end that lets you know you’ve made it through the night, and somehow you’re still alive.
“The first half is recognizing the things that you never wanted to speak into being,” Mayberry concludes, “and then the second half is like, ‘OK, so now that you’ve done that, how can you get by that, how can you find the best path forward?’ At least I hope. That’s how I see it.”
Chvrches will play at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at South Side Ballroom, 1135 Botham Jean Blvd., $36 at ticketmaster.com