Talking to Chvrches About Their Hunger Games Song and How We Are All ‘Sad Sacks of Meat’

Left to right: Iain Cook, Lauren Mayberry, and Martin Doherty. Photo: Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images

If your town is bigger than Peoria, there's a steady chance that Chvrches has swung by a few times in the past two years: The Scottish trio has been touring steadily in support of debut album The Bones of What You Believe since early 2013. In between concerts, though, the band still found time to contribute a new song, "Dead Air," to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack, which was personally curated by Lorde herself. Vulture caught up with the band the day they played VH1's You Oughta Know concert to discuss what makes a great soundtrack song, how they've been dealing with online misogyny, and which of them would survive an actual Hunger Games.

You recorded your first album before doing much touring. Now you've been on the road for nearly two years straight. Did your approach change on this song?
Martin Doherty: It was the second time we'd been in the studio in a couple weeks. So we were feeling kind of strong. To be honest, we turned the whole thing around in two or three days. It was [Lorde] who asked us if we would do it, and we had no time, but it was such an amazing project, we were just like, "Yes!"

What sort of instructions did Lorde give you?
MD: She was really free. You can see how much work she's put into the whole soundtrack. I went and sat down and talked to her for a bit. And I could tell she spoke so eloquently and was so up for it, that it was inspiring. She was like, "Hey, don't make it too downbeat. Just do your thing."

A lot of the lyrics seem like they relate to the story of The Hunger Games. "We hold up to an idea ... this is a call to arms." Did you guys read the books?
Lauren Mayberry: I haven't read any of the books. I've seen all of the films that exist so far. But I didn't really sit and try to write lyrics, if that makes sense. I was like, Try and write something about an emotion or an idea that would work into that. I think you can always tell when songs are written specifically for films, because they tend to shoehorn in the obvious theme or title or something like that.

Like the Snakes on a Plane song.
LM: Yes. I think there's a Killers song on one of the Twilight soundtracks, and it's called "White Demon Love Song." And I was like, maybe it's a fine song, but maybe there's a more subtle way of doing that. 
Iain Cook: You know, it was originally called "Sparkly Vampires."
LM: "Sparkly Vampires Catch Fire."
MD: The funniest thing about the Hunger Games song we did, was the chorus used to be [sings] "Hunger, Hunger, Hunger Games, and a Hunger, Hunger, Hunger Games, and a Hunger, Hunger, Hunger Games." That was my suggestion.
LM: For some reason they shot that down.

So then, in general, what were the emotions and ideas were you thinking of?
LM: We wanted to have a kiddy, schoolyard sing-along chorus that has really depressing lyrics in it. It's always nice to have a light in the dark, I suppose.
IC: That section, I don't know if it translates, but it was borne of things like "Cry Little Sister," from the Lost Boys soundtrack, those deliberate choir vocals. We were directly trying to draw from that kind of thing, which is where the real, deliberate film-soundtrack element was coming from.
MD: The choir of mostly dead children.
LM: Lyrically, I suppose I was trying to get at the fact that everything is finite. And we overcomplicate things in life an awful lot. And at the end of day, everyone's just a sad sack of meat. 

That sounds very True Detective.
IC: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, I've only seen like three episodes.

It's not a spoiler, it's just a thing Matthew McConaughey says.
LM: I get what he's saying. Because we've made modern life very complicated. These things are very important, and everything will completely fuck up if you don't have this. Essentially, we've overcomplicated the basic human experience.
MD: The annoying thing about True Detective is the very last line in the entire series ...
IC: Wait, come on, come on.
MD: No, no, no, it's not a spoiler. McConaughey says something, but I watched it like five times, and I couldn't make it out.

So, are there American accents that are hard for you to decipher, or is it just McConaughey in particular?
IC: There are accents in the north of England, and some even in Scotland, that are way more difficult to decipher than the ones in America.
MD: My girlfriend comes from the Highlands, and everybody in the Highlands speaks with the disregard of all vowels.

Which of you three would win the actual Hunger Games?
IC: I'd either be out first overall or win. There's no middle ground for me. 
MD: If it's anything like my tactics in online video-gaming, I would die first. I always tend to go straight into the middle of it, and then die and go like, Aw, come on!
IC: One time, I went paintballing and I got absolutely gunned down by about ten people at one time. That's me in the Hunger Games, so by default, probably Lauren.
LM: I don't have any actual physical skills.
IC: You would maybe hide until everybody died.
MD: You'd use your wily ways and your guile.

Lauren, last fall you wrote an op-ed for the Guardian about the online misogyny you'd been facing. A year later, has anything changed?
LM: The reaction we got from people who come to our shows was overwhelmingly positive, probably because it was a pretty common-sense thing. And I suppose, this year and last year, feminist opinions were probably covered more in mainstream media. It's been helpful for us because it's changed the conversation about our band a little bit. We still get stupid questions in interviews, but you get less of those [sexist] kinds of questions, because at least we've nailed our colors to the mast.