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Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES has a brand new solo career — and a sound all her own

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAUREN MAYBERRY: Hello.

(CHEERING)

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And that is Lauren Mayberry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYBERRY: This is quite weird.

(CHEERING)

MAYBERRY: Thank you very much for coming to the show. Thank you for coming to a gig where you only know maybe one song if that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: She has been on this stage before at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. - many times, in fact, because Lauren Mayberry is the lead singer of the band CHVRCHES.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MOTHER WE SHARE")

CHVRCHES: (Singing) Come in misery, where you can seem as old as your omens. And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling.

SHAPIRO: Since the Scottish band released their first album a decade ago, CHVRCHES has played sold out shows all over the world. But the show in Washington Monday night was different. The posters and T-shirts didn't say CHVRCHES, they said Lauren Mayberry. This was the first live concert of her brand-new solo career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRD")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) Let's publicize our happiness - or at least I'll force a smile.

I don't know. I just keep expecting the other guys...

SHAPIRO: Your band mates to show up?

MAYBERRY: Yeah. And I'm like, are they in the van? Where are they? And I'm like, oh, they're not coming, which is quite sad, but good for everybody to fly the coop for a little bit and then come back together.

SHAPIRO: Just before the show, we sat down to chat backstage.

MAYBERRY: Until about 20 minutes ago, I was down scrambling around on the stage, putting the final little bits of stage set together, because we're like, we've run out of time. And I'm not very well-versed in such things, but I know I can work a cable tie really quick. I was, like, putting them on, cutting them off, putting them on, cutting them off.

SHAPIRO: Is it making you regret the decision at all that you're now doing?

MAYBERRY: I mean, in CHVRCHES' universe, there's people who 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.

SHAPIRO: Lauren Mayberry has only released one solo track so far. It came out just a few days before the show. And "Are You Awake?" sounds nothing like the electro dance pop of CHVRCHES.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU AWAKE?")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) Are you awake? I've been thinking through some things, been counting their babies and their diamond wedding rings.

Me and the managers and the label were like, what song do we put out, because you don't - 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU AWAKE?")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) Some feelings don't fade away with space and time. It's a state of mind.

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 else, 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.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MAYBERRY: But then there's definitely more bangers.

SHAPIRO: Promise kept. As she put it onstage...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYBERRY: So there's two depressing slow ones, and then the rest of them have a bit of pep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SORRY, ETC")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) I kill myself to be one of the boys. I lost my head to be one of the boys.

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.

MAYBERRY: Today?

SHAPIRO: Just now, moments ago.

MAYBERRY: Now, that's going to make me misty. Don't do that (laughter). I mean, I feel just really blown away by that and very grateful. And I kind of like, in a way - at first, we were freaking out that we didn't have more music out 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SORRY, ETC")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) Are you still having fun? I kill myself to be one of the boys.

SHAPIRO: The show felt significant, like a moment people might talk about years from now as the start of something big. The stage was decorated with bouquets of flowers. The women on drums, guitar and keys joined in with tight harmonies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE SHAPES")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) I change shapes 'til I get what I need from you. We're all snakes, but what else is a girl supposed to do? I change shapes, but you never do, ooh.

SHAPIRO: It's not a coincidence that the musicians onstage were all women. Lauren Mayberry told me 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 - I was like, it's just this thing that's being said at me, but I'm not really creating a huge amount that's 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, if that makes sense.

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 [expletive]. I love a bit of that.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MAYBERRY: But that's just not a thing that indie rock bands did. And I think on the last CHVRCHES campaign, we did costume changes. And there was, like, fake blood in the show and things like that. And every - 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 taking...

SHAPIRO: Right.

MAYBERRY: ...Taking any advantage of the theatrical fun that they could be having. And I kind of - it kind of became clear to me. I was like, oh, yeah, you love all this mad, silly [expletive], so maybe you should go do this mad, silly [expletive].

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 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 tour poster through and it's just literally my face, I was like, whoa, I'm going to be sick. I can't...

(LAUGHTER)

MAYBERRY: I'm, like, putting merch together. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUREN MAYBERRY SONG, "CROCODILE TEARS")

SHAPIRO: As Lauren 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.

MAYBERRY: Our plan is that we're going to do both. We've resigned the band for more records.

SHAPIRO: Oh, great.

MAYBERRY: So everyone is confident and comfortable that that's what's going to happen.

SHAPIRO: 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 U.S. and Europe, doing something she's never done before, performing as herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CROCODILE TEARS")

MAYBERRY: (Singing) Cry. Crocodile tears running down your face. Oh, what a man will say just to get his way. Always crying wolf, so I'm sad to say that I don't really want to hear it. I don't really want to hear it, babe. Ah-woo, ah-woo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Noah Caldwell
Sarah Handel
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's flagship afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. He has been a question on Jeopardy and an answer in the New York Times crossword puzzle. He has filed stories from above the Arctic Circle and aboard Air Force One, and he has covered wars in Iraq, Ukraine and Israel. His debut memoir, The Best Strangers In the World, was an instant New York Times bestseller. He has also performed as a singer in some of the world's most storied venues, from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl.