"He's a true gem": Chvrches look back on their collaboration with Robert Smith

Chvrches live with Robert Smith
(Image credit: Simone Joyner/Getty Images)

It has become customary over the years for Robert Smith to pop up as guest vocalist on songs by groups influenced by The Cure and their kohl-eyed ways, as close as a band can get to being officially recognised by their gothy heroes. Some of the tracks are better than others – Smith’s austere reworking of The Twilight Sad’s There’s A Girl In The Corner is a cracker – and one of the best is when Smith appeared with Chvrches on the Scottish trio’s surging electronic banger How Not To Drown in 2021.

Speaking to this writer at the time of release, the synth-pop three-piece explained how it came about.  “I wouldn't be in this band, or any band, if it wasn't for Disintegration and Pornography. I became obsessed with the idea that a band like The Cure could have pop songs but also be this really deep, really dark, really creative force. It’s a source of inspiration every single day,” said Chvrches keyboardist Martin Doherty. “When the idea came up to approach Robert Smith [to sing on a track], I thought our manager was fucking mad, that it was hilarious and would never happen. That started the ball rolling. Our manager got in touch with Robert’s manager about linking up in some way with them and then he just got a message back from Robert Smith being like, ‘I heard you were looking for me, what do you want?’.

From there, Doherty said, the shocked band sent some music over, homing in on How Not To Drown as a potential duet. “We left it with him for a while,” recalled Doherty. “You know, you don't follow-up email Robert Smith, you just fucking send it, cross your fingers, try and manifest it and then leave it alone for a few weeks. I never really thought it was gonna happen and then we were hanging out on Halloween and an email just came through from Robert being like, ‘Here's your tune. Let me know if you like the vocals.’ This is a bit much… but I was definitely crying.”

For singer Lauren Mayberry, it turned a song that was a harrowing portrayal of what it’s like being the female focal point of a band and all the negative comments and online trolling you have to deal with into something more triumphant. “When it was just me singing on it, it was clearly about my disillusionment with experiences that we've had in the last several years,” said Mayberry. “But when Robert Smith, who is one of the most inspirational people to us as writers and to this band, came on it, it went from ‘Oh, so it's a song about being disillusioned about music and the industry and not being sure that you wanted to do it anymore because you ot took too much of a toll on your soul’ to ‘It’s great, it's my favourite!”

It helped to restore some belief in what she was doing, said Mayberry. “I've definitely been quite disillusioned by “quote unquote” the industry at certain times and he just is everything that isn't that and so cool to work with, still open and nice to people, such a true artist. I think it's so cool and so rare to be that far into your career and really excited about making music and excited about new bands and new music. He's a true gem.”

Chvrches are currently on hiatus, with Mayberry prepping her debut solo album. Witness her and Smith’s mesmeric vocal sparring on the video to How Not To Drown below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.