Alvvays is always answering the same questions

By Colin Gallant
Photo: Gavin Keen

Photo: Gavin Keen

CALGARY — Toronto-based band Alvvays saw an explosion of success after releasing a self-titled LP through Polyvinyl, Royal Mountain and Transgressive Records this past summer. The beachy, infectious melodies of songs like “Archie, Marry Me” and “Adult Diversion” exploded on college radio and landed the band opening slots for likes of Fucked Up and Real Estate on tour dates around the world. While many were quick to label the record an overnight success of summer anthems, chief songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Molly Rankin is getting a little tired of explaining that isn’t the case.

Rankin’s namesake comes from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia roots dynasty The Rankin Family. Growing up around music in a remote area, it was natural that she should follow suit. Though she was encouraged to get an education and was warned of the perilous changes occurring within the music industry, Rankin did an arena tour with the clan at just 17 years old.

Rankin and pal Kerri MacLellan moved to Halifax for university where she released the She EP under her own name in 2010. The release did not follow in the traditional footsteps of her family’s work, yet she found familial associations hard to escape. Soon, she and MacLellan linked up with Prince Edward Island natives Alec O’Hanley (previously of Two Hours Traffic), Brian Murphy and Phil MacIsaac. Thus, Alvvays was born and Rankin could present her work on her own terms. Still feeling the insulation of the east coast, Alvvays relocated to Toronto.

Alvvays was originally self-released on cassette, sold as a “souvenir” at live performances, after some help from local legend Chad VanGaalen on production. Rankin described VanGaalen as welcoming, efficient and hands-off. While dark clouds do peek out from the sunny melodies of the album, it’s not the kind of dissonance associated with acts like Women or even VanGaalen’s skuzzier output. Rankin explained that pop is the perfect platform for dour emotion, like a little sugar to help the medicine go down. Listening to Alvvays, past the guitar hooks lie fairly melancholic tales of romance, quite often imbued with sarcasm. The band parodies matrimony on “Archie…” and elsewhere describes accidentally drowning a date. The central narrator of the tracks is clearly feeling isolated and trying their best to cope with a half smile and a shrug. However, Rankin plays coy on where she and lyrical content meet. She wrote many of the songs while working in a dead-empty smoothie shop where worked in solitude.

According to her, “We’re actually all really into graphic novels and they usually have these loner type characters. I don’t write about myself but maybe, subliminally, the way I’m feeling bleeds in.”

As the record took off, Rankin found herself constantly staring down the same questions. What’s it like to have grown up as part of the Rankin family? Is it pronounced All-vays or Always? How did the band get together? When asked about the repetitive questioning she gets, she let out a trademark weary chuckle and opened up about the band’s future. New songs have been added to the band’s set and some are still in the testing phase. After wrapping up a relentless year of touring, Rankin says the band will finally be able to get to work on the next chapter once returning to their adopted home of Toronto.

Oh, and it’s pronounced Always, if you’re still wondering.

Alvvays play the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) Dec. 3, The Starlite Room (Edmonton) Dec. 5, SAIT’s The Gateway (Calgary) Dec. 6 and Park Theatre (Winnipeg) Dec. 10.

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