Alvvays have stormed into consciousness with a tidy first album and the finest indie pop single to hit the ears this year in the form of Marry Me, Archie. CHRIS HAVERCROFT speaks to the brains behind the outfit, Molly Rankin, about the cutest debut LP to be unleashed in some time.
It would appear that Molly Rankin was always destined to play music.
She had a fiddle in her hand at a young age and is the daughter of John Morris Rankin from Canada’s long-standing and award-winning Rankin Family Band. What is more of a surprise is that she hasn’t followed into the folk footsteps of her renowned family.
“Folk was all that I knew because we didn’t have record stores or the internet at that time,” suggests Rankin of her formative musical years. “Those (folk albums) were the records I was familiar with and what we did on the weekends was go to Scottish square dances and step dance and play the fiddle. When we got Napster for the first time was when it sparked my interest in a world of music that I didn’t even know about until then. It was when I finished university that I started listening to things and realising what my influence was.”
The five members of Alvvays have known each other for quite some time, with Rankin growing up next door to Kerri MacLellan (keyboards) and the rest of the band members having met during their school years. The quintet share a strong connection as although they are now Toronto based, they all grew up in obscure islands in the maritime provinces. It was living in a remote area that Rankin insists forced her to play music instead of just hanging out in the mall for the whole weekend.
“I think that the sound of everything has changed a fair bit so it didn’t feel right to put it out under my own name. The boys are old friends from high school and they are from Prince Edward Island. Brian was the only one who had lived in Toronto because of the university there. Alex O’Hanley (guitar) and I started to write and record together and it was a revolving door of bandmates depending on who was available that weekend and eventually we had a solid combination of people who were happy to play music for longer than the holidays.”
The strangely spelt Alvvays were originally known as Always until they realised at the 11th hour that another band already had taken that moniker. The polite Canadians didn’t want to step on any toes so they looked at other options for names. Rankin was still passionate about the word ‘always’ and didn’t war to call the band something inept like ‘Trees’. The quintet just brainstormed for a couple of hours and decided if they put the two v’s close enough together it would resemble a ‘w’.
“It never struck me that it would bug people as much as it does, and that people would pronounce it a different way” Rankin says. “That is kind of endearing. We did think we would continue to just go with Always as a band name, but the other band were signed to Sony so we were sure that was a fight that we wanted to risk entering as we are servers and nannies and waitresses with minimum wage jobs.”
While the self-titled debut has just hit the stores in earnest, it is an album that was kicking around in one form or another for some time. When the album was completed well over a year ago, Alvvays had no record label or agent and weren’t in a rush to release it. In order to play a festival in New Brunswick the band had to have some tangible product. Alvvays thought that if they put the album out on cassette then the people who really wanted it would be able to get hold of it and it probably wouldn’t go online immediately.
“So, we put it out on cassette and then we had a slow build of people from word of mouth that came to our shows and then we eventually got to release it on CD,” Rankin explains. “It is a huge relief for me to finally have the record released because now I feel I can move on and do anything. For a while we weren’t really sure what would happen when it came out. We all have full-time jobs so any real spare time that we have needs to be used to practice and to get ready to go on tour. It can be hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time. I’m looking forward to moving forward now that the record is out.”
When all the members of Alvvays do go out on tour, Rankin has a different kind of challenge to deal with.
“I am prone to have respiratory craziness before we go on stage,” she says. “Phil (MacIsaac, drums) and I are just standing against a wall trying to breathe slowly and calmly. I get shallow breaths and start to panic and even forget what an A chord is sometimes.”