by Anastasia Chipelski
Holed up in a hotel in Philadelphia, billed by the front desk reception as “America’s most historic square mile,” Alvvays lead singer Molly Rankin spoke to Stylus about touring, the long road behind their album, and what it’s like to do what you love as part of the “adult baby” generation.
While for many readers, the Toronto-based quintet may seem new to the scene, Alvvays has the long game in mind with their debut album. “The most important thing for us was having songs that had some staying power,” Rankin told Stylus. “That was always the main focus for me, and then just finding guitar tones and synth tones that didn’t feel too futuristic, something that could stand the test of time – more than ten years or something – and not too shiny and also not too muddy.”
The balance comes through on fuller tracks like “Adult Diversion” and “Archie, Marry Me” (a track whose lyrics are often misinterpreted as Rankin’s desperation for marriage which, she points out, is actually quite the opposite).
The album winds down with slightly more pared-down arrangements on “Dives” and “Red Planet.” If you hear echoes of Chad VanGaalen, it’s because he contributed synth beats to some of the ballads that were recorded at his studio. Rankin credits the rest of the synth – “like a nice little blanket that hovers over everything” – to Alec, a self-professed synth nerd. And as for the halo-soaked and distinctive vocals? “I have a bit of a razor voice, so we put a lot of delay or reverb on stuff,” explains Rankin.
These details may seem an obvious fit in the final mix, but Alvvays took everything under careful consideration while sitting on this album. While at the time, Rankin admits she wasn’t especially patient, “I think I’m very happy that we didn’t release anything early on.”
In retrospect, it makes a bit more sense, she says, “The growth that has occurred has been crucial. Going over everything with a fine toothed comb before we thrust it out into the internet has been really important to us.”
Once the album was finally out, Alvvays were ready to tour, while still holding on to their day jobs and not holding out for any kind of immediate success. Aside from Phil, who’s self employed, “the rest of us have been working on our employer relationships for a long time, so now we can go back whenever we want, which is amazing,” shared Rankin.
Their approach to music is passionate but realistic – they weren’t expecting any kind of radio play, and were pleasantly surprised. “It’s quite a bleak situation with music but if we didn’t see any kind of future, or opportunity to travel the world, we would probably be less enthusiastic about getting into the van for months at a time.”
After living out of their backpacks overseas, the band recently returned to North America and Rankin reluctantly professed her love for their van, which she likens to an 85-year-old that will soon be in a happier place: “We all sort of hate the van, but now we love the van.”
Not that she’s complaining, though. It’s just a change of pace, and no matter where they go, Rankin tries to find something good in every stop. “We’re really lucky that we’re able to go and go on these trips to begin with, so, try to find something that we can take from it in every city we go to.”
Aside from a short break over Christmas, the band will be touring almost non-stop through the spring when they may retire, briefly, back to day jobs and the basement to craft the next batch of songs. And for Rankin, that’s a perfectly fine place to be. “I think we do come from an adult baby generation where we can have master’s degrees and work at a diner,” she explains. And the work that needs to happen behind the scene for an indie band can’t be underestimated, squeezing in shifts wherever possible for a bit of extra petty cash.
Their investment pays off in other ways, and Rankin’s not particularly interested in having her life measure up any old templates. “If I was a teacher right now, I wouldn’t be in Barcelona, and I wouldn’t have the freedom to go and travel […] There’s not a whole of point in dwelling on where we are in our lives because those traditional perspectives on where you should be when you’re 30 are completely out the window at this point. Maybe by 40 we’ll have things figured out, but I don’t want to have any regrets about not pursuing something.”
Avoid your own future regrets and catch Alvvays at the Park Theatre with Sun Club on Wednesday, December 10th.