Sorry, guys, but when the two members of the distaff side of Alvvays take the front seat of the van you’re going to have to brace yourself for some Beyoncé.
Chalk it up to a childhood listening to Top 40 radio on the East Coast, especially Celine Dion and Oasis, miles from the bands that come to mind when comparisons are made to the group. It’s also a startling admission considering the loose use of the word “hipster” when describing the five-piece in some critical circles. For singer-songwriter Molly Rankin, it’s particularly amusing to be described thusly, considering her background in small town Cape Breton.
“It’s confusing, because it seems to be more about what jeans you’re wearing than anything else,” she says, talking as the band motors on its way to a gig in Fargo, North Dakota. “As far as I can tell it’s directed at anyone who is young and wears any form of hat.”
Alvvays (pronounced Always) stumbled on its currently designated “hipster” dream-pop sound not long after Rankin was attempting to release an EP of her own after leaving Dalhousie University in Halifax. The solo project quickly changed to group with the addition of Two Hours Traffic guitarist Alec O’Hanley plus keyboardist and childhood friend Kerri MacLellan, along with bassist Brian Murphy and drummer Phil MacIsaac. Relocating to Toronto the group formally became Alvvays, the spelling forced on them when Rankin discovered that there was a band signed to Sony Records with the same name.
The sound came naturally to the group after hours spent jamming in the basement, taking the measure of each other and their developing style.
“It seemed to be going that way, even the tail end of the EP was hinting at the direction,” Rankin says. “The demos we did all sounded like how the record turned out. There wasn’t any conscious decision in any of it; we didn’t decide to change everything and decide to be a ‘dream pop’ band, or redo our whole image and esthetic. It was just what came out of us with those particular amps, pedals and guitars, in that particular basement.”
Whatever it was, the Chad VanGaalen-produced debut made an immediate splash, topping the US college charts and picking up a four-star review in Rolling Stone. Meanwhile, Torquil Campbell of Stars declared the single “Archie, Marry Me” to be his summer jam. A likeably shaggy and lo-fi jangle pop record, the self-titled debut deserves every accolade it has coming its way.
For many people the most interesting part of the story is that Rankin is the daughter of fiddle player John Morris Rankin and former member of the Rankin Family, whose musical tentacles reach far from their Nova Scotia home base. Alvvays, the Rankins and their various spin-offs don’t have much in common beyond family members and general quality of music, and Molly Rankin doesn’t seem interested in trading on the name.
“So far the pros have far outweighed the cons as far as changing from a solo project to an actual band,” she asserts. “I can’t see any cons at all now, to be honest. Just being able to escape the assumptions that people have based on a female name, let alone a familiar female name is really nice, and it’s good to go off the grid and develop without people having an idea what you’re going to be doing.” V
Sat, Sep 20 (8 pm)
With Fucked Up
Pawn Shop, $20