Alvvays: Getting Mispronounced

The Toronto band talks working with Chad Van Gaalen and writing their songs in a smoothie hut.

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Jul 11 2014, 4:09pm

The first thing you need to know about Toronto’s Alvvays is that it’s pronounced “Always.” They don’t really mind if you pronounce it phonetically, but you’ll sound like a dummy. The two-girl, three-boy indie pop act have been the toast of Toronto of late, having signed record deals with Royal Mountain Music (Hollerado, PUP) in Canada, Polyvinyl (Japandroids, Of Montreal) in the U.S., and Transgressive (Foals, Neon Indian) overseas. Evoking the forlorn sounds of UK indie boom of the mid-’80s, not to mention kindred spirits of Best Coast and Camera Obscura, Alvvays have crafted one fine debut album. Out July 22, the self-titled, Chad Van Gaalen-produced effort is timely summer music, perfectly scheduled to make the remaining weeks of the season go by a little smoother, thanks to its breezy melodies and happy-sad lyrics. A member of East Coast music royalty, singer/songwriter Molly Rankin was born into the famed Celtic music collective the Rankin Family, who schooled her on music and even brought her on tour as a teenager. Noisey reached Molly by phone to talk about her rich musical history, writing most of the album in a smoothie hut and how having a band named after a maxi pad manufacturer isn’t a bad thing at all.

Noisey: How often do people get the name wrong?
Alvvays: All the time. I’d say about 50 per cent of the time. But none of us care. It’s pretty funny and entertaining when they say it wrong. We would never say, “It’s actually ALWAYS!” Spelling it that way never entered my mind because visually the vee is just about a millimetre away from being a double-u. It was obvious to me, but I hadn’t considered that it was sort of ambiguous.

What made you go with the two v's? Was there another band named Always?
Yeah, there was. I haven’t been able to find their record, but apparently it’s really good. Every time I go to a record store I look for it. It’s dream pop from the late 90s, but we didn’t know of them when we named our band. I think they were signed to Sony, so we thought about it and decided we didn’t want to go down that road.

You self-released the album on cassette last year, correct? What is the difference between it and this version?
There is no difference. It was just getting a proper release with press, a proper tour, all that crap. We were just waiting for a right fit and then we found it and figured we’d release that then move on quickly. We were going on a few low-key tours and wanted to have some kind of music because it’s kind of ridiculous to go on tour without some form of tangible music. We needed something to give people and the cassette was the best way to do it without the whole thing going online immediately.

What made you decide to work with Chad Van Gaalen?
I’m a big fan. My brother would send me his records when I was living in P.E.I. and he was in Calgary. I love Public Strain, the Women record he produced; the guitar tones on that. And I liked the use of percussive instruments around his vocals on Chad’s own records, they can always get loud and chaotic but they’re always so creative. He’s always very attentive to the idea of the song.

Did you skateboard with him at all?
No, he had the half pipe in his basement recording studio but he had all sorts of crap lying all over it during the winter. And I think he may have gotten hurt a week later. Like we just missed that. I think it was a private part.

I read that you wrote most of the songs while working in a smoothie hut…
Yes. But I will not name the smoothie hut as it’s no longer in business. I really liked the owner but I think it may have been a drug front. I would unlock the door when someone knocked and that was maybe three times a day. So I was pretty much just reading a book a day and play whatever music I wanted. It was actually a really good paying job and I used to take those vegan coconut ice cream bars home at the end of the night. The person that trained me said, “At the end of the night just take whatever ice cream you want.”

How did working at a smoothie hut inspire the album?
It was the bleakest time period of the year, so maybe there was some longing for water and sunshine and summery, beachy weather. There is a melancholic theme throughout the weather, but most of it is longing for summer… or a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was actually quite excited to learn that you’re a part of the Rankin Family family. I remember the variety show on CBC and the videos on MuchMusic. What did your family teach you about music?
I think they had reservations about me pursuing music because it’s a really hard industry to be successful in. So they were more like, “You should get an education. A great one!” But growing up I had a lot of Celtic things ingrained in my brain. I played the fiddle and the piano, and was a little Scottish step dancer, which Kerri [MacLellan] was too. I think those things are a little hard to wash out from your life, not that I tried. But it seems just to be present. I did go out on tour with them when I was 18, which was a very bizarre way to start getting into the business. They had two tour buses and playing arenas. I was using in-ear monitors and had a guitar tech, and it was like the complete opposite of what we’re doing now. But I appreciate knowing how it works from the ground up now.

You and Kerri grew up as neighbours in Cape Breton playing East Coast-style folk music. How did you break into the sounds of Alvvays?
Just time. It was very gradual. The songs I started writing at the age of 15, which you can probably find online, were very different. I don’t think it was a flipped switch or anything. Kerri and I were always listening to Jagged Little Pill and all of our older brothers’ records. Maybe we were subconsciously pining for that genre when we were 11.

Who is the Archie you sing about in “Archie, Marry Me”?
It is a fictitious character but the situation was a bit of an autobiographical one. We do have mutual cousin named Archie who was our other neighbour. We sort of lived in a triangle formation in the woods and his parents bred golden retrievers. He plays in this band Mardeen in Halifax and we’re close friends, so we always joke that the song is about him but it’s not.

I can just imagine his expression first hearing it without any explanation…
He’s a very burly, curly-haired, super Scottish fisherman type. I think he was very perplexed about it.