Why some music remains perpetually relevant and some seems outdated from its inception is a mystery, one whose answer could be anywhere from objective quality to cultural bias. But, somehow, the C-86 sound crops up again and again, with bands often not being particularly concerned with breaking the formula or putting a unique spin on the music of their heroes. Sounding like the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Pastels or Primal Scream is not frowned upon, nor is emulating the jangle pop of R.E.M. or The Smiths, or even the next wave of indie pop in Belle and Sebastian. Not that they are simply replicating what has been done, but as you will also see within folk or punk, sometimes it is less about the ingredients and more about the chef.
Or chefs, in the case of Alvvays. Molly Rankin, one of two women in the five-piece, Toronto-based outfit, shares the songwriting credits with guitarist Alec O’Hanley, and even seems to credit him with a lot positive feedback that is being bestowed upon their self-titled debut LP, due out in July. Rankin cites O’Hanley for editing her lyrics, saying “he’s much more well-read than I am,” and informs her of her writing errors.
Rankin is up-front about the help she receives, and it makes sense considering her introduction to O’Hanley came as a fan of his local band. Talking to Rankin, it isn’t hard to imagine her as a charmer. She’s both funny and good humored, with a voice that sounds like a Canadian Lena Dunham, not quite shy but not quite comfortable being interviewed, either. Rankin is most at home dishing out the questions or talking about the trivial. We speak about the weather (“how hot is it in Celsius?”), about earthquakes (“do you have to hide somewhere when that happens?”), about whether there is a distinction between “roommates” and “housemates” in her native Nova Scotia (nope).
Yeah, Nova Scotia. Rankin and childhood friend Kerri MacLellan grew up as neighbors on Cape Breton, while O’Hanley, Brian Murphy and Philip MacIsaac all grew up on Prince Edward Island (“PEI” as Rankin calls it). These are places that most people never visit, the sections of the map that most never closely inspect, as it neither exists on the way to or from anything of likely destination. Rankin notes that she has friends in “neighboring” Toronto that have never even been there.
“PEI is a flatter landscape and because of Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery and the potato industry, it has a lot more funding. So it is maintained, where Cape Breton is more of a wild, Scottish, hilly landscape. There isn’t a whole lot of industry there. Fishing has been dwindling, and the laws are tightening up. So, there is no boom there right now, and you can tell. It’s sort of romantic the way things are there, just unkempt and natural.”
“We didn’t have a lot to do,” she adds.
This might explain some of Rankin’s lyrical themes. On single “Archie, Marry Me”, romance is signified as much by solitude as it is by making noise on the hard streets of Northeastern Canada. “We spend our days locked in a room content inside a bubble,” Rankin sings, “And in the nighttime we go out and scour the streets for trouble.” On another highlight, “Party Police,” Rankin is in a similar frame of mind, singing “you don’t have to leave, you could just stay here with me, forget all the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery.” These may seem like insignificant details of youth, but for many, they are the defining elements, the moments where they decide to live outside the dictated lines and create their own definitions of entertainment, stimulation, and meaning. It’s not surprising that these characters might wind up in a band.
Sure, these lines are fantasy. “Cinematic” as Rankin calls them, but eventually their small islands couldn’t hold the band, and they started trekking more and more often to play shows in Toronto, a 19-hour drive. Eventually, each member relocated to the metropolis, and once there began taking Alvvays more seriously, securing jobs that would allow them to tour and come back weeks later to find they still had a place to work.
With the album due in July, these sympathetic employers are likely to be less accommodating to their upcoming schedule.
“Kerri has already quit one of her jobs,” Rankin says. “I’ll probably have to leave for a while in the fall. They all sense it, I think. They are probably waiting for me to go in and actually say it, but they can tell it is probably going to happen. The boys all have jobs where they have covered for touring musicians for a couple months while they were on the road. It’s like a scene of jobs where the dude, or dudette, knows the scoop. Kerri is a nanny. Brian works as a cook at a brunch place. Alec works at a guitar shop. And I’m a server at an Italian restaurant.”
With trips to Europe and the U.S. planned for support of their debut, it isn’t likely that Alvvays will be burning up alt radio or on the late-night TV circuit. But the appeal of their music is already making itself known, with their C-86 sound combining with more contemporary dream pop elements to make it seem both perfectly faithful to their influences while still relevant in today’s music conversation. The album would feel at home on both Captured Tracks and Slumberland (or its actual home, Polyvinyl). Still Rankin is cautiously optimistic when talking about the future.
“We haven’t really set many goals,” she says, “because once you do that you are setting yourself up to be disappointed. We’ve been really happy with anything that has taken flight whatsoever, probably because we come from such a small place and literally have no expectations. We just want to be in the van for a really long time, and play often. We probably will have to leave our jobs.”