OWherever you grew up in the world, you’ll no doubt become attached as a teenager to a frankly disgusting but deeply evocative local booze, the one that defines your teenage years. If you’re from the UK, it could be Dragon Soop, the highly caffeinated conduit to many messy parties. North of the border is the famous Buckfast.
For Molly Rankin, her formative years on the remote island of Cape Breton in the Nova Scotia region of eastern Canada can be brought back with just a sip of Blue Rev, the “cola drink made from vodka” which gives the third album of his group Alvvays. his title. “It serves as a little portal to the past,” Rankin says from his adopted hometown of Toronto. “You take a sip, and all those little doors are unlocked in your past. You’re transported back to your youth and all those trials and tribulations.
Home to just over 100,000 people – including key Rankin and Alvvays player Kerri MacLellan, who spent her time “playing in the woods and being weirdos” in her youth – Cape Breton home to the famous Cabot Trail and idyllic scenery. It’s also home to the award-winning Celtic folk collective The Rankin Family, of which Molly’s late father, John Morris Rankin, was the violinist. While isolating at her home in Toronto during one of the world’s longest Covid pandemic lockdowns, Molly’s thoughts inevitably returned to her childhood on the island.
“I was leaning into some of the coastal elements where I’m from and the unique cultural things that we experienced as teenagers,” she explains. “It’s not word for word what I’ve been through personally, but I was thinking about the energy of going home and coming to terms with your past and how things have changed. It’s something most people experience, seeing old places you loved sunk into the ground or new places that bear no resemblance to the life you used to lead there.
“Blue Rev” comes five years after the band’s second album, 2017’s “Antisocialites.” Its announcement came alongside the release of debut single “Pharmacist,” which sent fans back into the comfortable bosom of the melodic, addictive vocals. by Rankin and the swirling soundscapes of guitarist Alec O’Hanley, all while hinting at subtle extensions of their sound. Since coming out in 2014 with their debut album and indie hit single, “Archie, Marry Me,” they’ve become one of the biggest and most cohesive bands in the game.
When lockdown restrictions eased enough for the singer to return to the island halfway through the creation of “Blue Rev,” she was flipping through old family photos and found a deeply evocative image of her childhood, circa 1992. old Molly in a life jacket, disembarking from a boat in Cape Breton with the help of her parents as a dark storm brews behind them. “I think it was a very difficult day!” she vaguely remembers, but as soon as she discovered it, she knew it was to become the cover for the new album.
The road to “Blue Rev” was far from easy for Alvvays. Shortly after the release of their second album, she and her main songwriting partner, O’Hanley, began working on a batch of new songs, some of which would end up on the album we hear now. A handful of them – “Pomeranian Spinster”, “Easy On Your Own? “, “Belinda Says” – existed in demo form on a hard drive that was stolen and never found during a burglary of her Toronto apartment. Almost inconceivably, the very next day, the band’s gear was almost completely destroyed after a flood in their basement.
After the pair of incidents and an ensuing global pandemic, which saw the band unable to train, write and record with US drummer Sheridan Riley due to border closures, a sense of hopelessness and LP3 being a doomed task would have been reasonable. Such prospects are not in Alvvays’ DNA, however, Rankin says. “The only thing I know how to do is put my head down and keep swinging. That’s how we’ve been from the start – just keep going and pushing through whatever life throws at us. I don’t really know who that person was, or where that thing is, or what I really miss about everything [those recordings]just hours and hours of me howling at the moon.
“I don’t really have any other option, though,” she adds candidly. “I can’t just give up and feel sorry for myself for too long.”
“I can’t just give up and feel sorry for myself for too long” – Molly Rankin
Since forming in 2011 on Prince Edward Island, an island neighboring Camp Breton, Alvvays have made a name for themselves as one of the most cohesive and delightful indie bands around. With their 2014 self-titled debut and 2017 follow-up, Rankin, O’Hanley and co. quickly showed an unparalleled knack for crafting delightfully catchy, catchy indie-pop songs that had sadness and disenfranchisement in their bones, but could also exist on the surface as party starters. The charm of their music comes from the way it is deliciously, unashamedly, but all done with a knowing wink.
On ‘Blue Rev’, Alvvays takes his now signature sound and slowly pushes it in new directions. Initially trying to make album three faster than they managed with its predecessor (‘Antisocialites’ came out three years after the release of ‘Alvvays’), all the stumbling blocks the band had to face meant pushing back work on ‘Blue Rev’, which comes half a decade after their last one. For Rankin, it allowed the band to follow their noses a bit more with the “offbeat moments” on the album, which she says would likely have been left out in recent years.
The most striking of these – and a defining one for Rankin – is “Very Online Guy”, a humorous and scathing dismantling of Internet “answering machines”. On the song, she takes aim at a guy who “type his cool answers”, “covers all cool areas” and is “only one filter away‘ with manipulated vocals over a lo-fi production.
“I’m really glad the song did,” she says, “because it’s just such a weird little album. It just started as I was humming a joke, and Alec and I thought it was so hilarious that we chased it for a few hours, and it turned into this twisted love song.
Elsewhere on ‘Blue Rev’, ‘Pomeranian Spinster’ climax puts its sharpest lyrics (“I don’t mean to be nice / I don’t want your running tips in my pantyhose”) to the album’s most upbeat punky music, while ‘Belinda Says’ is written as an homage to Belinda Carlisle’s huge, powerful 1987 ballad ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’. The latter features perhaps Alvvays’ defining lyrics to date, penned by O’Hanley: “Belinda says heaven is a place on earth / Well so is hell.”
“I was thinking about the energy of coming home and facing your past and how things have changed” – Molly Rankin
After about two-thirds of ‘Blue Rev’ was completed before the pandemic hit in early 2020 – the band had booked studio time in late March at the legendary Sunset Sound in Los Angeles – Rankin set about create the rest of the disc at home in confinement. “The energy of being isolated is something I thrive on,” she says. “I like to be alone when I write and not have people around me, so part of [lockdown] was helpful. She names ‘Belinda Says’ and other ‘Blue Rev’ tracks ‘Tom Verlaine’ and ‘Tile By Tile’ as those that particularly benefited from this island existence.
His creative relationship with O’Hanley also blossomed during the band’s first decade, and the duo bring the yin and yang that define Alvvays’ output. “It’s very helpful to have our mix of skills, where I can come up with an aesthetic or a direction with something, and Alec can understand what I’m conveying and execute it,” the singer says.
“I really believe in the power of collaboration,” Rankin adds, explaining how her ever-evolving creative partnership with O’Hanley means she doesn’t feel like she’s “writing the same record every time.” “There’s a lot of things that instinctively appeal to me that might look the same over the course of three albums, or over the course of one album,” she says, “but he’s got so many different little ideas, and so it goes. so is I, and the influences overlap. There’s this element of collage in what we do.
After the 14 songs of ‘Blue Rev’ went largely out of fashion, the band traveled to California in late 2019 to enter the studio with fellow Canadian Shawn Everett, whose previous credits include The Killers, The War On Drugs and Kacey Musgraves. For Rankin, it was a groundbreaking experience and one that captured something new at Alvvays. “You walk into his space and you’re just in his universe,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you want to speed anything up – it all depends on where it is. We can be a bit militant about studio time and have a go-go-go approach,” he adds. she, but with Everett – “a wild man and a scientist” – “just ride the wave”.
The particular wave that Alvvays ended up riding with the producer involved playing “Blue Rev” in full twice on a particular day, with only 15 seconds between each song and half an hour between album takes. “Actually, I think it’s really smart,” Rankin reflects, “because you can know how to do something very well, but by the time you have to execute it, it’s difficult. It happens in the studio, where you’re put in an isolation booth and suddenly doing something you’ve done a hundred times is so much harder. Everett’s method then “took the pressure out of our heads”, with the full passages of the record seeing the band “hustling, laughing and digging”.
This dual approach – meticulously creating detailed demos for years, then, upon finally entering the studio, feverishly running through the entire album straight to tape – is perhaps Alvvays’ defining characteristic, and a highlight on “Blue Rev”. On his debut single and opener “Pharmacist,” a classic slice of woozy dream-pop, Rankin sings deeply and evocatively of his childhood in Cape Breton, but it’s offset by the giddy playfulness of “Very Online Guy “.
The same can also be said musically. On the surface, songs from “Blue Rev” and Alvvays’ catalog are danceable, sugary pop hits, but underneath are O’Hanley’s inventive and unusual chord progressions and meticulously crafted, deeply layered sounds. . “Every song on the album took such a journey,” Rankin recalls, “and it was so satisfying to go through every demo I’d been in love with and listened to for years, and then compare them with the new ones. versions and to really feel like we’ve transcended them.
“Blue Rev” tracks were stolen from his apartment, gained new perspectives and angles during a pandemic, and received a final burst of energy at the Everett studio. The fact that the album even exists is a testament to the strength of the songs and the resilience of one of the most sublime bands we have.
Alvvays’ third album “Blue Rev” is out October 7 via Transgressive