Photo: Norman Wong

Home & Away: Alvvays

After five years away, Alvvays’ third album ‘Blue Rev’ speaks to the past, present and future of a band making their most ambitious music yet.

Molly Rankin is taking DIY through some of the various reasons as to why the world has had to wait five years for Alvvaysnew album ‘Blue Rev’. With no new music arriving since 2017’s ‘Antisocialites’, die-hard fans may have been tempted to put up ‘Wanted’ posters, but much of that delay, it turns out, was due to a series of very unfortunate events…

“I was broken into, then the following night my friends came over to soothe me and, while that was happening, there was this really irregular rainfall and the basement [with the band’s gear in] started flooding while we were there,” the vocalist recalls. “So we were grabbing blankets and anything we could to mop up the water. Had we not been home, it would have been completely destroyed.” Add to that a pandemic shutdown, and you get a scenario far from ideal for a band still brimming with ideas.

Made up of Molly, guitarist Alec O’Hanley, keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, drummer Sheridan Riley and bassist Abbey Blackwell, the Toronto-based troupe have always - much like their creative reference points The Smiths - been masters of the bittersweet, marrying colourful melodies with sometimes bleak lyrics. On their 2014 self-titled debut they used these tools to punctuate the chaotic expectations that being in your twenties provides; 2017’s ‘Antisocialites’, meanwhile, brought the pressures of adulthood ever closer in a frenzied romance arc. Yet now, with the band’s members all in their thirties, Alvvays are reflecting in a different way.

“I think the variance of songs on this record appeals to the frantic nature of what’s happening in the world or with me.”

— Molly Rankin

The title ‘Blue Rev’ is a nod to Molly’s teenage years growing up in the isolated town of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. It’s a drink that some say tastes like cough medicine, but nonetheless was the youthful alcoholic beverage of choice.

“I got a message from one of my friends the other day and she said she saw it in the liquor store and can’t even look at it,” she laughs. “I don’t know why it permeated our culture in the way that it did. I’ve actually never had a cold one; it was generally pulled out of someone’s backpack in the woods. You’re sort of desperate for whatever alcohol you can get your hands on when you’re a teen…”

Home is important to Molly. Cape Breton stands as a completely different environment to the bustling city she now calls home and the opening track on ‘Blue Rev’, ‘Pharmacist’, brings forth ample nostalgia for her birthplace. “There have been elements of that [nostalgia] on our other albums, but I don’t think that it really touched on the unique Nova Scotia cultural experience [before],” she says. “[The song isn’t] really about my personal life, but there are enough touchpoints that encapsulate youth in the maritime.

“It’s a beautiful place and the people are so friendly and very funny,” she continues, “but returning to where you’re from is such a rush of different feelings when you’re trying to grapple with the way things used to be. Fronting the different experiences you had in your youth, I find that really overwhelming, just making peace with that.”

’Blue Rev’ is an album that explains a lot about where Alvvays are, not only as a band but as people too. Isolation has always been key to the way Molly has written her lyrics, having spent time on Toronto Island alone when writing ‘Antisocialites’, but now she understands the importance of these creative boundaries more than ever. “I know that I like to be alone, that’s something I know for sure. I need to be secluded from everyone else in order to conjure up something really meaningful and find those emotional lifts,” she says.

However, though many of the songs on the band’s third were born from solitude, they contain emotional multitudes bound to connect in far bigger, wider ways. Carving out your own path and forging ahead is a key theme on the record. Throughout, you’ll find characters making their own choices and taking uncertain leaps of faith. “I put my money on a horse who won’t be steered on any course or lane,” goes ‘Tom Verlaine’ while on ‘Pomeranian Spinster’ we meet a protagonist whose life seems to almost entirely thrive off chaos but is admirably determined to follow her own direction.

‘Belinda Says’, meanwhile, details a character who becomes pregnant and, in spite of town gossip, decides to start a new life in the country. “The idea of a leap into the unknown is such a beautiful image to me. Especially with a child, taking that risk and evading whatever baggage is left behind to start this new journey, it’s about the bravery that’s involved in that,” Molly says.

Home & Away: Alvvays

“I know that I like to be alone, that’s something I know for sure.”

— Molly Rankin

In a slightly self-deprecating manner, Molly conversely describes herself as a “meek” person. Not being a natural extrovert meant that being the leader of a band wasn’t necessarily an easy fit and, from starting Alvvays until now, there have been a series of learning curves. “I really learned my lesson about just using my instincts and advocating for those and being able to articulate my needs,” she nods before laughing: “That was definitely something that took time for me to learn how to do so I can stand up for myself and prevail.”

You can find her humour littered throughout ‘Blue Rev’. Often self-referential, sarcastic or deadpan, lines such as the wry “Belinda says that heaven is a place on Earth / Well, so is hell” speak to a band with a darker side than some of their sparkling melodies might first suggest. It’s a huge part of how her lyricism illuminates the characters she writes about, and on ‘Blue Rev’ she weaves these tales into Alvvays’ most diverse and ambitious record to date - one that pulls from shoegaze, new wave, dream pop and beyond.

Yet it’s the variety of feelings that is equally impressive. Across the album, there are moments where you could swear you were seeing stars for the first time, as guitars combine into helter-skelter epiphanies before the quieter moments bring a pause of much-needed breathing space. It’s a gift to be able to wield all of that into a record that still feels like its own microcosm. “I think the variance of the songs on this record kind of appeals to the frantic nature of what’s happening in the world or with me,” Molly considers. “It is a bit of a variety record, so connecting all of that was a task, making it feel like one full thought.”

Five years might have been a long time coming, but it was necessary in order for Alvvays to grow alongside their songs. Returning with their finest work yet, they’re more refreshed than ever.

‘Blue Rev’ is out now via Transgressive.

Tags: Alvvays, From The Magazine

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