Alvvays Singer Molly Rankin on Starting a New Band, Chad VanGaalen’s ‘Weird’ Studio
Last week, Toronto-based four-piece Alvvays premiered the video for their new single ‘Adult Diversion’, which vocalist Molly Rankin classifies as “a nice poppy banger”. It’s certainly a leap from what people may expect from a fiddle-playing descendant of Canadian family folk group The Rankin Family. Check out our interview with Molly below to find out about her “dorky twin” and bandmate Kerri Maclellan, how life with Alvvays is different from her prior solo project and the time and Chad VanGaalen was “throwing a fart” at her (and his bizarre collection of dreadlocks).
Why did you decide to call your band Alvvays?
I like the simple blank-slate word for a band name, but Alvvays had a shred of sentiment and nostalgia that I liked. We may be doomed for tampon-rock references forever, but whatever. I was a huge Tegan and Sara fan as a teen and still am.
For someone who has yet to hear your music, how would you describe your band’s sound? And which bands, in particular, have been your strongest musical influences?
If old people ask, I say it sounds like the Cranberries. If young people ask, I call it jangle pop. If a punk asks, I say it’s pop. I imagine we are influenced by a lot of music we don’t like (one time I wrote a song that we soon realized was essentially a Lady Gaga song), but a running theme is strong melody. I love the Dolly Mixture, Celine Dion, Pavement, Teenage Fanclub, the Primitives and Oasis.
Did you ever feel pressure embarking upon your own musical career, considering the success of The Rankin Family?
If I were still playing Celtic fiddle tunes, I would likely feel pressure. I’m sure some people feel I’ve abandoned that scene or something. I’d like to try to live up to their amazing haircuts.
Would you say that their folk music sound has had a strong impact on your music? Did joining them on stage in 2007 help in preparing you for a career in music?
I think I have a pretty traditional sense of melody and because of my mountain accent, some words sound strange. Most of the folkiness is gone, though. I didn’t play a huge role on the family tour. I was a bit spoiled, using in-ear monitors and sleeping on a tour bus. Now, we play shows where we drive 17 hours straight, eating Sour Patch Kids and blaring the Buzzcocks to stay awake, only to arrive and realize we have to set up the PA. I regressed somehow.
You released a solo EP in 2010 – why did you decide to start a band, as opposed to carrying on as a solo act? And how would you say the two projects differ from one another?
Alec [O’Hanley, guitar] helped me create the EP and at that time, my writing/vision was different. We didn’t have any resources or time, and things were very thrown together. With this record, Alec was more involved in the writing process and we were both writing for a band rather than for me. Going under your own name enables knee jerk singer-songwriter typecasting, and those stifling coffee house connotations. Chad [VanGaalen] confirmed that we were writing “band” songs, so the notion of a new name screamed “freedom”.
You and Kerri Maclellan [keyboards] grew up as next-door neighbors. When did you two start making music together?
Kerri and I grew up annoying our older siblings. Fiddle can be an excruciating thing to endure in its early developmental stages. I remember when she found ‘Jagged Little Pill’ in her brother’s bedroom (we were probably 10). It blew our minds. Her dad labeled us “the dorky twins” very early on, and the term remains relevant. We tricked Kerri into being in our band, initially inviting her along as a SXSW tour manager. Alec recorded the keys on the record, but having her with us singing harmonies and filling things out on synths has done wonders for us live. Having her in the van cracking jokes, alone, would be reason enough to take her along.
How was it working with Chad VanGaalen on your forthcoming debut album? What’s his Yoko Eno studio like? I read you said the sessions were “full of unexpected weirdness” – what was the weirdest experience?
Arriving in Calgary in March was pretty bleak at first. We were staying in a sketchy hotel on the highway, where a group of people had checked into our room while we were sleeping. When we got to Chad’s house, it was an entirely different vibe. African music, vibraphones, everything was colorful and engaging. I always liked his percussive instincts, and the way he records guitars. He did some cool modular beat stuff on a few of our songs. He has a guitar with a collection of various concert-goers’ dreadlocks fused together, and I’m grateful we didn’t have to touch it. At one point he was hitting a drum with a spoon and threatening to put flute on a song (which in retrospect would have been amazing). I’d say the weirdest experience was him throwing a fart in my face. In all fairness, I probably had too much to drink.
You also collaborated with Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh and producer John Agnello on this record – how did they become involved in the project?
John and Graham are both lovely men. John is a riot and a vibe merchant. Alec was reading a Tape-Op magazine interview with John and sent him an earnest end-of-our-rope sort of message. Mixing on his big George Martin board in Brooklyn was pretty luxurious. Tracking with Graham was a little more run-and-gun in a basement. He’s the nicest human out there. We had crossed paths with Graham in Halifax, so we asked him pretty bluntly if he’d be up for helping us. Kerri and I babysit his precocious two year-old sometimes. She’s got perfect pitch and reads at a higher grade level than me.
Alvvays’ selt-titled debut album is set for release in early 2014, via Royal Mountain Records.