When Molly Rankin was a child, she discovered she had special powers. As an offshoot of the Rankin familythe award-winning Canadian musical group of the 90s, she adopted the violin as her instrument of choice, which was also played by her father, John Morris Rankin.
“If you play the violin, you’re kind of like a Jedi – you have that aura around you,” she said in an interview from her Toronto apartment, a Devo poster and a wall of guitars visible behind her. . “And I was, you know, showing signs of the Force at a young age, and I was encouraged not to waste that.”
In 2011, she founded Alvvays, an indie rock band that wraps hazy layers of rock instrumentation around stories of difficult lives and hurt feelings. It may not seem related to her roots, but Rankin, 35, noted that the music of her ancestors stems from Celtic melodies that have been passed down for centuries. “They stand the test of time,” she said, “and they bounce around in your head forever.”
From the 2014 release of his self-titled debut album, Alvvays displayed an emotional and melodic sophistication that helped him stand out from his peers. “Antisocialites,” from 2017, was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize and led the band to American television debut. Their long-awaited third album, “Blue Rev”, released on Friday, was partly delayed by the pandemic but ultimately enriched by extra time.
“Sometimes I feel like every song I write is the last,” Rankin said with a small smile. “I wouldn’t call it a process; I would probably call it a personality.
The slower pace benefited the group’s reflection on their own work and their tightly knit bonds. Rankin lives with his partner, Alec O’Hanley, who co-writes the band’s songs and plays numerous instruments. When we spoke in late September, the band’s drummer, Sheridan Riley, and bassist, Abbey Blackwell, were staying in an upstairs apartment; Rankin’s childhood friend Kerri MacLellan, who plays the keyboard and sings, is just a short bike ride away. O’Hanley compared the house’s current vibe to “Animal House”: “We’re pretty clannish about it, but it’s not deliberate – it just seems to shake that way.”
“Blue Rev” pushes the band’s sound to dreamier and noisier frontiers, while deepening its narrative writing. The album takes its name from a Canadian alcoholic drink that Rankin drank as a teenager, which is not appreciated for its taste.
“I like to offset something pretty with something difficult,” Rankin explained. “I like melodies that can be soft, but I like when there’s courage – a bit of emotional weight and pain, just to make it feel complete.” She added that she was “constantly trying to make the guitars louder” and cited Alice Munro’s short stories as a recent inspiration. “I love that she has the ability to take your breath away with a 12-page short story, and you’re just in shock,” she said. “I would love to be able to do that with a song.”
Producer Shawn Everett (War on Drugs, Killers) helped the band break some old habits and hone the loud-quiet-loud dynamics of their songs. “We’re always looking to broaden the spectrums, whether emotional or tonal – to see how far we can push something before it breaks,” O’Hanley said, referring to Neil Young’s records, the Psychedelic Furs, Abba, the Cure and magnetic fields as sonic goalposts. He said the band members spent a lot of time bringing together unconventional influences from all over pop culture, as if they were “climbing Nerd Mountain”. (Although the group is known for its sober subject matter, in conversation its members have shown quick wit.)
The single “Belinda Says” began with Rankin playing with chords in the basement and lyrics describing leaving town for an uncertain future – “Moving to the country/I’m gonna have that baby/See how it goes pass/See how it grows” – took shape. O’Hanley came up with the line that gives the song its title, which references Belinda Carlisle’s 1987 hit “Heaven is a place on earth.” O’Hanley had heard “Belinda Says” as a country song, referencing the work of Lucinda Williams and Deana Carter, but said Rankin was “pretty insistent on the need for a bit of scuzz.” The resulting track encapsulates the band’s strengths: plaintive, distinct lyrics, high-pitched melodies, waves and waves of sugar-speckled white noise that envelop without overwhelming, a triumphant guitar solo that hoists the song to a climax. ascending.
On “Blue Rev,” some of the personal pain that fuels the music is more explicit. John Morris Rankin died in a car accident in 2000, at the age of 40. A photograph of Rankin’s family appears on the album cover, which she said had a deeper meaning: “It’s your parents’ comfort, and they help you up on a dock, then behind they are that big, looming sky of adulthood and what the world is ready to show you.
Rankin said that when her father died, “It was a really chaotic and obviously traumatic time, but I also had brain fog for a long time,” noting that she was too young to grasp all the emotions and thoughts that accompany the death of a relative. Although she continued to play the fiddle and even performed with the Rankin family on a reunion tour, she ultimately chose to chart her own path.
Despite the sonic differences, Rankin said she channels her father’s willpower. “I’m not afraid to say if I don’t like something or if something isn’t good enough,” she explained. “It’s really important for me, not to be a yes person. He certainly wasn’t one.
Everett, who was born in Canada but currently lives in Los Angeles, said he hears about the Rankin family legacy at Alvvays. “There’s a spirituality of the northern lights that you feel growing up in Canada – the miracle of snow, the weird difference in reality,” he said. “It’s kind of an ethereal question mark that Molly has the ability to weave.”
Damian Abraham, the frontman of Canadian hardcore band F____ Up, recalled bringing Alvvays on tour as a support act in 2014, and said his poise and maturity were already evident. “They had that naïve sheen you expect from a band making pop music with a punk approach,” he said. “They had real music chops in the background, but there was one upside that we all gravitated toward.”
Alvvays moved on to headlining his own shows and amassing a small, albeit loyal, fanbase. “I don’t know if Alvvays will ever be more than a cult favorite,” O’Hanley said. “We just want to continue in this quest for pop-art beauty for as long as possible; if i can get a job playing music and good songs, then that’s great. I don’t have to work in a poutine bar in Toronto.
Rankin said she can be “pretty hard” on herself and it takes a long time to piece together material that moves her, but it’s worth it when the music feels good and resonates. “I don’t expect a precise trajectory,” she added with a chuckle. Even a Jedi cannot predict the future.