Catching up with Alvvays

Alvvays: How to Stay Sane on Tour and Learn to Trust Collaboration

Alvvays released their sophomore album Antisocialites on September 8th (via Polyvinyl), and we recently caught up with guitarist Alec O’Hanley and vocalist Molly Rankin in Brighton shortly after the start of their UK tour.

You’ve recently begun a new tour. How do you kill time while you’re out there?

Alec: We try to get some local flavor. Last night our bass player Brian [Murphy] fell in with a group of locals and ended up on stage covering “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis. It wasn’t karaoke, he was playing a solo. He was ‘Steve Miller-ing’ to paying patrons.

Molly: We know some pretty fun card games, too.

How has the song development process changed over the course of She (Rankin’s solo album) and the two Alvvays albums?

Alec: I think our involvement in the formative stage is relatively similar to how it’s been historically. It’s just as the documentation process continues, we’ve found ourselves involved in more and more aspects. So on this record we were intensely involved in the engineering and the mixing.

Molly: I think we’ve always been collaborators where we cross over into each other’s space. We’re at a place where we’re comfortable enough to be helped and coaxed through the process together.

Alec: That doesn’t mean we never disagree, and sometimes the beauty comes from disagreement, but we trust each other’s taste. Melodically our tastes are very similar, and what you hear is where we’ve overlapped.

How do your influences differ across members of the band and how do these differences challenge and push you during the recording process?

Molly: If I can speak for Alec, he likes Spaceman 3, Spectrum, and Spiritualized – all the ‘SPs.’ I might have a little bit more of an accessible pop structure craving, although I do like some industrial music.

Alec: Yeah…I gravitate to the fringe a little bit. All of that stuff Molly just mentioned, they have pop songs, and I get as much excitement out of a well-crafted pop song as anyone. I also love ‘Tsunami’ off Katy Perry’s new record, I think it’s brilliant. Or Max Martin pop. I like digging back and trying to be a little encyclopedic about music. We both know we’re a pop band of the guitar variety, and we try to see how far we can push those constraints.

You’re currently signed with Polyvinyl. How was the label courting process and how did you make sure you found the right home for your band?

Alec: I think they were the first ones to say ‘yes’ (laughs). We couldn’t understand why we were getting so many non-affirmative responses because we knew the record was something that would resonate with at least a few people. So yeah, it wasn’t the most romantic get together. Polyvinyl were quite into youth culture and they really got how college radio operates and we responded to that in particular. They’re about as artist-friendly as you could fathom.

Molly: I think we’re really lucky they came relatively early in the record courting process because I feel really good about them as people.

Alec: Yeah. And they put out good records.

What Alvvays achievement are you most proud of?

Alec: I remember the night here in England when I found out we’d gone to the top of the US college campus radio charts. I felt happy in a way I hadn’t for a really long time, just because we’d been working so hard and sweating it out in little tiny bars.

Molly: I think that every stage since we’ve released our record has been pretty nice for us because we were so groomed for failure by the time the record came out. We just played in Glasgow and I got to hang out with Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura. I would order her records to Prince Edward Island, like I would order them in the mail. I do really appreciate all those little moments.

Alec: People say, ‘Oh, you don’t want to meet your heroes,’ but sometimes it’s cool to have them show up at your shows. Stephen McRobbie from The Pastels was at our show in St. Luke’s in Glasgow. And Norman Blake, who played on our new record. It’s really neat and gives you the fuzzy feeling for sure.

Do any members of the band have particular passions or hobbies outside of music?

Alex: Brian is an avid squash player; he’s climbing the Toronto YMCA squash ladder (laughs). He’s ranked reasonably high. Squash is like racquetball’s cousin — a lot of business men in the ’80s played it.

Molly: One of my favorite things is to mess around with visual art. That’s something that both Kerri [MacLellan, keyboards] and I did as children and it’s this weird little hobby that’s lent itself to what we currently do, which is pretty satisfying. We don’t have to pay someone to work on tour posters or single art.

Alec: Yeah, we do all [our art] ourselves. That’s one of the fun, essential ingredients of being in a band.

Molly: Alec came from a scene in PEI where everyone did that. For lack of a better term it was quite DIY, where everyone would do their show posters or album art, their t-shirt designs…

Alec: It can take some time but it’s often better to do as much yourself until you can find someone who does what you do better.

Are there any drawbacks to playing and touring with old friends or is it all love?

Alec: (laughing) Perpetual hippy love.

Molly: It’s sort of an advantage; we all can read each other quite well by now. I can read Kerri’s eyebrows – I know when she wants me to be quiet (laughs).

Alec: It’s an unnatural situation – you’re basically married to four other people. But we’re all good buddies. We’ll go swimming together and shoot the shit and still be able to function in a creative capacity reasonably well. It’s not a total love-in all the time — I don’t know that such a band exists, but we certainly love each other.

Molly: If you can keep everything remotely positive it’s really helpful for the whole group.

Alec: Yeah, as soon as you recognize the only law that gets enforced on tour is Murphy’s Law then you’re much better equipped to deal with the shit tornado that inevitably ensues.

What are your thoughts on musicians expressing their political/world views and their role in using their platform to influence others?

Alec: It’s fine as long as it’s not Kid Rock (laughs).

Molly: As long as you’re not wearing it like a brand, that gets kind of weird sometimes.

Alec: And if there’s one good thing that came from November 8th, it’s no longer as frowned upon as it was on November 7th to talk politics. People are coming out of the woodwork that never really cared before or were kind of coasting, and are way more engaged. It’s been kind of exhilarating to see the size of that popular movement, so there are glimmers of hope in a very brutal time.

Molly: There are things you can do behind the scenes too; sometimes that’s a little bit more productive. I see a lot of partnerships with nonprofits and organizations happening and I think that’s really smart.

**Photos by Arden Wray

 

Alvvays – Antisocialites

Standout Track: “In Undertow”

Follow on Twitter @alvvaysband

 

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