One-on-One with Molly Rankin of Alvvays

by Ava Muir

Antisocialites, the sophomore effort from Toronto’s beloved indie darlings Alvvays, is the perfect extension of the sound previously explored on their self-titled debut. Released in September, Antisocialites shimmers with the same, tastefully executed elements of dream pop and twee that made 2014 hits like “Archie, Marry Me” and “Adult Diversion” soar, but its tracks are heightened, slyly touching on the emotional spectrum stronger than before.

Alvvays’ second full-length evokes a sense of loneliness and isolation throughout its ten tracks; feelings that are often synonymous with the demise of a relationship. “Plimsoll Punks” hears singer/guitarist Molly Rankin’s growing frustration with lyrics like “this conversation spirals into a fight / I can barely breathe” and “you’re the seashell in my sandal that’s slicing up my heel.” On “Your Type,” Rankin “state(s) delicately — you’re an an O and I’m AB,” the differences between the two clashing like that of contrasting blood types. “Not My Baby” finds Rankin picking up the pieces to put herself back together, confidently stating that she “traded [her] rose-coloured shades for a wide lens.” Antisocialites is not the kind of breakup album one would wallow in, but rather strengthen their sense of self to.

One month prior to the release of Antisocialites, I sit cross legged on a blanket in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park with Rankin. She is clever and affable – a pair of black sunglasses covering her eyes with a flip phone clutched in her hand. The whirlwind of being back on the road is gearing up once more but Rankin doesn’t seem to mind.

“I actually like touring because I like having a routine,” she explains. “I get a little bit despondent when I don’t have structure in my life. The only thing is just the ‘hurry up and wait’ – not really having control of where you are, what you’re eating, that kind of stuff. But I think it gets better. You learn some tricks and you learn to plan ahead for those situations when you’re stuck outside a rental company for five hours at five in the morning.”

There was plenty of time for Rankin and her fellow bandmates to develop those tricks as they toured heavily (“No one will really tell you to stop”) in support of Alvvays. During the quartet’s first time in Australia playing with the Jesus and Mary Chain, they experienced a sobering moment of genuity. “We met this band that we had been covering for years called the Hummingbirds,” Rankin elaborates. “The singer, Simon, told me — ‘you will be touring forever if you don’t just start saying no. You need to make a second record.’ I recently found out that he had passed away. It’s very strange.”

His words resonated with Rankin, especially since she doesn’t write while on the road. “I was getting a lot of questions about the new record while we were touring and I was just making up non-answers, just saying that the record would be faster – adjectives that didn’t even make sense. We did the bulk of the writing once we stopped touring.”

A self-described “hermit,” Rankin holed up for two weeks on Toronto Island as part of an artist residency. “There were activities that you could take part in while you were there and I was not doing those activities with anyone else. The cranky old lady in the classroom,” she laughs. “It’s just a little open classroom with a bed and just enough to get by as far as kitchen appliances and you just do whatever you want. It’s a beautiful place. It kind of reminded me of being a teen and just having space and being able to explore the wilderness and bike around without worrying – I could wear headphones on my bike and listen to music and I wasn’t thinking about getting hit by a car.”

Surrounded by Lake Ontario, the peaceful seclusion was reminiscent of Rankin’s early days growing up on Cape Breton Island. The romanticism of water has been a reoccurring theme throughout the poignant lyricism of Alvvays’ two albums. “Next of Kin,” off their debut LP, hears Rankin singing about leaving her love in the river: “if I’d known you couldn’t swim, we would never have gone in.” Antisocialites’ first single “In Undertow” speaks to the final chapter of a relationship while continuing to reference the element of water – “You find a wave and try to hold on for as long as you can.”

However pleasant it may have been to be near a body of water again, Rankin wasn’t going in. “I just like to watch the water. I don’t think anybody in my family really swims – I don’t think we’re water people,” she explains. “But I went to Cape Breton recently and a lot of my family have found homes on the water so I don’t know, maybe it’s this thing we watch romantically.”

While a portion of Antisocialites was recorded in Los Angeles, the quartet returned to Toronto for the bulk of it. “I think time was important,” says Rankin. “We tracked a bunch of it, got home, listened to it and realized that we had misunderstood some of the songs and needed to do a bunch more recording and mixing. We did some more drums in various studios around Toronto and some of it we kept, some of it we didn’t. It was really just more time and throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what stuck. I did notice that the same approach did not work for every song as maybe it did in the past. Each song needed its own list of stylistic rules.”

Conveniently, Rankin and fellow guitarist Alec O’Hanley had a basement studio setup of their own. “Alec learned a lot about mixing and recording so I really appreciate him,” Rankin smiles. “I get really cranky during mixing because I’m a really physical reactor to things so I’m not always the easiest to work with in that respect. He was definitely really patient.”

Alvvays’ Antisocialites tour circuit is now underway and will see the group performing in the UK and North America for the remainder of 2017. Released through four record labels (“There may be more but I don’t read a lot of the emails”), I wonder if the input of so many voices ever overwhelms Rankin and her reclusive nature.

“The only thing that I feel we really have to pull back on is social media,” she says. “I think with what’s happening right now, you’re expected to have so many different mediums and it’s not really something I want to be focusing on. I’m hoping that we can get away with the less is more approach.”

Alvvays’ tastefully minimalistic approach to interacting through online platforms has always been something that I’ve admired, as I’m sure many other listeners would agree.

“I like an element of mystique,” Rankin says. “I don’t think people who focus on marketing love that. Maybe my face will be on the side of the bus or something next time you bike down Bathurst.”

Antisocialites is available now through Royal Mountain Records, Polyvinyl, Transgressive and Inertia Music.

Alvvays are currently on tour.

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