Alvvays LIVE In Studio
By: Emily Kinzer
As load-in time roles around, the five members of the Canadian surf-pop band Alvvays trundle in with their gear. It’s twelve o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but for anybody who’s been touring as heavily as these guys, it might as well be the crack of dawn. You can see it in their eyes – the previous night saw them opening for The Decemberists in a sold-out show at The House of Blues, and they’re gearing up to do it again a few hours after their set in the studio with us. As they begin to set up their drum machine, keyboard, and impressive array of colorful, vintage, stratocasters, Molly Rankin, Kerri MacLellan, Alec O’Hanley, Brian Murphy, and Phil MacIsaac yawn, stretch, and rub their eyes. Murphy, the bassist, even catches a little much needed shut-eye in a chair by the big window overlooking Tremont Street. I can’t blame him – for a band as busy as they are, it’s important to catch up on sleep whenever they can.
It’s a tough life on the road, but certainly one Alvvays has grown accustomed to over the past year. Ever since their debut self-titled album reached number one on the U.S. College Charts in August, Alvvays has toured through Europe and the U.K. with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and Peter, Bjorn, and John, and even managed to play South By Southwest before heading out on tour with The Decemberists. The band’s been playing “soft scenes,”as the band’s front woman Molly Rankin describes them.
This seems to fit nicely with their sound – inspired by big-name coastal pop bands of yore, Alvvays creates upbeat, dreamy jams worthy of blasting on a drive to the beach as the sun goes down on a summer night. There’s something very old-school about the ambient, echoey tone of their vocals and guitar riffs, a quality inspired by the band’s influences (The Beach Boys and The Feelies, to name a couple), as well as their penchant for decades-old instruments and amps. They join the likes of Best Coast, Girls, and Yuck in creating summery, chillwave tunes, but stand out through their ability to combine driving beats with washy melodies, toeing the line between dance-inducing beach pop and ambient shoe-gaze. Whether you’re trying to jam out or take a little snooze, Alvvays has the music to fit the mood.
Despite their wistful, care-free sound, the lyrics to the songs on the band’s first project explore much more poignant situations than lazily whiling away time on the shore. The first two songs the band chooses to share with us in studio, “The Agency Group”and “The Ones Who Love You,”both examine the phenomenon of loving the wrong person, or loving the right person and not being able to express those feelings to them in words. Each song serves as a confessional, an expression of desire for a more honest, intimate experience of love. Each ultimately reaches the conclusion that, because fear and a sense of guardedness, this cannot truly come to pass. Alvvays closes with a much more upbeat number called “Next of Kin,”one of the peppier dance tunes on the album. Ironically, however, the lyrics tell the story of a lover who dies by getting sucked into the current of a river. Whether the river is real or a metaphor, the message is the same – the love the song-writer had such high hopes for has drowned, leaving her behind (“It was the life I wanted and hoped for/ And now I’m left sifting through the reeds”). The striking contrast between the cheery tone of the music and the melancholy lyrics displays the thing that really makes Alvvays tick – the sense that there’s more to them than immediately meets the eye.
I manage to catch up with the band on their way out the door, as they try to get directions to a Vietnamese restaurant in the area. I’m curious to see what’s up next for these busy, somewhat mystical rockers. After we talk a little about touring and their connections to the best vintage guitars, Alec O’Hanley, the lead guitarist of the group, tells me that he and Rankin are planning a quick getaway to Jamaica before recording their next album. “Might find a dub studio, throw on a beanie,”he says jokingly, “conjure our inner and outer selves.”Rankin laughs as she adds that she intends to get corn rows, with red, yellow, and green beads. I have little trouble imagining these two relaxing by the crystal clear, turquoise ocean, perhaps working on songs for their next project, perhaps not. I couldn’t blame them either way – with the year that they’ve had, I think Alvvays deserves a vacation. Maybe they can listen to their own beachy tunes as they lay out under a plan tree.