Published Jul 24, 2014As members of Two Hours Traffic and the Rankin Family, Alec O'Hanley and Molly Rankin are basically Maritime music royalty. However, having such a strong musical heritage can have its downsides.
"The name was just subject to people jamming family history down your throat at any opportunity," Rankin says about her previous solo project before it morphed into their current group, the Toronto-based pop outfit Alvvays. "This is a great way for people to listen before judgment."
Thankfully, Alvvays' newly released self-titled debut does all the talking. Clocking in at a little over 30 minutes and filled with the kind of C86 jangle that makes the British music press swoon, the band's first-ever album has so far silenced critics with its summertime sonics and candid lyrics.
Speaking in a local Toronto watering hole hours after their recent Studio Q performance, O'Hanley and Rankin are frank when discussing the shift from Rankin's solo project to a full-fledged band.
The pair originally met and began writing together while Rankin was based in Halifax. The songwriting partnership resulted in a lesser known yet locally loved EP, but found the singer looking to change her trajectory sometime after its release.
Inspired in part by British dream pop and acts like the Smiths and the Magnetic Fields, the pair began pushing their sound to more sunny and sonically disparate locales. Rounded out by Brian Murphy on bass, Phil MacIsaac on drums and Kerri Maclellan on keyboards, its Maritime members relocated to Toronto to begin performing as the group. But it wasn't until a trip to Calgary that the band really got going.
After sending an email request to Chad VanGaalen on a whim, Alvvays travelled to his Yoko Eno studios in 2012 to begin work on their debut LP.
Taking place over two weeks, the band laid down the pieces that would become their self-titled debut on an old Tascam 388 8-track (an item O'Hanley jokes was: "probably state-of-the-art in 1983, or something"), helping to create the crunchy and crystalline atmospherics that the band have become known for. But even though the album was recorded over a year and a half ago, it would take an equally ancient piece of technology to help get the band some attention in modern times.
"We had to have a product in order to play SappyFest in Sackville [last summer]," O'Hanley says, describing how a few dubbed copies of their album on cassette helped spread via word of mouth. "It never got released. We were sort of selling it out of the trunk of our van, basically."
Rankin adds, "It was the best way to do it too without it going online. We could give people the music and they could find a way to listen to it, but it wouldn't be online and it wouldn't be spoiled."
With a laugh, O'Hanley says, "If you cared enough about seeing our live shows and you wanted the record enough to the point you'd invested in this archaic piece of technology that could play this bullshit artefact we manufactured, then okay, you deserved to listen to it."
The gamble paid off: Since that time, the group have signed distribution deals in Canada and the U.S., as well as with Transgressive Records in the UK and P-Vine in Japan. Along with a string of Canadian festival appearances, the group are also preparing for a tour through the UK alongside Real Estate this fall.
But even though the band are riding high on the hype of their debut LP, don't let that undercut the struggle it took for them to get here.
"We took a lot of heat from everybody," Rankin says. "From industry people, to our parents, to other people in the band being like, 'What the fuck is going on with this record?'"
O'Hanley adds, "I wish you could see some of the scraps we've gotten in over the last two years. How bleak a lot of it's been. I know bands say this all the time, that it seems like it was just an overnight thing, but we fought for this.
"Patience is super valuable. If you can just wait a little long and you're convinced your product is magic, which we thought it might be, then odds are you'll do something greater if you can stomach all the criticism that snowballs around you."
Alvvays' debut LP is out now through Royal Mountain Records in Canada and Polyvinyl Records in the U.S. Check out all the group's upcoming tour dates here.
Read our recent cover story on Alvvays here.