Alvvays Retreat from the Real World on 'Antisocialites'

Alvvays Retreat from the Real World on 'Antisocialites'
Photo: Ardin Wray
Alvvays' brand of fuzz-pop combines breezy, summery hooks with moments of heart-tugging poignancy, and this talent for hitting every note on the emotional spectrum is on full display on sophomore album Antisocialites. From carefree twee rockers like "Lollipop (Ode to Jim)" and "Plimsoll Punks" to heartbreakers like "Not My Baby" and "Forget About Life," it's a roller coaster of feelings.
Sitting down with Exclaim! at a picnic bench in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park, singer Molly Rankin and guitarist Alec O'Hanley explain that, while their lyrics are often heart-wrenching, that doesn't mean they're based on personal experience. "There's lot of vicarious living on this record," Rankin says.
O'Hanley agrees, expressing frustration that, among songwriters, being autobiographical is often equated with authenticity. "As if telling a story is somehow less real than spilling your own personal experience out," he scoffs. "We're of the opinion that there's more craft in creating fiction." Rankin chimes in, "Or it's at least of equal value."
When writing the ten songs that make up Antisocialites, Rankin diverged from reality. Not only did she dream up fantasy narratives, she took a very literal break from her usual life by holing up in a rented trailer on Toronto Island for a solitary writing session.
"There are no cars allowed out there," O'Hanley says of Molly's island getaway. "It's as far as you can get from Toronto mentally in 15 minutes."
Rankin adds, "I've always been comfortable being a slight hermit. I'm from Cape Breton. [Keyboardist] Kerri [MacLellan] was my only neighbour on the dirt road that I lived on. I've always felt very comfortable with being alone."
The singer ended up returning from her writing retreat with a number of song ideas that she fleshed out with O'Hanley. That's not all she came home from Toronto Island with: "You also brought back a full mason jar of sea glass that you picked up over the course of the week," O'Hanley remembers. Rankin laughs and explains, "I'm like an old man on the beach. I wear pants and I don't swim and just roam across the shore and pick up rocks and collect them. It's not fashionable or social."
While Rankin withdrew from the city, O'Hanley sought his own from of escape, as he conjured up sweetly tinkling synth arpeggios designed to evoke childhood nostalgia. "I got a little fixated on ice cream trucks," he says of his synth inspiration. "The tonality of the speakers is kind of cool in this microphonic way. If you hear a classic-type thing like you often do from those trucks, it's very sentimental to me. It's instant childhood for me, and it's also very beautiful. I was always trying to strive for the ice cream truck aesthetic."
These ice cream truck tones can be heard in numerous ambient interludes that are peppered throughout Antisocialites. Elsewhere, bassist Brian Murphy and drummer Chris Dadge carry the show with their pounding rhythms.
Now that Antisocialites is done, the members of Alvvays have returned to the real world, and they will spend the rest of 2017 touring in the UK and U.S. before playing four Toronto shows in December. In one specific realm, however, Rankin will continue living the life of a recluse: social media. During this interview, she's holding a rickety old flip phone without an internet connection.
"It's definitely great to not have people be able to affect you through social media platforms and contact you and things like that," she explains. Once a hermit, always a hermit.
Antisocialites is out September 8 on Royal Mountain Records. Pre-order it on pink vinyl via Umusic.