Molly Rankin’s carefree attitude toward the persistent mispronunciations of her band’s name, Alvvays, mirrored her friendly, positive persona on the phone.
Alvvays consists of Rankin as lead singer, keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, guitarist Alec O’Hanley, drummer Phil MacIsaac and bassist Brian Murphy. The Toronto-based group has been playing their dreamy, mid-fi pop tunes together since 2011. They landed tours with the likes of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart as well as Peter Bjorn and John, and first self-released their album on cassette before signing with record labels. They released their eponymous album in 2014, and it topped the U.S. college radio charts last August.
Their North American tour, which hits St. Paul on Thursday, began earlier this month. Rankin spoke with A&E during a dinner break in their travels.
So I saw that you have a show in Edmonton tomorrow. Where am I calling you from right now?
I would like to glamorize this as much as possible, but I am eating Subway subs in Merritt, British Columbia, on the side of the road.
I saw on your Twitter feed that someone — I’m not sure which band member — tweeted that you guys need a new mantra?
Oh, that’s Alec.
Well, if you had to pick one right now, do you have any ideas?
Well I mean, staying positive. That’s pretty much what I tell myself constantly, and sometimes it gets ignored in this mush of a brain I have. But that’s pretty much my priority. It’s cold here, you know? Things get dark, literally.
Yeah, I feel you in Minnesota, too. So I DJ at our campus station, Radio K, and a lot of our DJs get confused on how to pronounce your name. I eventually did learn that it is “Always.” I was just wondering if you get a lot of questions about that?
Yes, we do get a lot of questions about that. I didn’t really see that coming to be honest, because I thought that just the whole construction of the design would be an obvious design of a “W.” But that was foolish of me, and now, it’s a cross that we bear.
It seems like you don’t really mind that much.
No, we don’t mind at all.
Sometimes, I think it’s fun to sound kind of German or something, like “All – vays.”
I know, it’s fun to say, I get it.
Have you received any feedback in particular that stands out to you at all?
The other day we had seen a tweet by Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian just quoting our lyrics, and he posted our video. Stuff like that is just kind of surreal and fun, and it’s such an extra swing in our step for a little while, and then we get back into our van and drive for six hours and life goes on.
Wow, yeah that does sound pretty surreal and awesome. I was gonna ask, I read that you and Kerri and Alec played together in high school —
Oh, is that right?
Oh, we think there’s this running thing where we think that maybe one of our friends has hijacked our Wikipedia because there’s a lot of weird backstories.
Yeah, that’s where I got it from, my bad.
Yeah no, that’s totally fine, because it says that Brian plays the didgeridoo.
I didn’t even notice that!
And some creep anointed him as Brian “Ginger” Murphy, which we have never heard of in our lives. It’s so funny. I don’t know, maybe Wikipedia is not getting, like, the $5 donation as requested.
Wow, this is so embarrassing but so hilarious at the same time. So OK, that’s not true then.
We’re from separate islands, the boys and the girls. So Kerri and I went to high school together, and Brian and Alec did, and Phil sort of came into their university life, as far as I can recall. It’s a bit different from the Wikipedia channel, but whatever, it doesn’t matter. We all sort of intersected later in life, and now we’re all friends.
Cool. So I was also going to ask how your songwriting process generally goes down, if there is one [process]?
A lot of the time I have an idea for a melody and work on a couple of sentences that sound unique to me and carve out a skeleton. I usually bring it to Alec and construct a case for the song as to why it deserves to exist, in the most comprehensive way, and we decide whether it’s worthy. If it is, we play in the basement for a couple of hours and make a demo, and then everyone else comes in and does their bit when it’s a safe environment, and then we move on and practice it a billion times, and our neighbors hate us.
I was curious about the lyrical Inspiration behind “Archie, Marry Me.”
It’s a song that’s based on youth and remaining youthful. I guess when we approach the quarter mark in our life, priorities change. This one was sort of romanticizing trouble-making and very raw, earnest type of love rather than e-invite and bridal showers and, you know, colors of napkins and thank-you cards and all that bologna. …
I was curious, kind of based on what you just said, is it more of a critique?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s often taken otherwise, but it’s totally a critique of all the focus and emphasis put on the wedding industry and the idea of the perfect white picket fence with the family, et cetera. It’s just sort of a bit of my perspective of what I think of the whole thing. I have fun at my friends’ weddings. I myself would never want to do it, to go through that whole tedious process.
Yeah, I’m still pretty young, but I feel pretty similar. When girls my age talk about their wedding or stuff, it freaks me out.
I know, but there’s also this thing engrained in us when we watch “[The] Little Mermaid” at age four and we see Ariel in this epic white dress at the tip of that huge boat and it’s the most magnificent image ever, so that exists as well, and it’s a bit of a conflict.
Yeah, definitely. One of my favorite songs on the album, though, is “The Agency Group,” and so I wanted to ask you about the lyrical inspiration behind that.
I mean, I don’t really take a lot of autobiographical stuff. It’s just me imagining scenarios and imagery, and this one is a bit more of a stalky type of song. There’s a couple of stalky songs that are just lurking around, pining over someone I guess, but that one is also in that realm where it’s a hopeless, pathetic protagonist longing for maybe something that just doesn’t exist.
I was just going to ask you about your plans for the band.
Well we haven’t been home for a long time, so we’re gonna go home. And then the holidays occur, and then we go on tour for a while, and then hopefully we’ll be home for a couple weeks and we’ll be able to work on more stuff, and then see more of planet Earth.
Cool. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
I would just say, work hard and be critical of things, and don’t ever feel like you have to do something. There is no template for what you do as a band now. It’s all very experimental at this time, so I would just put emphasis on having fun and being critical of what you put out into the world and onto the Internet.
Where: The Turf Club, 1601 University Ave., St. Paul
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday