Q&A: Alvvays’ Molly Rankin on Oasis, MGMT, and new album ‘Antisocialites’

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The new album is a 'fantasy break-up arc'

Listen to Alvvays‘ 2014 debut long enough, and you’ll probably wonder what their deal with water is. Deadly currents, softly lapping waves, treacherous tides: underneath their breezy, jangly melodies sits a brooding lyrical ocean, and it’s still there in tracks like ‘In Undertow’, from second album ‘Antisocialites’ – out tomorrow (September 8).

Speaking to NME ahead of its release, chief songwriter and frontwoman Molly Rankin said it probably stems from her isolated Nova Scotian upbringing: “You can go somewhere in Cape Breton and feel like no-one has ever walked where you’re walking before. I left a place surrounded by water and now I sometimes look back on where I came from – all of that accessible water. I draw a lot of inspiration from the ocean, water, and space – there is still so much to be discovered with that element of wonder that is still there. But it’s also dangerous…”

Was it easy to start writing again for ‘Antisocialites’?

“We travelled a lot for our debut record, so a lot of the time we spent doing logistical things for shows and everything that comes along with releasing a record… Some of the songs we had for a while, others I buckled down and went into isolation to write a fair chunk of them on Toronto Island. It was good to give myself a deadline and just do it.”

You’ve called this album a ‘fantasy breakup arc’. Where did the title and theme come from? 

“I’m not exactly sure if that theme is so prevalent because I was constantly around people and sort of looking for a different narrative – a sort of solo journey through a whole other life, scenes of separation and discovery… I think even thought the songs are all slightly different in their narrative. There’s just this underlying theme of escapism and separation: it takes you through all the stages of a break-up.”

 

How long does it take you to perfect your lyrics? 

“Our new song ‘Lollipop’ has got many, many words in – but that one was instant. I feel like if I don’t write lyrics right away with a song then I just say gibberish for a while and then in the last coming hours before the vocal take, [guitarist] Alec and I clear cobwebs together and go over everything. Otherwise I’ll just mumble my way through…”

What was the easiest song to record? 

“There’s a song called ‘Already Gone’ on the record – Alec and I made that in the basement in probably two hours.”

What were you listening to during the recording of ‘Antisocialites’ that might have influenced it?

“I usually go back to Dolly Mixture. My brother got me their ‘Demonstration Tapes’ vinyl – something I’ve been looking for for years. I really like the band Felt as well, The Smiths I love, I seem to just go back to them all the time. And Magnetic Fields.”

One of your Spotify playlists has MGMT’s ‘Siberian Breaks’ on it, which seems like an unusual choice for you guys… are you a big fan?

“Yeah, we really like MGMT! ‘Congratulations’ is a great record – that was a heavy-rotation record and it’s still fun to play back.”

You’ve also said the first thing you learned to play was an Oasis song. Are they well-loved out in Canada?

“Yeah! They were around when rock music was blowing up again so were a household name for a lot of teens. The songs are so huge and anthemic and classic. It’s hard to find a band who have done something like that.

“When the Oasis documentary came out, it was sold out in downtown Toronto, so we got on the highway and went to the suburb to watch it. I really enjoyed the movie. It’s wild what they went through. Like the Letterman thing was so funny – they didn’t have a bass player for Letterman!”

Back in 2007 you wrote a track ‘Sunset’ for your family band The Rankin Family. Can you tell me about it?

“I think it’s got sort of a country vibe. I’m not entirely sure what I was going for at the time because I hadn’t heard really many rock bands and I didn’t really know what I liked or what my taste was. But, yeah, it’s a strange synthesis of my childhood influences I guess. I don’t really even know how to describe it.”

Sunset

Sunset, a song by The Rankin Family on Spotify

So your family is all very musical? 

“Yeah, that’s actually a really common thing on Breton Island. People pick up music instruments to entertain families and siblings because there is not a whole lot there.”

It sounds like a Von Trapp, Sound of Music situation…

“I don’t think that you’re that far away. Pretty much everyone in that family plays some sort of instrument.”  

Have you seen Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard’s cover of ‘Archie, Marry Me’? 

“I have seen that. It was surreal. He has such an iconic-sounding voice, so to hear words that you wrote coming out of his mouth is a really interesting thing to watch. He is extremely kind and has obviously done so many great things with his music.”

Have you had any other encounters like that? 

“Well, we had Norman Blake [from Teenage Fanclub] on the record and being around him was a total treat for us. He’s got such a lovely demeanour that you’d never know he was in a seminal band. That’s a similar feeling when he acknowledges us – a total dream.”

Alvvays’ second album ‘Antisocialites’ is out tomorrow (September 8).