Blue Rev, the recently released third album from Canadian Indie-pop band Alvvays, is being hailed by many as the best record released this year. Sitting down for an interview with staff writer Eden Unger, Alvvays’ lead singer Molly Rankin dives into the album’s marathon recording process, the Canadian drink that inspired its title, and much more.
BLUE REV, YOUR MOST RECENT ALBUM, CAME OUT JUST OVER A MONTH AGO. YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN ON TOUR SINCE THEN— HOW HAS IT FELT TO ACTUALLY BREAK THESE SONGS OUT LIVE?
Molly Rankin: Fun! I mean, they’re sort of fresh, and have that new exciting energy. We’ve been playing the other songs for quite some time now, so sometimes you have to dig in to really find pleasure in older songs, just because the muscle memory is so familiar. But yeah, there’s more still that we’re working through and hoping to put in the set.
ARE THERE SOME SONGS OFF THE ALBUM YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED LIVE YET?
MR: Yeah, there's a few. We haven’t played “Velveteen,” “Bored in Bristol,” or “Tile by Tile.”
“VELVETEEN” IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES.
MR: Yeah, that one is like a really hefty keyboard load— just technologically. So we’re just trying to build everything in soundchecks, basically, to get it going.
SO YOUR PREVIOUS ALBUM, ANTISOCIALITES, WHICH CAME OUT IN 2017: HOW DID YOUR WORK ON THAT ALBUM AND ALVVAYS, YOUR PREVIOUS SELF-TITLED, FOR THAT MATTER, INFORM THE PROCESS BEHIND BLUE REV?
MR: Everything is such a learning experience I feel like. The first album, we had really no idea that we were even a band at the time. Then with Antisocialites, I feel like you just learn what you liked about how things turned out, what approach you took. Or, you know, you just learn how to do things better.
A big part of my own growth with these records is just learning how to advocate for what you want to hear, and what you’re not hearing. And how best to articulate yourself—just sort of in a working environment. It’s kind of been that way in every facet of Alvvays too… When we first started out, we were opening for a lot of bands. And you don’t know how to communicate with venue staff on what you need, or what you want. Now, it’s just sort of very easy to say exactly what needs to happen.
RIGHT, I GUESS THAT’S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THEY REALLY DON’T TEACH YOU, YOU JUST HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF.
MR: It would’ve been helpful to know a lot of those ins and outs of even just touring. But even recording too. Just lots of language that can be alienating, that you’re not familiar with. Now, it doesn’t feel so intimidating.
THAT’S GREAT! SO I’VE HEARD THAT THE RECORDING PROCESS FOR BLUE REV WAS SORT OF A MARATHON. YOU GUYS WENT INTO THE STUDIO, AND JUST RECORDED BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK, RIGHT?
MR: Yeah! Before we got to LA, we had a bunch of demos. And we [did] those in the basement of where I live, and in a rehearsal shed that we have, where we store all of our equipment. So we had a pile of ideas, and a lot of things we were already quite fond of.
We attempted to record and do pre-production in Seattle, and then the pandemic shut everything down, so we had to fly home immediately. But we were gonna record in LA with Jorge Elbrecht. And then, you know, nothing happened for a couple years. We were trying to refine everything, and keep writing and working.
And then finally, we were able to go to Sean (Everett)’s studio in the Arts District. He had this idea that we would just play the entire record twice, pretty much back-to-back, with like 10 seconds in between songs.
I actually think it was a very perceptive idea, because I think we can be kind of a neurotic bunch (laughs), where you can work yourself into a mode where you’re not garnering the optimal results. Especially in sort of a sterile, headphone talk-back situation, it’s really easy to feel not yourself.
When you’re just like trying to put a capo on in time to play the next song, and it’s not a race, but it’s like this fun experiment that everyone is going through together… I think we actually got a bunch of great guitar moments. And some really wild drum stuff out of Sheridan. I don’t think we listened to any of the vocals, (laughs).
I IMAGINE THAT CAN PRODUCE SOME PRETTY COOL ORGANIC MOMENTS THAT MIGHT NOT HAVE COME UP OTHERWISE, HUH?
MR: Yeah, I think Sean has this thing where he likes to try things that he’s never done… I think that idea was just sort of a perfect one.
YOU TALKED ABOUT SOME OF THE SONGS YOU GUYS HAVEN’T PLAYED LIVE. “VELVETEEN,” LIKE I SAID, IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES. BUT THE OTHER ONE HAS PROBABLY GOTTA BE “EASIER ON YOUR OWN.” EVEN THOUGH IT STARTS OFF LIKE, “I DROPPED OUT, COLLEGE EDUCATION’S A DULL KNIFE,” I FOUND SOME OF THAT [LYRICISM] PRETTY RELATABLE, EVEN AS A COLLEGE STUDENT. I WANTED TO ASK WHAT THAT SONG REALLY MEANS TO YOU?
MR: I mean, I feel as someone who’s in their mid-30s, there is sort of this mentality of maybe some generational-grief. Just with how everything has evolved— like society, and the economy. And really what’s left for people my age. Though, I’m sure lots of people have made lemonade in that scenario.
But it seems like, you know, in order to prevail right now, you kinda need a leg up. My whole goal with music was just to not have to work in a gray-carpeted cubicle. So it’s a little bit about that, and just inhabiting that mindspace of what that would’ve looked like, had I gone into that world.
I CAN TOTALLY UNDERSTAND, SORT OF THAT FEAR OF WINDING UP IN THE CUBICLE. I THINK THAT’S SOMETHING A LOT OF PEOPLE THESE DAYS ARE VERY WARY OF.
MR: Yeah, I mean, I’m sure it works out really well for a lot of people. I Just have a very specific need to not have like, fluorescent light hovering over me at all times (laughs).
ABSOLUTELY. ASIDE FROM MUSIC, I HEAR YOU’VE ALSO TAKEN UP GARDENING?
MR: Oh yeah! I just found that very calming in uncertain times, and I just sort of threw myself into it not knowing anything. It’s still a fairly forgiving hobby. Very satisfying— it’s like instant results. And just sort of like a labor of love I guess.
IS THERE SOMEONE — WELL IT’S WINTER, NOW — BUT IS THERE SOMEONE WHO TAKES CARE OF THAT FOR YOU WHILE YOU’RE ON TOUR? OR DO YOU JUST SORT OF LET IT GROW?
MR: Um, I think the fall… everything I was growing was pretty much done. Although my landlord did send me a photo of a tub of tomatoes that I left behind. But she’s got a huge green thumb so it’s good. I don’t know, I haven’t really been touring since I started gardening, so this is the first time I left it all to just go to seed. But, a lot of it had already peaked by then anyway, thankfully.
WELL THAT’S GOOD THEN. I HAD A QUESTION ABOUT THE PARTICULAR SPELLING OF “ALVVAYS,” I UNDERSTAND THAT THERE WAS ANOTHER ACT OUT THERE ALREADY GOING BY ALWAYS WITH A W, IS THAT RIGHT?
ARE THERE STILL PEOPLE WHO COME UP TO YOU AND PRONOUNCE IT WRONG?
MR: Um, I don’t think so, actually. Like, I don’t really talk to anyone (laughs), so, I don’t really have to go through that. I don’t know, I think that people will always be talking about it, you know making fun of it, and poking fun at it. And I’ve made my peace with that.
I MEAN, I THINK IT SETS YOU GUYS APART. WHAT’S THE STORY THOUGH, BEHIND THE BAND NAME, BEYOND THE SPELLING, IF YOU DON’T MIND ME ASKING?
MR: I find it— I found it, at the time, really hard to just find a word that didn’t mean something very specific, or couldn’t be linked back to another band, or a film, or a sports team or anything.
And then there’s words you know, waves of different types of, you know like bands having the word “beach” in their name, or “dear” or anything. There’s all these different waves of trends and stuff, which you could put the double v into, too.
But I just really liked the sentiment of “Always,” and it meant something to me. So then when we were trawling, looking to see if that was already a thing, aside from, you know, the feminine hygiene brand, we were willing to tweak it in order for it to remain.
GOT IT, SO THAT WASN’T A PART OF THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT NECESSARILY.
MR: No, ideally it would just be spelled the normal way, but it didn’t seem like that much of a compromise to me at the time, in order to have the proper setting.
SO SPEAKING OF TITLES, THE ALBUM, BLUE REV, IS NAMED AFTER A CANADIAN DRINK, “REV,” WHICH I’M TOLD COMES PREDOMINANTLY IN BLUE.
MR: (Laughs). Yeah, I think there’s green, and red, and maybe purple? But I’ve only ever had the blue ones, and I know most people only ever drank the blue ones. I don’t know why… maybe they’re the best, but [they’re all] disgusting.
I DID WANT TO ASK ABOUT THAT, BECAUSE I’VE HEARD THAT THERE WERE SOME OTHER COLORS AND FLAVORS, AND EVEN SOME THAT HAD BEEN DISCONTINUED.
MR: I think just like, one cool person decided blue was the color, and everyone just, you know, bought in. But yeah, It’s sort of like a mixture. There’s like guarana root or something in it, so it’s supposed to be an energy drink, and an alcoholic drink. So it’s a fairly wild ride from what I remember.
THAT SOUNDS LIKE A REALLY GREAT COMBINATION.
MR: For teenagers, yeah.
RIGHT, CAUSE THE DRINKING AGE IN CANADA IS 18 OR 19?
MR: Yeah it’s 19, except for in Quebec, and maybe Alberta, I don’t know. Yeah 18 in Quebec, people used to go all the time to Quebec, so they could drink when they were 18.
HOW DID YOU GUYS SETTLE ON THAT THOUGH [BLUE REV], AS THE TITLE FOR THIS ALBUM? WHAT’S THE CONNECTION THERE?
MR: I was just mowing through phrases. And when we came up with that lyric, “Blue Rev behind the rink,” it was just such an iconic activity that everyone I knew was pretty much doing. And it just really felt meaningful to me.
Also, blue rev could be several things. So I like something that could be misinterpreted, as well. And, most importantly, it just sounded cool.
ABSOLUTELY. SO THE ROADRUNNER THIS FRIDAY, IN BOSTON, IS THE LAST SHOW OF THIS LEG OF THE TOUR, AM I RIGHT?
MR: It’s true.
IS THAT EXCITING FOR YOU? IS THAT, YOU KNOW, SORT OF DAUNTING? DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANYTHING YOU LIKE TO DO TO CELEBRATE AT THE END OF A TOUR, OR AT THE END OF A LEG?
MR: This has been such a wild trip, just with the different vehicular (laughs) swaps. We’ve had like, several buses, and lots of kind of obstacles to overcome. So I think we’re relieved that it all actually happened— A.
And then B— I think we can't believe how quickly it went by. Cause we have such a great group. Like all of the crew that we traveled with on this tour, we’ve had so much fun, and really are looking forward to doing more. So I think we’re all getting a little bit sad honestly. Like I don’t even feel that tired, except for right now, which is just because we played last night in New Haven.
Maybe we’ll just extend (laughs).
DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY PLANS IN BETWEEN NOW AND THE NEXT LEG, OR JUST SORT OF DECOMPRESSING?
MR: I think we have like maybe a week before we go to South America, and then we do our Toronto shows. So it’s actually not that much time. Try and refill and see what’s happening, like at my apartment. And maybe get a haircut, that’s what I’m planning… And then make sure it’s ok to fly across the world.
RIGHT, EVEN NOW, IT’S STILL KIND OF DICEY I IMAGINE, AT LEAST WITH INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL.
SO YOU MENTIONED THAT NEXT UP IS SOUTH AMERICA, AND THEN YOU GUYS ARE GOING BACK TO CANADA FOR A COUPLE OF SHOWS. WHAT’S IT LIKE PLAYING SHOWS, YOU KNOW, CLOSER TO HOME, LIKE BACK IN TORONTO? HOW ARE THOSE DIFFERENT FOR YOU THAN SAY ONES IN, I DON’T KNOW, EUROPE?
MR: There are a lot of different places that feel kind of like… I’m thinking of a better word than the one I’m ready to say, but… Playing in Toronto is always exciting, because we get to see our friends, and it’s just sort of like a hometown kind of thing. Even though, you know, we live there, but we’re not from there.
When we go over to like, say, the UK— that's sort of where we first broke as a band, so that feeling is really comfortable and exciting to be back there. Like playing in London, or Manchester, for instance.
And then you know certain cities in the US too, like New York tonight will be really fun for us cause we played in New York a ton when we were starting out. There’s a weight of the past that can be really meaningful and poignant.