Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 - Page 35

He goes on to say they “ turned the van around right away ,” admitting that they ’ d actually left their merch behind and would have turned around anyway . But they did go back , and Versteeg took the opportunity to tell Rankin how impressed he was , saying , in his recollection , “ We ’ re picking up our merch , but this CD is absolutely incredible — it ’ s one of my favorite things I ’ ve ever heard .”
Rankin puts in : “ I had several boxes of my first solo EP in the back of my Honda Civic . Hollerado played a show at the pub I worked at in Charlottetown . When they came in the next day , I was serving them and ran out to my car , grabbed the EP , and gave it to them . They probably put it in to laugh at it ,” she adds . “ But a few hours later , I get a call , and it ’ s like , ‘ our manager wants to manage you .’ It was exciting . But , I mean , you ’ re skeptical of what something like that actually is .”
Rankin would know . As the daughter of John Morris Rankin , fiddler for The Rankin Family , she knew that in the music industry , “ things don ’ t happen overnight . But it was exciting and enabled me to take more time to hone what I wanted to do and sound like ,” she says .
And things did not happen overnight . “ It was years after that when we released our self-titled debut , and no one in Canada wanted to release it . So , Menno was like , ‘ We ’ re starting a label , we should just put it out .’ There was more interest in our band in the U . S . and the U . K . than in Canada . And Menno was incredibly supportive of what we were doing – he ’ s like that with a lot of young bands – and I think that ’ s a really beautiful mentality and way to be a part of the music community .”
In 2011 , Alvvays officially formed , with Rankin bringing in MacLellan , O ’ Hanley , drummer Phil MacIsaac , and bassist Brian Murphy . Soon after , they relocated to Toronto , touring when they could and working on music relentlessly . Ultimately , in addition to Royal Mountain in Canada , they landed deals with Polyvinyl Records in the U . S . and Transgressive Records in Europe .
The band released their self-titled debut in mid-July 2014 and , by August , hit the top spot on the U . S . college charts . They were later shortlisted for the 2015 Polaris Music Prize , performed at the 2015 Juno Awards Gala with the TSO , and were nominated for Junos in both the Breakthrough Group and Alternative Album of the Year categories . Alvvays toured heavily to support their debut , hitting high-profile festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella . More awards and tours followed , as did a Juno Award nomination for Group of the Year and another for Alternative Album of the Year in 2018 for Antisocialites .
Alvvays has since become one of Canada ’ s most critically-acclaimed and promising exports , and for good reason . In part , because
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they ’ ve done something that can be difficult when popularity and fame come knocking – they stuck to their guns , creatively and collectively – weathering lineup changes and the noise and commotion of the music industry ( which , at times , can be distracting and disruptive ) and ultimately , upping their game yet again with Blue Rev .
For this album , the band consists of Rankin ( vocals and guitar ), MacLellan ( keyboards ), and O ’ Hanley ( guitars ), with Sheridan Riley on drums , who replaced MacIsaac after he left in 2016 , and Abbey Blackwell , who took over for Murphy in 2021 , on bass .
Over time , Rankin and Alvvays have insisted on staying true to their singular vision , rather than trying to consciously reinvent themselves to cop the flavour of the moment . Their approach is anything but rote or static – something evident from their sessions with Everett , where they performed the entire record live , front-to-back , twice , with roughly 15-second intervals between songs and half an hour between , for lack of a better word , sets .
“ We come from a small scene , and all of us
started where you ’ d show up at a studio and know everything about everything you were doing ,” Rankin says . “ We ’ d been rehearsing for weeks . But to do the songs back-to-back , like a set , was a fairly wild experience . But I think it was very perceptive of Shawn to propose that . We ’ re all a bit neurotic , so it was a way to shake off any of that anxiety and dive into things .”
Also , she adds that they showed up with a lot in the can already . “ So , really , the album is a Frankenstein of ideas recorded several years before that , vocal takes that were done a week before mastering – lots of different approaches .”
This approach , she notes , led to some things that , otherwise , may not have come out in the studio . “ There were these exciting drum moments Sheridan executed on a whim that probably wouldn ’ t have happened if we were isolated in a booth doing things over and over again , and a lot of exciting , wild moments with what Alec was doing on guitar , and , rhythmically , lots of weird textures . But I don ’ t think anything I sang ended up making it onto the album ,” she laughs .
While O ’ Hanley admits he was a bit skeptical of the approach initially , the process allowed them to apply different treatments – in each set – to some songs , by altering tempos , playing styles , and feel . “ We didn ’ t have the luxury between songs to do much because we only had 15-30 seconds . But set-to-set , we could plan and say , ‘ Okay , this is going to be the quiet take , so Sheridan , you ’ re going to use chopsticks instead of drumsticks ’ – that sort of thing . But there wasn ’ t a ton of wiggle room on the fly – it was very much like a live set .”
“ We practiced quite a bit ,” he continues . “ I mean , we were going in with a brand-new bassist who we ’ d met for the first time in L . A . for those recordings , so we did our absolute
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 35
PHOTO : ELEANOR PETRY