Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 - Page 37

PHOTO : COURTESY OF NXNE
PHOTO : ELEANOR PETRY
ALVVAYS PERFORMING AT NXNE IN 2014
to remember to begin with , so I don ’ t feel like there was a ton that went down the drain ( or into the alley behind our house ). But the happy accidents – the things you lose that are outside your neural pathways and instincts of where your hands would leap to when you write naturally . Sometimes following those is extremely fruitful . I think some of that was lost , but there were many mistakes that were included on this album ,” she adds , laughing .
The writing process , Rankin explains , involved compiling a lot of material from FX-tinged snippets that hint at a potential treatment for a final track to complete songs . “ Alec is a ‘ keep everything and sort it out later ’ guy ,” she continues . “ He ’ s very adamant that I record everything , and I think that ’ s smart , but I ’ m more of an ‘ if it ’ s a good idea , I ’ ll remember it ’ person . We have a blend of approaches and ideologies .”
“ Molly ’ s internal hard drive is better than mine ,” O ’ Hanley puts in . “ I back up and tape a lot of stuff . I lost my main working laptop . Molly lost her hand recorder . It was a dark couple of days after that , but Molly does have melody retention beyond what most people are capable of . I ’ m sure you ’ re bound to lose some accidental nuance in those magic first moments , but it just meant we had to work a little harder to create and recreate those little flashes .”
“ Sure ,” I jump in , commiserating , but actually thinking that I ’ d completely lose my mind if I was in their situation , and I say as much .
“ I had done a backup ,” O ’ Hanley says . “ I don ’ t know – I lost probably a month ’ s worth of stuff . I try not to think about it .” “ Sorry ,” I say . “ No . It ’ s fine . There are coping mechanisms , you know ? You can tell yourself , ‘ it probably wasn ’ t that great , anyway ,’ or ‘ I ’ ll resolve to do better next time .’ I just went and played video games in the basement for a couple of days and then went , ‘ Okay , that ’ s enough of that .’ You just have to try to be a rock in the river that the water ’ s flowing around …”
“ Yes ,” I say . “ Right ,” I add , thinking all the while that if I was that “ rock in the river ,” I ’ d be catching every current in an effort to clout any passing fish on the off chance they were responsible for ripping me off . “ You know , it sucked ,” O ’ Hanley concludes . Indeed . But O ’ Hanley , like Rankin , managed to put it behind him and move on .
Maybe it ’ s because they ’ re used to drawing on so many sources for inspiration , or that they refuse to be locked into someone else ’ s vision , or because they seem like a band that ’ s gotten used to rolling with the punches , and , as previously mentioned , sticking to their creative guns .
They certainly aren ’ t precious or hung up on the idea that there ’ s only one approach or right way to get to where they want to be , sonically and creatively .
O ’ Hanley mentions reaching for whatever happened to be in reach to document an idea before it slips away ; “ Sometimes it ’ s a phone , and sometimes those phone demos become part of the recording . Sometimes it ’ s a multi-track recording in our basement or shed . It runs the gamut of fidelities , and we do carry that spirit and feeling forward and do our absolute best to respect that initial burst . And sometimes you get a guitar tone just by throwing mics up in the privacy of your basement that you can ’ t replicate .”
Whatever the case , the resulting record is impressive . Reviewers have said a fair bit about how Blue Rev expands on the band ’ s previous work in a way that seems entirely natural and fluid .
Rankin , however , when asked how she thinks Blue Rev departs from Alvvays ’ last two albums , says , laughing again , “ I don ’ t really listen to our records , so I feel like people telling me the differences are more informative than me going back and listening to all of that . But our tastes have changed over the last decade , so there are louder moments , there are moments that we probably wouldn ’ t have kept in our first album , that we became attached to and couldn ’ t part with – lots of little idiosyncratic things that we grew to love .”
“ Each record , sequentially , has been about discovering what we can get away with ,” O ’ Hanley sums up . The timbre of Molly ’ s voice and her melodic sense is a great unifier . Increasingly over the course of the three records , we ’ ve gotten wilder – but we ’ re just continuing down the track we ’ ve always been on , which is sort of a beauty quest . It ’ s like we ’ re just ushering this lowly little sheep along to its big , full , woolly form . And the way we ’ ve always tried to do that is quite referential – we have all these artists and bands we love . So , we usually come up with something and try to identify what it is about it we admire . We think , ‘ Well , we ’ re not ever going to come up with something completely new , so what should we tailor it towards ?’ On this record , with Shawn , he ’ s referential as well , so we were able to get closer than we ever have to those goals . So , for example , if we want to make this fusion of Neil Young and Guided by Voices and a bunch of things all smashed together , the resultant song doesn ’ t necessarily sound like any of those people verbatim , but it hearkens [ back ] to that , and that ’ s a good thing . We ’ re fairly tenacious and particular , and we ’ ll sort of fight to the death for these little babies we ’ re ushering along .”
Again , it ’ s about sticking to your guns : “ Especially sonically ,” Rankin says . “ I mean , there have been times when I ’ ve been told what to do and deferred to someone , but …”
“ Of course ,” I say , interrupting her . “ I don ’ t mean to paint you as a ‘ you can ’ t tell me what to do ’ kind of person …”
“ Oh no , but that ’ s exactly how I am ,” she says , and we both laugh . “ And Alec is like that , too . I ’ d rather fall on my own sword than on someone else ’ s idea . And that ’ s for better and for worse , but I ’ d much prefer to have control .”
Kevin Young is a Toronto-based writer and musician . CANADIAN MUSICIAN 37