Last summer, Canadian five-piece Alvvays emerged out of nowhere with arguably the definitive song of 2014 - 'Archie Marry Me'. Their self-titled debut LP followed soon after and since then, they've spent the ensuing twelve months on a tour that doesn't finish until December of this year.
Currently midway through the UK leg of the tour, the five-piece - Molly Rankin (vocals, guitar), Alec O'Hanley (guitar), Kerri MacLennan (keyboards), Brian Murphy (bass) and Phil MacIsaac (drums) - have firmly established themselves as one of the most vibrant live acts on the circuit.
Later this evening, they'll delight several hundred punters at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms. Before all that, Rankin and O'Hanley have kindly agreed to give DiS a very candid thirty minutes of their time.
Here's what they had to say...
DiS: You've been touring on and off for the best part of a year and played numerous festivals in the process. What have been your most memorable and enjoyable experiences?
Alec O'Hanley: Glastonbury was a good one. That felt like a good cap to the tour, but then we just carried on touring! It is tough to pick favourites. Last night in Bristol was a blast. I'm sure Shepherd's Bush will be nice at the end of this tour.
Molly Rankin: When we played in Kentucky there was a bit of a hurricane situation. And there were fireworks about fifteen minutes before the hurricane. So we were all enjoying this very spontaneous fireworks experience and then the front speakers blew off the main stage. Then they evacuated everyone away from the main stage within the next five minutes...
Alec O'Hanley: Sam Smith included. He had the eight-minute run up to his Tom Petty single then didn't get to play it!
Molly Rankin: It was euphoric up until that point.
Alec O'Hanley: Kids are always fun to play to.
Molly Rankin: That's what's good about the UK. Most of the shows are 14+.
Alec O'Hanley: Which doesn't exist where we're from. It's either our ages or 19+.
Molly Rankin: The clubs have to stay open with liquor sales and the legalities of that skew a lot of the sentiment we have about playing for people of all ages.
Alec O'Hanley: The Brits were the first people to really champion us. We broke on this side of the Atlantic before our album came out. It feels as if audiences here were primed for what we do in that while we're hugely influenced by a lot of American college rock like REM, we also skew a little towards Mancunian and Glaswegian sounds from the same era. So I think that gave us an instant click with the UK and also the United States more so than in Canada. It's a little puzzling trying to ponder demographics and why they work the way they do but I guess that explains why we've toured the UK as much if not more than any other place.
DiS: The tour then continues throughout October, November and part of December. I guess you'll be glad to finally go home?
Alec O'Hanley: We were meant to take some time off earlier this year but gradually that seemed to evaporate. We were warned that once you get on the road there can be a tendency to never come off, and we're fighting as best we can to avert that.
Molly Rankin: It just fills up. The schedule starts off blank and then gradually fills up until it becomes completely black. We're like, "OK, maybe we'll get down in the basement one day..."
Alec O'Hanley: We have written and recorded a few demos in between various legs of the tour on the same reel to reel tape machine we made our first record on. That's now in the basement so we're doing some tracking on that between runs. That's an important muscle to keep active as well, the whole editing-demoing-recording process.
DiS: It must be difficult to focus on writing new material being on the road for so long?
Molly Rankin: It's physically difficult to be in the same place to get everyone on the same page sometimes when you're at home, because it is only for a short period of time. We're always working on new ideas but the only time we get to try them out is during soundcheck and even then that's only twenty minutes long.
Alec O'Hanley: Sometimes you get to chisel something out that you started working on back home. We did that today with a new song. But then to be able to really sink your teeth into something requires at least a week.
Molly Rankin: Who wants to spend that week with us?
DiS: You've introduced a couple of new songs into the set over the past few months - 'New Haircut' and 'Hey'. Are there any plans to record and release either of these in the foreseeable future or is it more a case of them being the first steps towards the second album?
Molly Rankin: I guess they're more of a first step towards the next album although we were thinking of releasing a single just for fun. But that also takes time which we didn't have. We did some recordings but they're still in the manipulation period.
Alec O'Hanley: We took a long time getting our first album right so to do a slapdash recording with any new songs wouldn't be true to our ethic thus far. We're musical thrills junkies. We seek that kind of rush every time we write a song, and if the document we've written doesn't give you that reaction then we'll just keep working until it does. You have to do right by the song and produce a document or relic that does it justice.
DiS: How many songs do you have ready for the second record?
Alec O'Hanley: I don't know. We have plenty of different themes and half-songs that we tend to swirl around in a big stewpot until they form on their own. We don't try to force them too much. It would be hard to attach a definite number on there. The songs we do feel reasonably comfortable about in their current incarnation we do test out live. That's why it's been good to test the new material on this tour.
Molly Rankin: Plus I think I prefer to write in the miserable months as well. I'm excited for that.
DiS: Is there any pressure from your label (Transgressive) to release a follow-up soon after the success of the first record?
Molly Rankin: They haven't said anything to us yet and I don't think they will.
Alec O'Hanley: They know better than that. We've been fortunate enough to work with good people who just let us do our thing, and know that our thing's worth doing. And also that it takes time. So there's no evil men in suits hanging over our heads or anything.
Molly Rankin: They're all music nerds at the level who are as excited as we are if anything. I think that's a better way to look at it. Excitement rather than pressure. Or at least that's what I tell myself!
Alec O'Hanley: We won't pull the Kevin Shields post Loveless thing, even though it worked for him.
Molly Rankin: Although it didn't work for Guns'n'Roses!
DiS: Do you find it difficult to walk down the street without being recognised now compared to before the album came out?
Alec O'Hanley: In the grand scheme of things we're very tiny potatoes. To be honest there hasn't been that much of a change. We might get the occasional person approach us but not a significant number.
Molly Rankin: We've never had that many awful encounters either. Most of our fans tend to be really sweet and cute.
Alec O'Hanley: Kerri (MacLellan, keyboards) gets most of the attention. She had a guy paint a picture of him and her together once!
Molly Rankin: She has a real niche demographic. She's like the beautiful nerd. Her image anyway.
DiS: Did you expect the universal acclaim that came your way off the back of the first record?
Alec O'Hanley: You sort of hope for that. We never expect it because we've been let down too many times in the past.
Molly Rankin: Having no expectations has served us rather well. It was a pleasant surprise seeing our name in all those lists even if we don't quite get "year end culture". We certainly never expected that when the record came out.
Alec O'Hanley: It was a pretty humble record too. A lot of people told us it sounded like a demo.
Molly Rankin: Someone told me they found it very derivative but good! In fact, that was pretty much the main sentence of every single bit of feedback that surfaced.
Alec O'Hanley: Which is fine. That's the nature of pop. There's nothing really new.
DiS: There's certain reference points on the record which can be picked out but I wouldn't call Alvvays a derivative record. And definitely not in the context of everything else that's around at the minute. Compared to much of what's out there it actually sounds quite fresh.
Molly Rankin: That's what my mum called it. Fresh!
DiS: If you had the power of hindsight is there anything you'd change or do differently regarding the first record?
Molly Rankin: I guess we could have remastered it a few more times or recorded some of the instrumental parts a bit better. But on the whole, I'm pretty OK with the record the way that it is.
Alec O'Hanley: The record kind of sounds like it's behind a veil a little bit. We had to do that for pragmatic engineering reasons. We probably would have enlisted the services of an engineer for the studio rather than just being three or four musicians banging like monkeys on a tape machine. At the same time, I think that amateur charm and spirit shines through. We're not revisionists. We're happy with what did eventually come out. It would have been nice to remix and remaster the record a few more times. That could have saved us some frustration but you can't necessarily pick your route to point B. You just have to take it.
DiS: Will there be a producer involved with the second record? Is there a wishlist of people you'd like to work with?
Alec O'Hanley: I don't know...
Molly Rankin: I'm not sure whether the wishlist is obtainable? I feel like it would be cool to do it ourselves. Alec had to do a lot of it on the first record.
Alec O'Hanley: I had to teach myself how to EQ. It sounds like simple stuff but taking courses on the pragmatics of studio production was a complex experience. It's a very rich world in its own right. It would be nice to be self sufficient, and by using the machine we made the last record on we hope to get there. It's a cool thing to be able to just track to tape immediately at the push of a button. The more things you can do to narrow that gap, the better. If you can capture something during a moment of inspiration rather than wait until after the moment's subsided it has to be better.
Molly Rankin: It's better to have control over as much of what we do in every part of this situation as possible.
Alec O'Hanley: I don't know if the nineties model still exists in the independent recording world any more. So I guess we're the beneficiaries of that self sufficient phase. Maybe the public is more tuned to hearing that kind of thing? Whenever I hear an Ariel Pink or John Maus record it sounds pretty raw which is great. When I can't tie a recording to any particular era I think you've succeeded. Nobody wants their music to sound dated in five years and that's basically what we're going for.
DiS: Do you see recording as being an opportunity to capture your live sound on tape, or maybe vice versa even?
Alec O'Hanley: I don't know. The recording sort of preceded the band.
Molly Rankin: We weren't a band to start with. We only became a band after we made the record. Alec O'Hanley: For me a recording is always about serving the song. You hear stories about Kiss deliberately recording their albums flat so their live shows would seem extraordinary. Whether we've done that inadvertently I don't know.
Molly Rankin: People get bored. You have to move around more. Especially with phones now. People are on Instagram within the first song. If they're not taking pictures of you they're scrolling through their feed. I don't try and appease that but at the same time, our record is sombre. So we do have to sculpt a setlist that works with a lot of different attention spans.
DiS: How do you feel about people recording songs from your live shows and uploading them to You Tube? Particularly songs that haven't yet been released.
Molly Rankin: I feel weird about that but it's out of our control so I try to look at it as people being excited.
DiS: You've been playing the odd cover version at different shows. 'Out Of Reach' by The Primitives and 'Life On The Beach' by Kirsty MacColl being two. Are there any other songs you're likely to cover in the future?
Molly Rankin: We have a dish of covers that we choose from. We've done 'Crash' by The Primitives, 'Nosebleed' by Deerhunter, 'Alimony' by The Hummingbirds.
Alec O'Hanley: We tried doing a Dolly Mixture cover but that didn't last to long. Do you know that band? One of them was married to Captain Sensible. They were great. So prolific. They're probably next on our list. The Kirsty (MacColl) cover felt good last night. There was a poster of her on the wall in Bristol.
Molly Rankin: We hadn't done that cover for a while and then we decided to bring it back. We love her and it's so much fun. Especially in the UK.
Alec O'Hanley: It didn't cause a ripple in Canada or the States where people haven't heard of her but it's different altogether over here.
DiS: How do you feel about people covering your songs? Ben Gibbard's recent cover of 'Archie Marry Me' being the most obvious example.
Alec O'Hanley: It's nice when people bother to sit down and learn a song. Quite flattering actually.
Molly Rankin: I met his girlfriend when we were on tour with Real Estate and she was working with St Vincent. She told me her boyfriend was at home playing our song on his piano and I didn't know who or what she was talking about. Then we got off stage at Glastonbury and bumped into her again with Ben Gibbard and I was like, "So that's who your boyfriend is?!!"
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Alec O'Hanley: Fill your ears with objectively good music. Listen, listen, listen. Write, write, write.
Molly Rankin: Feel free to say no to any bad ideas people try to bestow on you. Because if they sound like bad ideas then usually they are. And you'll regret it. Also, it's your own thing so do as much as you can yourself.
DiS: Aside from playing live and touring, what else do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Alec O'Hanley: We're definitely going to be doing a lot of writing and recording between now and the end of the year.
Molly Rankin: We'll probably have to go back to our day jobs more.
DiS: You all have day jobs?
Molly Rankin: If I can get mine back! Kerri's a nanny, Brian's a brunch cook, Phil's a professional streamer.
Alec O'Hanley: I've got a good boss. He's as empathetic an employer as you could find. I work in a guitar store.
Molly Rankin: Most people I know that play in touring bands have day jobs. It wouldn't be sustainable otherwise. It's funny when I watch shows like 'Nashville' where five people will be sitting in a room going, "We have a number one hit on our hands! Let's get it to the radio!" as if that's it, job done. It's so far removed from how things actually are.
Alec O'Hanley: Bands do have to stay on the road if they want to make ends meet.
DiS: Have you ever reached that point where you've considered whether being in a touring band is the right thing to do?
Alec O'Hanley: Yeah, there are times when you think about why we're doing it. Occasionally things can get a little disheartening and shades of groundhog day start creeping in.
Molly Rankin: But at the same time it's been an absolute blast being able to play in all corners of the world, see places I've never seen before and have people show up every night mouthing the words to our songs. Sometimes I forget how lucky we are.
For more information on Alvvays including releases and forthcoming live shows visit their official website.