The frontwoman for Toronto indie-pop darlings Alvvays talks about her family a lot, mostly because media outlets like the Straight persist in asking her about it.
Cape Breton–born Molly Rankin’s uncles and aunts happen to be members of one of the most popular musical acts ever to emerge from Canada’s East Coast. Her late father, John Morris Rankin, was one of the founders of the family band that bears his surname. Molly herself seemed destined to follow Rankin Family tradition when she took up the fiddle at age 10, but Alvvays’s self-titled debut album suggests she picked up a whole new set of influences somewhere along the way.
The singer-guitarist admits that, in matters of musical taste, she was “completely lost” by the time she was in high school. Leaving home helped. “I grew up in Cape Breton and then went to Halifax for several years for school, and then I moved to Prince Edward Island,” Rankin notes over the phone from a San Antonio, Texas, tour stop. “When I got out of university, I started listening to a bunch of different things, like the Replacements or the Smiths or Jesus and Mary Chain.”
Rankin credits Alvvays guitarist Alec O’Hanley, formerly of Charlottetown power-pop act Two Hours Traffic and a friend of hers since high school, with expanding her horizons further by sharing his extensive CD collection. “He introduced me to Teenage Fanclub and a lot of ’90s guitar bands,” she says.
That crash course in Alternative Rock 101 seems to have paid off. Alvvays is a joyous collection of reverb-slathered guitar jangle, with the cotton-candy swirl of “Adult Diversion” and the wistful swoon of “Archie, Marry Me” serving as perfect-pop settings for Rankin’s intuitively gorgeous melodies.
Each of the record’s nine tracks is ideal mix-tape fodder for any postadolescent-heartache playlist that also includes the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the Radio Dept. Those acts can trace at least part of their lineage back to the epochal C86 compilation, a cassette released in 1986 by U.K. music mag New Musical Express that came to be regarded in some quarters as the founding document of twee pop. Based on reviews of Alvvays, a few music journos seem to assume that Rankin was reared on a steady diet of C86 and other anthologies of its kind.
“I can’t speak for everyone in the band, but I certainly didn’t have those tapes,” Rankin says. “They didn’t exist in my part of the world. Yeah, a lot of the things that I like happened to be on those compilations, but that came later. I wasn’t raised on U.K. jangle pop. A lot of assumptions do get made, but I’ve learned to not care about the bulk of that stuff.”
What Rankin is presumably more concerned about is that listeners are connecting with her band’s music. Alvvays hit the No. 1 spot on the U.S. college-radio charts in August. More recently, one high-profile fan—Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service—was caught on video performing an impassioned solo version of “Archie, Marry Me”.
At the time of this interview, Rankin had yet to watch the fan-shot YouTube clip of Gibbard singing the song at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre, but she sounds suitably awed by the thought of it. “It’s pretty bizarre for us,” she says. “It’s probably a bit cliché, but the part of the world we come from is so obscure that it’s a little bit mind-blowing. We’re fans of his stuff, and it’s cool. It’s really, really nice and humbling.”
Alvvays plays the Biltmore next Wednesday (December 3).