For a sizeable chunk of indie rock, saccharine melodies and lightly strummed riffs become indistinguishable, the type of songs one learns by rote without even trying to. A few bands skate through the pleasant pastel tones, though, finding their own voices in a genre that’s often guilty of homogenization. One of the most recent bands to do so, Alvvays, makes it seem like a breeze.
The Toronto indie pop band dropped its self-titled debut back in 2014. If the coy lyrics of “Archie, Marry Me” didn’t win you over, the slightly sad vocals and strangely nostalgic songs that followed certainly would. Vocalist Molly Rankin, keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, guitarist Alec O’Hanley, bassist Brian Murphy, and drummer Sheridan Riley found a way to make it their own. It’s an album that rocketed them to minor-league fame, letting listeners and critics alike place the band in a bubble of quaint indie rock. But on the band’s sophomore LP, this year’s Antisocialites, they prove they’re more than one-hit wonders or 2D cutouts.
“Pride isn’t a feeling I often have, but I am proud that I’m in a band with a woman who can write melodic and lyrical circles around most of her peers. Whether you relate to the records or not, it boils down to your feelings on the songs, and ultimately the hooks are the hook,” says Alec O’Hanley. “There is a cube that people put you in. You either kick that cube to the side and find another cube to place yourself inside of, or get to know your cube. We decided to strain against the one that we’re in. At the same time, we are quite happy with our first record, we loved the response, and we wanted to see what would happen if we just subtly pushed what it is we do and the parameters of our band.”
To dig deeper into the band’s backstory, we interviewed O’Hanley for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. Turns out Alvvays is even more inventive than its made-up name suggests.
1) “In Undertow”
DIGBOSTON: Where’s your favorite place to go swimming?
O’HANLEY: The last place that I really had a ball swimming was in the channel on the south coast of Brighton in England. My favorite childhood swimming spot or hole would have been in Prince Edward Island. It had a nice bridge over a little fishing channel that all the kids would run up to and hop off, and the current would swirl you out on the shore before you got sucked in. You would rinse and repeat about 100 times a day. We haven’t done a ton of swimming in Lake Ontario, but I know Molly likes Gibraltar Point a lot.
2) “Dreams Tonite”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the weirdest dream you’ve had while on tour?
O’HANLEY: I’m not a heavy dreamer, but I do recall one time with Kerri [MacLellan] and Molly [Rankin] when sharing a hotel bed a few years ago. Molly had woken before Kerri, and she heard Kerri, who must have been having some apocalyptic dream of some sort, sleep-talking something to the effect of “It’s too late. We have to leave Molly behind.” It’s one of those things we can dangle over the other’s head for a long time now.
3) “Plimsoll Punks”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a dependable shoe brand that doesn’t get enough love?
O’HANLEY: We’re partial to Keds. It sort of isn’t thought of as often as it might be because it’s a humble shoe or that of kids and nurses. Some kids may not find it as flashy as Reebok or Nike.
4) “Your Type”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have a type, romantically speaking?
O’HANLEY: I don’t know [laughs]. I guess creative, smart folks like Molly.
5) “Not My Baby”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a good way to keep a baby occupied while babysitting?
O’HANLEY: I did a bit of babysitting when I was younger, like looking after neighborhood kids. I remember swinging a kid around by his arms until he wet his pants, which was kind of awkward. So maybe don’t do anything too strenuous like that. Kerri has been the big babysitter as of late. I don’t know if she does it anymore. I would imagine it’s all plop ’em in front of the screen if you’re looking for a great digital tranquilizer, because there’s nothing like an iPad. You should run that by the parents first. Anything outside would be great to do anytime, though.
DIGBOSTON: Most people say hello or goodbye to their parents in the same way. How do you greet yours whenever you see them?
O’HANLEY: I give them a hug, typically, since I only see them once a year or so. My dad is quite a vicarious hippie kid, and he’s shown up unannounced to Glastonbury, SXSW, and Coachella. He was quite well-prepared with his wellies and fishing hat tucked into his cargo pants. Parents’ presence can make an already special moment even more intense. So usually it’s a standard pat on the back or a hug of some sort. Not a ton of talking, but I nod along.
7) “Lollipop (Ode To Jim)”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever made yourself sick from eating too much candy?
O’HANLEY: There have been a couple Halloweens where I came home with multiple pillowcases’ worth of high-fructose corn syrup snacks. The next days were a roller coaster. I will raise my hand and say guilty to that one.
8) “Already Gone”
DIGBOSTON: Name two places you’ve stayed at briefly where you’d like to return to sometime soon.
O’HANLEY: There’s a place in the Netherlands called Utrecht, a college town filled with lovely canals and cobblestones and old arches. There’s more bicycles per human than I’ve ever seen. It was idyllic. We were there a few weeks ago. It’s like Amsterdam without all the unsavory aspects. We were walking around taking up all the idyllic looks.
San Francisco has always been quite nice to us, too. We’ve played the Bay Area. It’s very charming. The people are lovely. Obviously it’s expensive to have a date there, but it’s nice to visit and you can’t really beat there.
9) “Saved By A Waif”
DIGBOSTON: If you were cast as a character on Game of Thrones, who would you be?
O’HANLEY: I haven’t seen that show. What does Molly call it? Boobs and Swords. Definitely not fit to answer this question. I like stuff like Adventure Time and Rick and Morty.
DIGBOSTON: Who would you be on Rick and Morty then?
O’HANLEY: Probably Morty, getting roped in and going along for the ride. Usually panicked easily and annoying, I guess [laughs].
10) “Forget About Life”
DIGBOSTON: What advice do you have for someone who’s trying to move past a certain memory?
O’HANLEY: I don’t know if I’m the one to ask this. I dwell and live in the past quite frequently. Even when I’m reading, I tend to drift from the page for 15 minutes sometimes. If you do want to forget about this era, that’s kind of that song, and it’s a good way to escape the current dystopia. Just move your mind to another one, so I’d have to dodge the question.
ALVVAYS, BIRTHING HIPS. TUE 10.3. PARADISE ROCK CLUB, 967 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 7PM/18+/$17. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM