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Molly Rankin of Alvvays: ‘I still love The Smiths. No one will take them away from me’

The frontwoman of the indie-pop gems on a rare appearance in Ireland, for Beyond the Pale, and music’s broken economy

Beyond the Pale 2024: Alvvays will cross the Atlantic for their first Irish show in more than a decade. Photograph: Eleanor Petry

There is a question Molly Rankin is asked in every interview, and it has to do with a middle-aged man with tall hair and some strange views. “Every time I talk about this, I feel like I get some people [jumping in]. It’s a very volatile question,” the Canadian musician says as her band, Alvvays, prepare to cross the Atlantic for their first Irish show in more than a decade, at the Beyond the Pale festival. “I still listen to The Smiths, and I still love them.”

A great many former fans have abandoned The Smiths since Morrissey, the one-time singer of the long-defunct band, began to express bizarre opinions about politics, meat-eaters, the British royals and The Simpsons. But Rankin makes no apologies for steadfastly adoring the songs he wrote with Johnny Marr – an audible influence on Alvvays’ gorgeously bruised and winningly vulnerable alternative pop.

“Two people colliding at a time in their lives when they were bursting with creativity,” is how Rankin describes Morrissey-Marr from her apartment in Toronto. “And, for whatever reason, [it] just working out and then making the albums that they did. I believe in the beauty of collaboration and how fruitful that can be. I hear those songs and no one will take them away from me.”

The Smiths’ career took off in a heartbeat. Things have been more stop-start for Alvvays (pronounced “Always”), a five-piece whose glorious fusion of jangle-pop, dreamy riffs and underdog yearning speaks to the overlapping influence of underground icons such as The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine and Belle and Sebastian.


They have had their challenges, particularly in the run-up to the release, 18 months ago, of their excellent third album, Blue Rev. First, a thief broke into Rankin’s apartment and made off with a laptop containing the bones of the LP, which the band hadn’t yet recorded. The next day much of their equipment was damaged in a basement flood.

Alvvays, with Molly Rankin centre. Photograph: Eleanor Petry

In the moment, the events were written about as though a disaster for the ages. The truth is more prosaic, says Rankin. Yes, they lost a few songs, but all the best tunes were already committed to memory. She brings up Abba and the melodies they wrote – tunes too big and bright to be constrained by being locked away on a mere laptop.

“There are probably little weird mistakes that were captured on all of those recordings,” says Rankin. “I was watching an Abba documentary the other day, and I do feel as though I would inhabit that mindset of only using the stuff that can be remembered, anyway. You’re choosing the most poppy, sticky melodies that swirl around in your head, regardless of recording them or not.”

By the time the laptop vanished Alvvays had already suffered their share of setbacks. Four years ago it looked as if they might be about to get their big break, as The Strokes, overlords of louche alternative pop, took them out as support on an arena tour. The first date was booked for March 2020, in Vancouver, with Seattle to follow. What could go wrong?

“We did two shows with them. A few days before the third show, everything shut down,” she says. “In that arena, the final show before the pandemic, it was very eerie. We were in Seattle. Everything was pretty much shut down. We were wondering what we were going to do – what was going to happen in the world?”

I took Gaelic in high school rather than French, a national language

—  Molly Rankin on her Irish-infused childhood in Nova Scotia

To an outsider, The Strokes and Alvvays might seem musical, philosophical and spiritual opposites. The former are old-school rock rogues, who have lived fast and seen some things. Alvvays, by contrast, are eternal indie-disco kids, more likely to be found discussing their favourite French novelist than necking a bottle of vodka. To Rankin’s surprise, however, they all got on fabulously.

“They actually seemed fine with us. Which was nice. [We were] kind of accepted. Maybe it’s because of the guitars. We’ve always been a very guitar-centred band. Maybe that’s why they were nice to us. I remember Fab, the drummer, was wanting to start a book club at the time,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe they are like us, too.”

Rankin grew up surrounded by Celtic and Irish influences in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s eastern seaboard. Her father was a member of the folk band The Rankin Family, household names in Canada. (He died in a car crash in January 2000, when Molly was 12.) And a local dialect of Gaelic has survived around her family home, on Cape Breton island, where many Scottish and Irish people emigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“It’s everywhere. All the signage has it,” she says. “Everything is pretty much translated. I took Gaelic in high school rather than French, a national language.”

Alvvays are one of the bands at the sharp end of the debate about where the music industry is going in this era of collapsing royalties and rising touring costs. They have 1.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify, but the payments they receive are not nearly enough to cover their rent and other expenses. Before the pandemic, touring was their main source of income. Yet now overheads are spiralling – one reason, says Rankin, why they haven’t played in Ireland for so long.

“Even coming to Ireland is not necessarily all that feasible. Which is why we haven’t been in 10 years. It does seem like Live Nation is getting broken up potentially,” she says, referring to the US government’s attempt to separate the world’s biggest music promoter from its ticketing wing, Ticketmaster. “Maybe people are getting tired of monopolies, and maybe we’ll get a little bit more of that wealth distribution and fans will not be exposed to so many hidden fees and obstacles trying to get to shows.”

The best-case scenario is that it becomes easier for artist and audience to connect directly, she believes. “It would be cool if the whole thing w as a little bit more of a direct exchange between everyone rather than big boys eating their lunch – eating everyone’s lunch. Everything has changed. Touring is a lot more expensive. Touring used to be the thing you could profit from. The old formula doesn’t necessarily apply. I don’t know about streaming. I feel something is going to change there, too, pretty soon,” says Rankin, talking about the possibility of listeners being asked to pay more.

Beyond the Pale headliners Jungle: ‘Spotify are ripping us off – same with Apple Music, same with Amazon’Opens in new window ]

Whatever the future, the band – and their fans – will always have Blue Rev, a pocket masterpiece that confirms Alvvays as one of the great modern exponents of indie escapism. Rankin regards the LP as a lesson in the benefits of maturity.

“We were so young when we made our first album. Now we’re in our 30s. Everything has naturally found its way to what [Blue Rev] sounds like,” she says.” And I think with every album we learn so much about what we like and what we don’t like. Blue Rev is definitely where our minds are at now.”

She’s looking forward to crossing the Atlantic and reconnecting with Irish fans. At Beyond the Pale, framed by the dramatic scenery and the unpredictable Irish summer, Alvvays will certainly be in their element. Sunshine, rain, a cold wind rising up when you least expect it: these are the feelings Alvvays evoke in their music. Their return to Ireland promises to be a coming-together to remember.

Alvvays play Beyond the Pale, in Glendalough, Co Wicklow, on Friday, June 21st; the festival runs until Sunday, June 23rd