Alvvays on “Blue Rev” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, November 30th, 2023  

Alvvays on “Blue Rev”

A Sip of Cape Breton

Apr 12, 2023 Photography by Eleanor Petry Issue #70 - My Favorite Movie (Sharon Van Etten and Ezra Furman)
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Sipping Blue Rev, a sweet alcopop, at the local skating rinks in Cape Breton—an island in Nova Scotia, Canada—is a much cherished memory of singer, Molly Rankin, from Toronto-based dream pop band, Alvvays. It suggests a time of innocence and simpler pleasures and felt like the right antidote when Rankin, her partner, guitarist, Alec O’Hanley, and their keyboardist, Kerri MacLellan were writing their third album in the garage of their home, during the dark days of the pandemic. Blue Rev is also the title of the album.

“I think I just like the idea of being transported back to another era of your life by taking a sip of something,” explains an upbeat Rankin, who cites two polar opposite “Strawberry Wine” songs, one a 1996 country hit for Deana Carter, and the other by shoegaze icons My Bloody Valentine. “These little nostalgic touchstones, that make you confront or reminisce the different stages of your life,” she adds. “And also trying to incorporate some of my upbringing in Cape Breton, cultural things that seemed pretty unique like drinking behind a rink.”

While her memory is specific, the nostalgia on Blue Rev is warm and universal. Its characters—“Pomeranian Spinster,” “A Very Online Guy,” and the girl of “Belinda Says,” who thinks she might keep her pregnancy and move to the country—are introduced to us like forgotten friends at a high school reunion. There’s no shade or negative commentary on their life choices.

“Belinda Says” refers to that time of youthful insouciance as “paradise” and riffs off Belinda Carlisle’s hit “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” “That song, I think is so uplifting for so many people and its just sort of stood the test of time,” says Rankin of the 1987-released pop hit that would have been played at the rink. But it wasn’t her that came up with that connection.

“The Belinda Carlisle line was actually Alex’s idea and it was one of the final pieces of the puzzle of that song, as was the line ‘Blue Rev behind the rink,’” Rankin explains. Both those things triggered a lot of excitement for them and the ideas that conceptually became the core of the record. “Alec kind of came in out of nowhere with that line that I think really hits right at the peak of that song in such a cathartic way.”

After two well received albums—award-winning debut Alvvays (2014) and Antisocialites (2017)—Blue Rev finds its core trio more confident than ever, despite losing their rhythm section (now Sheridan Riley and Abbey Blackwell) and surviving a home break-in where demos were stolen. These days, Rankin says she is more sure of what she wants and found working with producer Shawn Everett amenable. She is happy to see how O’Hanley and MacLelland have also grown in their roles.

“I’m really glad to have someone to bounce off ideas, good or bad,” she says of her songwriting partnership with O’Hanley. “Alec and I have been collaborating for so long and generally the bulk of the melodic and lyrical ideas come out of my brain. But he’s always been such a great editor…and is able to help bring some variance to what I do and some depth sometimes with his theory knowledge.”

MacLellan too played a more expansive role in the mixing process. “That was so helpful because she had so much perspective on everything we sent her…. And I think it’s been really gratifying to see her grow in that regard.”

While previous albums have been more steeped in melancholia, with a sometimes vacuum-sealed feeling of being trapped in the past, Blue Rev has a future-facing, forward momentum. In part, aided by the lockdown, they had more time to explore and experiment sonically. There is a fair amount of distortion against Rankin’s demure vocals and the pleasing guitar melodies, plus a push to break previous rhythmic structures. The humor and thematic tone hints at a band firmly rooted in the present, glancing at the rear view mirror so as to contemplate a rosier outlook.

“As devastating as the pandemic was and is—I think it took a little bit of the pressure off,” says Rankin. “When you’re constantly touring, there are many things that fall by the wayside, whether that’s lingering health issues, friendships…seeing your family. So some of those flowers were able to be nourished in that time. And maybe there’s just something about the headspace that I was in, where things were coming out a little bit more hopeful than before.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 70 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our My Favorite Movie Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

Read our review of Blue Rev.

Read our interview with Alvvays about Antisocialites.

Read the full extended Q&A of our interview with Alvvays’s Molly Rankin about Antisocialites.

Read our 2014 interview with Alvvays.

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