It’s part and parcel for the trajectory of a ‘young band’ to haul around from place to place as part of a never-ending tour. The archetypal young band needs to tour relentlessly in order to break into international markets, as well as solidify the ones they’ve established back home. In a sense, the band needs to hawk their sound and image- their brand- in order to keep their nascent career afloat.

Concurrently, the imposed pressure and cyclicality of playing the same songs night after night is not necessarily conducive to the formation of ‘good’ art. Nonetheless, this point in a band’s career is, without a doubt, a stage of fight or flight- some bands wallow and shrink under the sudden realities of becoming professional performers, while some transcend this inevitable adversity and soar to new heights.

Alvvays is a band that is part of the latter distinction. On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of heading to the Corona Theatre to watch this jangle-pop quintet perform a set as part of their most recent tour through Canada and the States. The group shows no signs of fatigue, no trace of crumbling and becoming yet another group condemned to the One Hit Wonder categorization on the next Big Shiny Tunes release.

Alvvays Montreal October 20 2015 2Alvvays began the night with one of the set’s liveliest, jangliest numbers, Your Type. Although not present on the band’s 2014 eponymous release, the upbeat tune has been used to open up live performances for quite a while.

The group then blissfully cruised through all nine tracks on the debut record, with the addition of three new songs from their impending sophomore album; vocalist Molly Rankin’s vocals were on point, Alec O’Hanley’s lead guitar lines were crunchy and crisp, and the rhythm section sustained the necessary energy over the 60 minute performance.

Aside from crowd favourite Archie, Marry Me, two of the night’s high points came when the vocals took centre stage. Renditions of Red Planet and Party Police found Rankin’s pure, uncomplicated vocals effortlessly floating upon the subdued musical accompaniment– if concertgoers weren’t already smitten by Rankin’s magnetically reticent persona, then these two moments served as the lynchpin.

Alvvays obliged the receptive Montreal crowd with a two-song encore– mellow, shoegazey track Dives and a somewhat unexpected cover of Alimony, originally performed by Aussie jangle-pop icons The Hummingbirds. This final cover track was far more than homage to a musical influence; it instead spoke to the importance of guitar-based music in contemporary culture.

Lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley has been quoted saying the band is very upfront about incorporating musical influences into Alvvays’ sonic styling. In fact, you can hear decades of indie-pop history in any one of Alvvays’ tracks.

Indeed, the group’s relatively brief musical history can in fact be traced back to the 1980s UK music scene; in particular, the ‘C86’ movement, which became shorthand term for jangling guitars, power-pop structures, and simple production techniques. Originally criticized in its day for lack of complexity, C86-associated artists such as Shop Assistants and Dolly Mixture serve as profound influences today for not only Rankin and O’Hanley, but for acts such as Best Coast, The Drums, and even Montreal’s boy Mac DeMarco (by the way, listen to I Don’t Wanna Be Friends With You by Shop Assistants- it sounds a lot like Alvvays’ Atop a Cake).

But what am I really getting at here? “Okay, cool, Alvvays implements sounds from 80s jangle-pop and incorporates it into their music. Big whoop.” But, this is exactly my point. This is, in fact, a very big deal.

Whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, our current musical culture does not favour the 5-piece band like it used to. In the 1990s, college kids were chugging beers and getting silly while listening to guitar-based bands such as Blink-182, Oasis, Blind Melon, and so on. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to walk into a millennial party and hear someone playing straight-ahead rock music; it simply won’t happen, unless that person is nostalgically blasting Teenage Dirtbag in between Drake tracks.

I’m not saying this cultural occurrence is good or bad– it’s actually pretty natural. Musical trends come, and musical trends go. Who knows, maybe in 20 years Hair Metal will be back in fashion? The bottom line is that guitar music as we know it has, for now, slipped into the popular background, filling niche clubs and concert halls the way Hip-Hop did in the early 1980s. And this isn’t a bad thing at all, so long as a genre of music doesn’t wither away into extinction.

Even though the band has only released one album, Alvvays is an act that effectively exists to ensure the relevance and popularity of not just jangle-pop, but guitar-based music in general. Their early, and continued, success is a sign that audiences both at home and internationally still crave simple four-chord song structures, or the crunch of an electric guitar, or the sound of five people playing their instruments onstage in perfect harmony.

So it is fitting, then, that the first song Molly Rankin ever learned was Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis; a simple song, with a simple structure that easily transcended its minimal form to move a generation. Alvvays’ own Archie, Marry Me has a similar effect. As evidenced during Tuesday night’s performance, the song caused an eruption of joy from within the crowd- it was a special moment of communion between the audience and the band that affirmed the group’s importance in the trajectory of indie history. So when Alvvays closed their set with a song by The Hummingbirds, I was assured that the future of guitar-music was in very capable hands.

Toronto-based, Indie rockers Alvvays are back in Montreal, and we couldn’t be more excited. After a jam-packed summer that saw the band perform at the UK’s premier music festival Glastonbury, as well as Montreal’s own Osheaga Festival, Alvvays is on the road again for a series of concert dates throughout Canada and the States.

Alvvays’ eponymous 2014 debut album is an upbeat, jangle-pop affair that draws heavily, both lyrically and sonically, from The Smiths, The Cranberries, and Britpop icons Oasis. Their breakout single Archie, Marry Me put the group on the international Indie radar– you’ve probably already heard the track, and if you haven’t, check it out immediately:

The band’s unique ability to create pop melodies that are whimsical and immediate, dreamy and simultaneously infectious sets them apart from most acts on the Indie circuit. Top it all off with lead vocalist Molly Rankin’s intimate vocal performances and lyrical depth, Alvvays is a name that we’re going to be hearing for a very long time.

Performing Tuesday, October 20th at the Corona Theatre, 2490 Notre Dame Ouest, 8pm, this is a show that you’ll definitely want to check out

* Photo by Gavin Keen

Born Ruffians kicked off POP Montreal this past Wednesday with an energetic, intimate show at La Sala Rosa. The show was the first of many for this Canadian indie band’s RUFF tour, during which they plan to play across Canada, in the US, the UK, and Europe.

The tour celebrates the release of their new album, RUFF, which will hit stand on October 2nd. RUFF is the band’s fifth studio album, and the first one they will be releasing since their last album, Birthmarks, in 2013.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Luke Lalonde (vocals and guitar) and Mitch Derosier (bass) about their experiences since becoming an internationally recognized band in the indie rock world.

Sisi: You guys are from Midland, Ontario, but now live in Toronto. How was the transition of being from a smaller town to playing in larger, more metropolitan cities?

Luke: It all happened when we were 18 or 19, and time just moves differently at that point. We went through many changes in life, like moving out of our parents’ house, going to school for a year, and then dropping out to do music full time, and eventually going on tour. Life felt so momentous.

For me, there was definitely an adjustment period that I didn’t realize I was going through until I started looking back now, ten years later. I was having a lot of personal issues that were hard to deal with, and I was very hard to be around. I just kept my head down and kept going, and it wasn’t until about five years later when I popped my head back up and realized, ‘woah, that was kinda rough.’

Mitch: It didn’t feel like there was much of a transition, because everything happened too fast. But in reality, there really was. You just don’t really have a choice in the transition, because everything we were doing as a band was things we had to do. We didn’t really have a choice but to deal with the craziness of it all.

Sisi: When was the moment you guys realized you finally made it as a well-known band? How did it feel?

Luke: To me, it feels like that’s always happening, and we continue to grow and strive for more and more. For a band like us, we never hit that level of Arcade Fire success, where it’s just guaranteed sold out shows everywhere you go. But we’re also not toiling away in obscurity. We do enough to make a living and tour comfortably, so that always leaves us really appreciating everything we have.

I think it’s a good thing, because sometimes you see people get fame, and they get really fucked up once it goes away. We don’t have fame, we have this thing that you just appreciate but not come to expect.

Mitch: Other bands may think the same way we do, but I feel like we’re such a self-conscious band. We reflect a lot on what we do, and we’re learning from our experiences.

Sisi: You guys have a new album coming out on October 2nd, called Ruff. I went on the website watchruff.com and stumbled upon a very special countdown, where 1.3 million photo frames are played over the course of a month until the date of the record release. I thought it was a super creative idea. What inspired you guys to have this?

Luke: John Smith, the guy who helped us put the video together and directed it; it was his idea, really. We wanted someone to help us pull a bunch of creative ideas together and to be the creative director for this album, so we sat down with him and brainstormed.

We have full control over the sound and lyrics of the album, but we wanted something visual that could tie it all together. We wanted something really hypnotic and dreamy, but we also wanted to creep people out and make them laugh simultaneously. It was kind of David Lynch inspired, but with a bit more humour.

All the vignettes are different scenes, and they all kind of escalate and get crazier as the month goes on. It’s essentially 12 hours of footage, slowed down to a month.

Sisi: Does the theme of the countdown reflect on the theme of the RUFF?

Luke: Well, not really. This album is a lot more personal in a lot of ways, so maybe if being too personal is creepy, then maybe.

Mitch: Maybe not creepy, but its darker. I feel like [Luke] was being very straight up and was coming from an honest place when working on this album. As he said, it’s a lot more personal. We were looking for something that made our audiences feel the record in a different way, it wasn’t just going to be another pop rock record, you know what I mean? There’s something else to it compared to what we’ve released before.

Sisi: What was your favourite public event you attended as a band, aside from live shows?

Luke: We did this series of videos with Matt Johnson, a Toronto based director/writer/actor. He did this web series a while back called “Nirvana the band the show.” For before Birthmarks came out, we did these in the studio videos, where Matt acted as the producer. He basically just improved for a few hours and pieced it together. It turned out really funny and it was a good time.

Mitch: Another funny thing we did together was attend the Junos. It was such a weird experience, because we never expected to be there. It never felt like that kind of thing we thought we would be recognized for. We always felt like we were catching up to other Canadian bands, so it felt like we didn’t totally belong there.

We didn’t expect to win, which we didn’t. It was a fun thing to experience as a band because we’re not a band that goes to award shows, like ever. It felt like a funny accidental thing.

Luke: It felt surreal to be walking around people like Jim Cuddy and Fred Penner. It was a crazy experience. It was weird and it was an anomaly, but it was fun. You don’t think they’re paying attention to you, so it was like “oh, you noticed us?”

Sisi: After a long, stressful day, what kind of food would you crave for if you could have anything in the world?

Luke: Mine is really lame… A salami sandwich. It’s not like I want to indulge, it’s just what I want. With some crackers, hummus, and some cheddar cheese. And maybe also some pea soup.

Mitch: I was raised eating potatoes, so I love roasted potatoes. Sometimes I crave Kraft Dinner as well.

Luke: Yeah, usually at 3 in the morning. Aside from that, I guess I would want something really expensive, like a really nice cut of Kobe beef.

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Make sure to check out RUFF on October 2nd!

the nursery

To conduct a pre-show interview with Toronto band The Nursery last night, I followed the foursome down a dimly lit alley, where, as we were getting started, a lone wanderer passed by and commented, “are you guys a bunch of models or something? I mean, people that good-looking shouldn’t be allowed to travel in groups together. You all look like you’ve just come from a photo shoot!” I’m not sure why he felt good-looking people shouldn’t travel in groups, but he had a point; every member of this group is a babe, which makes watching them perform that much nicer on the eyes.

Looks aside, this is a very talented and creative group of musicians with far-ranging influences who come together to form something uniquely theirs. They’ve been labeled individually as psychedelic-rock/pop, synth-rock, synth-pop, electronic, indie-rock, alternative, post-punk and more, but their sound seems to me to be a blend consisting of elements made up of bits and bites from each of these sub-genres.

Their synth work is definitely a driving feature, and they use it to successfully convey the sense of psychedelia and headiness that pervades their music. The guitar work is also tasty and top-notch, and the driving drum beats make for songs that are danceable as well as lyrically and musically interesting. Frontman Alex Pulec’s lyrics read like poetry and convey deeper meaning when read beyond the surface of the rhymes. His voice connects me at times to a couple of different vocalists including Matthew Bellamy of Muse, but more often than not I am reminded of Jack White during his White Stripes years.  It’s the punchiness in the way he delivers the lines, his vocal range and the way his voice is presented in tracks like “Lysergically Yours” that are reminiscent of White.

The Nursery is made up of Alex Pulec (vocals and guitar) who does the majority of the music and song writing, Victor Ess (bass, vocals, bass synth), Jared Roth (keyboards and synth) and Jocelyn Conway (drums). I want to linger on Conway for just a moment. Female drummers are a rarity, and I’m sure there are lots of theories about why this is, but listening and watching Conway hammer on those things is watching art happen. For her petite frame, she still manages to play with such strength. Not only does she hit hard, but with speed and precision as well. She’s a keeper!

I asked the band about their formation, their writing process and what they’re up to and planning to get up to in the future. Here’s what they had to say:

Stephanie Beatson: How did The Nursery form?

Alex Pulec: Victor and I have been playing for a few years now in a few different projects. The Nursery is the first time we decided to extend beyond the both of us. We formed The Nursery about a year and a half ago.

Jared Roth: I joined a little after that and Jocelyn joined in February.

SB: Your album, Carnival Nature, has the obvious carnival theme that you continued through the track “Lysergically Yours,” which reminds me of being trapped in a fun house. What was the inspiration behind the carnival theme?

AP: I co-directed it with Devon Stewart. I wanted to make a video that you can get lost in. We didn’t have the biggest budget, so we had to think about how to create a space with pretty much no budget that could move you out of any type of typical space that a band would play in. We came up with the idea to cover our rehearsal space and studio with tin foil. We wanted to make it feel like you’re suspended.

JR:  We wanted to go with the idea of the fun house where something catches your attention, and you’re mesmerized, then something else catches your attention and you don’t like it. We think it matches the lysergical nature of the song.

SB: And the music has the carnivalesque nature about it too, so it’s all in the same vein.

AP: We wanted to play off that for the video. It’s polarized a lot of people. The jimmies that are glued to our mouths, some people love the idea and some people find it disturbing.

Victor Ess: I had someone call me and say that they loved our previous video for “This Wild Heart,” but “Lysergically Yours” made them feel uncomfortable with the candy around the mouths. It made them feel difficult feelings inside [laughs].

SB: What was the reason for using the jimmies?

AP: We wanted to do something that was fun but also had a dark, twisted edge to reflect the song. I thought of it like a mixture between childhood innocence with kind of a darker, sexual edge. But it’s mostly stylistic. There were blue, red and turquoise lights so we kept to those colours with the sprinkles.

The Nursery (2)

SB: In the video for “This Wild Heart,” I thought it was cool how you filmed the desert scenes in colour with the band shots in black and white. What does that signify for you?

JR: Again it was an aesthetic decision.

AP: To make each world its own so they didn’t really cross into each other. The black and white world that we were in had to be its own character and vibe just to keep them unique from each other.

JR: We bring the two worlds together at the end a little bit. One of the characters in the black and white world is in the desert at the end.

SB: I understand Alex does most of the music and lyric writing. When he brings a song to the band how does it take shape from there?

JR: We each get to add our own input through the arrangement of our parts, through the writing of our own parts. Alex or Victor usually will come with a musical idea which we’ll each fit our parts around, and then the lyrics and melody will come. I wouldn’t say it always works that way though.

AP: It’s very organic. Sometimes songs come in eighty percent done, sometimes songs are created at rehearsal. Certain songs have come together in half an hour of us working on them, and some are still not where we want them to be after working on them for a long time.

JR: Sometimes when that happens, we’ll take part of an incomplete song and add it to another song so it won’t be a total loss.

SB: How do you choose your subject matter when writing lyrics?

VE: It just develops. I always feel that a song will reveal itself to you as you go along.

AP: It’s that moment where you’re writing and you’re almost in a suspended reality where you’re saying something, but you don’t really know what it means yet. A moment later you go, “that’s what that song’s about.” It reveals itself later.

JR: Sometimes the lyrics pair really well with the music and other times we might have a lighter, dance-pop song with deeper lyrics.

SB: Your lyrics read like poetry. I love the flow and that there’s depth to the meaning of each song.

AP: Lyrics are the things that people hold on to. Melodies can excite and mesmerize people, but if a song doesn’t have lyrics that communicate to you, the song doesn’t have as much life.

JR: Alex has really good attention to detail in his lyrics.

AP: One thing that’s really important to me is that I want the lyrics to stand alone. If someone were just reading the lyrics, I want them to convey almost as much as listening to the actual songs.

The Nursery (3)

SB: What’s next for The Nursery?  

AP: We’re recording an album right now in Buffalo, at GCR Audio, and we’re about seventy percent done. We chose GCR after it was recommended to us. Robby Takac from the Goo Goo Dolls owns it. We checked it out and fell in love with the space. It has really good energy and a great engineer, and at this point we’ve created such a comfortable, amazing relationship that it just feels like home. We’re also going to do a tour in November and we might put out a single first before we release the full album.

They’ve got the looks, they’ve got the talent and they’ve got the drive. I daresay more good things will be coming their way. Look for them on tour come November. In the meantime, they have several videos to scout out, including “Lysergically Yours,” the other single off Carnival Nature, which indeed sounds (and looks) like being in a house of mirrors, possibly while on acid.

Support indie musicians! The Nursery’s six-song EP, Carnival Nature, released last June is available on Bandcamp.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson.