eMusic Selects: The Rural Alberta Advantage
The Rural Alberta Advantage are Nils Edenloff, Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt. They come from Toronto (singer Nils Edenloff hails from Alberta, hence the name), and Hometowns is their first record, and it is a great one. Hometowns is a classic indie-rock record, both in aim and in result. Their songs sigh and exclaim, occasionally simultaneously, their emotions varied but the sincerity a constant.
Certainly any comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel have a germ of truth. Moments on Hometowns — “Rush Apart,” “Frank, AB” — could easily hitch a ride In An Aeroplane Over the Sea. There is a shared level of intensity, a similarly convoluted name and, as Edenloff details in our interview below, a love of “non-singer singers,” to quote his phrase. Read on for more on our latest eMusic Selection. We couldn’t be happier.
Nils: I was born and raised in Alberta. Grew up where all the oil is coming from in Canada here. After high school, I moved down to the University of Alberta and took computer engineering, so I moved off the music thing for a while there, and wasn’t finished yet, so once I graduated, came here to pursue music. It took a while before it ended up actually doing anything, but yeah, once the ball started rolling…
Yancey: And so how long has the Rural Alberta Advantage been a band?
Nils: We started two and a half years now. We originally had five people, but it’s been the three of us for two and a half years. When we were recording, we brought a couple of people in, here and there…kind of like a live show.
Yancey: Nils, were you the origin point of the band? Am I right in guessing that?
Nils: Yeah, I guess. I don’t want to say yes, but that’s mostly true. But the stuff we come up with, it’s nothing I’ve pre-formulated myself. It’s bringing stuff into the group. Paul and Amy have more ideas in there that have changed things a lot.
Paul: [Nils] comes up with a bunch of beautiful melodies, and he gives a lot of room to come up with words, draw the rhythm, and there’s a lot of room for me and Amy to come up with interesting things because we’re both in love with the songs, and that’s what’s really rewarding about it.
Amy: Yeah, it’s been great with Nils. Nils will come up with these great ideas and concepts of songs and then Paul comes and shows it to me, and I see what needs to be there, whether it be harmony or extra percussion. I think that’s why we work so well together. We’re all working independently, but we’re all working on this one piece of music, and I never feel like there’s too much going on in our songs, ever.
Yancey: What’s your stature like in Alberta?
Amy: We made some lists on some blogs. [Laughs]
Nils: I get surprised sometimes. Like the other day I was walking down the street on Halloween with my girlfriend when two guys walk by. And I could see them from a ways away, and I immediately just assumed a whole bunch of things about them. But then one of them just walks up to me and goes, “The Rural Alberta Advantage.” Just out of nowhere he recognized me. But yeah, it’s weird, people buying our CDs in Australia or Germany.
Paul: Considering the level of work we’ve put in, I’d say we’ve been rewarded pretty richly.
Nils: It seems like ever since we’ve started with the three of us, good things seem to happen.
Yancey: So, I was curious — on the very cute and very evocative bio on your site you talk a lot about very particularly Northern Albertan summers. How do you define such a thing? What are the traits of an Albertan season?
Nils: Well, I think there is — after having moved out of Ontario, there was a different sort of feel to the season, at least from my perspective. I always had rich memories of — like the first week in September, the frost on the ground, walking to school. And there’s always a feeling when the winter starts. There is this certain smell of the fall and spring, those are my kind of two favorite seasons.
That was definitely something that I know when I came here [to Toronto], I didn’t get that. From those few moments in the year, I always have memories. Those sorts of memories that I have of Alberta drive a lot of our songs. Just remembering those things.
Yancey: So, the rural part is very important to you?
Nils: I have a lot of memories of our cabin in Southern Alberta. So, yes, it’s a part of my growing up.
Yancey: Are you okay with urban living? I mean, is this something that you look at with a bit of nostalgia and it’s something that you miss, or is it just — is it a place that you just miss and need to talk about?
Nils: This is where I came from, and having moved away — all my family lives back there. It’s just something that after having moved away from it, I realized how much it defined me. But only after having moved out here, and it’s those small things that just sort of make you realize what makes you who you are. I realize, the more I’m growing up, that I’m a lot like my dad, and my dad is a farm boy. I realize I’m similar to him, I do have that rural sort of thing. And now I’m a city boy and I really wouldn’t have the opportunities that we have if I was trying to do this there.
Yancey: This is not the case with Paul and Amy, correct? You aren’t from Alberta?
Yancey: So, you’re like, what is all this he’s talking about…
Paul: Well, as Nils said, the original lineup was five people. Three of those people were from Alberta. So the original incarnation of the band was three-fifths Albertan. Amy and I were the Team Ontario Contingent.
Yancey: I absolutely identify with what you’re talking about. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Virginia and I moved to New York from there. What you’re talking about — I know exactly what you mean.
Amy: I felt the same way too, coming from a small town and coming to the big city. I feel that sort of nostalgia is really apparent in the music and I think a lot of people relate to it, and that’s why people like it, I think.
Yancey: I think that’s true. Do you see in any danger in too much nostalgia?
Nils: What? I can’t understand your question.
Yancey: I mean, I’m just thinking — and this is something broader than music — there is a level of provincialism with a small town that can be very limiting and suffocating. I can fondly look back where I grew up now because I’m out.
Amy: That’s it exactly.
Nils: Yes, that’s exactly, that’s exactly what I was going through when I moved out here. I was leaving there. I felt like, look at you guys, you guys stay here, I’m happy to get out. But it wasn’t until I actually came here that I realized how much of me really came from Alberta.
Yancey: Yes, absolutely.
Nils: And looking at it gave me this feeling: this is my life; I have my own perspective on it. Not a lot of people living out here have been through the same experiences that I have been through.