Reviews

Hometowns

Author: Mike Deane
06/25/2009 | See | www.seemagazine.com | Live Show Preview
Try telling an 18-year-old whose interests involve indie pop and the arts that there's an advantage to living in Fort McMurray. Go ahead; I don't think he'll believe you.

But as Nils Edenloff talks about his band, The Rural Alberta Advantage, you can see the positive aspects and life-informing experiences that an upbringing in northern Alberta can afford you. Edenloff grew up in Fort Mac, and completed his engineering degree at the University of Alberta before moving to Toronto in 2003 in an attempt to jumpstart his music career. It was only after leaving E-town and Alberta that he became wistful and understood our province's (often subtle) charms.

Now that The Rural Alberta Advantage filled out by Ontarians Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole has gotten the Pitchfork seal of approval and been signed to the Saddle Creek record label (co-founded by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst), people the world over are about to discover the upside of living in Wild Rose Country. Actually, the people in Camrose, Wetaskiwin, and Edson would probably like to know what the advantage is too. Nils?

"The name itself came from my brother," says Edenloff from his home in Toronto, resting up before the band embarks on a North American tour in support of the re-release of their disc Hometowns. "He sent me an e-mail when he was heading down to our farm, saying 'I'm just heading down to the farm with some girls, exploring the rural Alberta advantage.'

"The province had just retired the 'Alberta Advantage' slogan," he continues, "and having grown up with that, I was inundated with 'Yeah, oil and gas, this is the Alberta advantage.' It wasn't until my brother mentioned the rural Alberta advantage that I was like, 'Oh my God, it's all of those quiet points, the non-industry things in Alberta, that I instantly remembered.' At the time, that phrase struck a chord with me. It wasn't until I moved away that I realized how much of an impact growing up in Alberta had on shaping the type of person I ended up being. You move away from your hometown and you end up getting closer to it, in a way. I think the rural Alberta advantage is embracing where you come from, and recognizing the things that you may have taken for granted."

With Albertan song titles like "The Ballad of the RAA" (which includes the line, "We invariably left the prairies in my heart / Since they never moved an inch. / Does the love go home with the wild rose?"), "Edmonton" ("What if I'm only satisfied when I'm at home / Sitting in a city that'll never let me go?") and "Deathbridge in Lethbridge," the RAA are true to their name. But couldn't this alienate listeners who've never even seen a prairie, much less visited Lethbridge? Edenloff thinks not.

"While the songs themselves have my own Albertan references," he says, "I feel like the overall themes and topics that are touched on are universal. Everyone had to leave some hometown. There are so many people going from their hometown to a bigger place or somewhere different, and with these songs, there are a lot of themes that a lot of people can identify with, without being Albertan or even knowing anything about Alberta."

He'll be putting that hypothesis to the test in the following months, with shows scheduled everywhere from Sled Island in Calgary to halls in Los Angeles. "This year we've started playing shows in the States," he says, "and I think the name will kind of bring out the Canadians to the shows, or Albertans who are just like, 'Wow, man, this is crazy, I can't believe this, it's so great.'

"When I was leaving Alberta, I got to Toronto and a bunch of friends had moved there too, and we had this sort of pride, this Albertan pride. When you go to a bigger place like Toronto, when you first move here, you feel like a number, so you want to identify yourself as being different. You embrace the things that make you you. If you sing about personal things, and about real stories that you have, it comes across as more honest."
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