The Rural Alberta Advantage is on the path to said success via the Internet. After self releasing their first album, Hometowns, they quickly became featured as an eMusic Selects band on digital music retailer, eMusic, which led to a favorable slot at the 2009 South by Southwest Festival in Texas. Recently they signed to independent label, Saddle Creek, who will be re-releasing the album under their label in July.
I had the opportunity to ask singer, Nils Edenloff, about their journey thus far and his plans for the future. He hasn't quite reached the success that would enable him to quit his day job, so he had to find a "fairly private area" at his workplace in order to speak with me.
IH: I'll try to keep it short. First of all, Hometowns is a really great CD.
Nils: Thank you.
IH: I've listened to it nonstop.
Nils: That's flattering to hear.
IH: Please give us a brief history of the band.
Nils: Well, the band sort of started out, I guess … oh man, I just checked the dates a little while ago, but I think … the band evolved out of playing an open-mic night. Paul and I used to host the open mic night, it was a failing open-mic night here in Toronto, and nobody came out. (Laughing) It was kind of a depressing experience. But, because nobody came out, and we were hosting it, we had to prepare tons of material, so we just played together for hours. That's kind of, in a way, where this all started.
IH: So was it by accident?
Nils: Yeah, I guess. It wasn't like, "Okay, we're gonna start a band, and do this." It was more like, "Yeah, we're hosting an open-mic night and friends can come out, and you know what? We're doing this thing and we could use someone to play, so we'd like to get you guys to play." And from there, people would be like, "We liked it, you should do it again." It was kind of slow starting, and initially it was Paul and myself, or we had three other people, and then like, "this isn't working out, let's go back to two people." So it was sort of, I don't know, for most of 2005, we would play something here and there if somebody offered to do it. We weren't trying too hard. It wasn't until 2006 where we played a show here in Toronto and it was Paul, Amy, and myself, and it really felt like the three of us were doing something unique and good. That was the first time it felt like a band playing, at least to ourselves. We just figured out our roles in the band and that's where the band started. From an outside perspective it might look like the band wasn't doing much for a while. But we were constantly doing … there was always good things happening. It was fairly slow going, but at the same time we weren't like, "Alright, okay, this is not happening fast enough!" We were just enjoying ourselves.
IH: Hometowns has received nothing but great reviews. How does it feel to have such a successful debut?
Nils: (Laughing) It's kind of surreal, I think. We've had the album close to us for such a long time. It's amazing the legs that it had. Slowly, more people are still finding out about it. It's so great to hear. For the longest time we were playing shows in Ontario and whatnot, and we were totally happy doing that, and then the e-Music thing happened and that led to other great things. So it's … we're constantly surprised everyday at all the things that are happening. Even just planning this tour right now, we take off tomorrow night … Oh, tonight! Yeah, our first show is tomorrow. And I'm so scared right now. There's so much to do. All the stuff that's constantly coming out, we're like, "Wow! How is this all happening?" It's really surreal, I think.
IH: That's where I came across the album, e-Music, a few weeks ago. Literally, like, two or three weeks ago. And I was like, "This is really good."
Nils: E-Music had it as part of their e-Music Selects series. They picked it up in November and from that we got a lot of end-of-the-year exposure, which is really great. Then e-Music had us play their showcase at South by Southwest (SXSW), which, we probably got the best slots of the festival. We played immediately before Grizzly Bear in a church. It was just incredible. From that, a lot more press. When we were at SXSW, we started talking to Saddle Creek and that's how that started happening. You probably picked it up off of e-Music after the digital release of it by Saddle Creek. They are still focusing on the July 7th release of the album, but I think it's still available on iTunes and e-Music and everywhere.
IH: How did you originally go about self releasing the album?
Nils: Well, it was mostly … the place where I work, I had access to some printing presses and printed some pretty … we tried to keep the packages as low cost as possible. We were just burning CDRs and hand stamping them. I think I burned every single CD we sold, and hand stamped them, and stuffed them in a little, vinyl sleeve with cardboard inserts.
IH: So, you really did all the work on it yourself.
Nils: Yeah, yeah, it was, in a way, a labor of love. It was really kind of cool, selling different things to so many different places.
IH: And then Saddle Creek – that was born out of SXSW.
Nils: We sort of started talking to them before we went to SXSW, but we didn't actually meet them and hang out with them until we got down there.
IH: I've seen your music referred to as indie-rock or alt-country. What do you consider it?
Nils: I have such a hard time answering that. I think we've always had that problem. We come from very eclectic backgrounds. Like, me personally, I just have a really wide taste in music. It kinda runs the gamut. Paul comes from a … he grew up on hip-hop and stuff like that. And he loves electronic music so he … we just come from very different backgrounds. In a way, the music reflects that. It comes from very … it kind of straddles everything. I've heard indie-pop, indie-rock, punk-folk, alt-country, rustic-pop was one of the ones I heard. I guess it's a good thing. It's not like, standard run-of-the-mill indie-rock. I guess it's kind of good. A lot of times, it's like, "you just gotta hear it." I can't explain it.
IH: Did you grow up in a very musical household?
Nils: Uh, no. Really, I was the only one in my family that took music lessons and stuff like that. My brother was more into sports. My sister was working. Yeah, I was the only one. My parents sorta put me in music appreciation, at a very young age. I'm not even really sure why. I guess maybe they saw something like, "Oh yeah, he likes to do music-y things," or something like that. From day one, as far back as I can remember, I was in some sort of music appreciation. In playschool, there was music appreciation. Then I took piano probably in kindergarten. For some reason, I never really got too far in it because I think I just played by ear and I never really wanted to practice. It was an asset having all that experience at a young age, but looking back … well, maybe I didn't waste my parents' money. Looking back it kind of felt like it. (Whispering) "I'm not practicing. We should really stop this. Who are we fooling here?"
IH: I read that you have an engineering degree …
Nils: (Interjecting) Where did you read that?! Where did you read that? I've been trying to keep that under wraps! That makes me look like a nerd or something!
IH: I thought it was so cool! But I love nerdy people. That actually increases your cool points.
Nils: I'm actually … I'm not just some sort of lackadaisical musician. So initially, before I moved out to Toronto, I was living in Edmonton and I went to university there. I got my degree in computer engineering, and then moved out here. It's funny, as much as music was always a part of my life, I don't think I ever, up until now – even now I'm kind of scared about making music a career. It's fraught with … there's so many casualties along the way. I don't think I ever really had the balls to just go into a music degree, so I went into something fairly safe and structured. It's funny because a lot of people don't realize, and they're like, "What do you do? You temp or something like that?" and it's like, "Nah, just working for a computer manufacturer right now." So, it's been okay so far. I really am kinda getting stressed out about the amount of time I need to take off. I really only told them part of the story so far, so … in terms of the time I need to take of for this month. I don't know. At some point, when the Saddle Creek thing started to happen, I sort of just let things happen. I was talking to a friend of mine. He was telling me about a guy he met. He realized he was living his life in a very controlled, structured, I guess, an engineering sort of way: always in control about everything. In some ways, impeding his ability to just live life and let it happen. So, I think, given how things have been going so far, I, in a way, just want to let them happen, and not prevent them from happening. I'm the type of person that's like, "No! I can't take this time off work! Impossible!" The things that are happening right now are just such a great opportunity. I've been trying my best to just lift up my feet a bit and just let things happen, because you only get an opportunity like this once. And most people don't even get that, so we're just doing our best to enjoy it and make the most of it.
IH: It sounds like at some point you're planning on returning to your job.
Nils: It's a bad time to be unemployed. (Laughing)
IH: Definitely, of course.
Nils: It would be really nice to be able to balance the two worlds. Unfortunately, the music obligations are getting more and more intense. Like, these last couple weeks have been … so many tour plans and stuff. It just feels like it's a matter of time before they're like, "You know what? I just don't think it's working out now." But we'll see.
IH: How long is this tour?
Nils: This one is for a month. Then when we get back, we're going back for two weeks, then there's another week planned, then back for a week, and I think a lot of August and September is kind of bookmarked for trying to get on some support tours and stuff like that. That's what our booker is hoping for.
IH: How long have you been at your job?
Nils: I've been here … I've been in Toronto since 2002, so almost 7 years. It took a while when I first moved here to find something.
IH: That's something you want to hold on to, it sounds like. You've been there quite a while.
Nils: It would be nice. At the same time, I can't pass up on this opportunity. You know?
IH: Of course. How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?
Nils: I'm actually 30 right now. Going to university sort of pushed off any like, "I'm just going to do the band thing." And so I feel like I maybe got a late start. At the same time, it sort of like, it doesn't feel as intense. We're doing this because we enjoy it and it's fun, not like, "Guys, I gotta pay rent. Let's work on a new album," or something.
My girlfriend and I just moved in together and we were initially thinking, "We should go buy a place!" and then all this stuff happened, and we were like, "Oh my god. If I lose my job …" Music is just, very hit and miss sometimes. Having a mortgage would be just be … that would just be another level of stress. I'm already sort of stressed enough as it is. But I think once we get on the road it's gonna be … like, I'm really looking forward to the whole tour. It's gonna be … it's gonna be different. I don't know. I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it. I don't see any reason why I wouldn't. I've never not enjoyed any short tours that we've had. It's gonna be surreal, I guess.
IH: Have you begun writing any new songs?
Nils: We've got quite a few that are in some stages of being polished off. I think it's really good that we've gotten so many people that are really loving Hometowns, but at the same time, it's also, it kind of puts this pressure on us, too. And we're always hard on ourselves. We have a lot of songs that we just don't feel like they're ready enough yet, like they're at that level that we're happy with, like the songs on Hometowns. Say, a song like "Frank, (AB)" we had that song for a while and we were playing it one way or another. We never played it live because we were just like, "It just doesn't feel right. There's not that thing that clicks in it." Where it's like, "Yeah, this makes sense. We are excited about this now." So, "Frank," we played around with it. We worked so hard on it. And finally, it just cracked, in a way. We felt victorious, like "This is the way it should be. Let's do this." A lot of it was patience and perseverance. We have a lot of songs we're excited about, we just need to tweak 'em so we feel like they're on that level. It's not like we're just sitting around being lazy.
IH: Do you have any songs completed that you're going to play on this tour?
Nils: I think there might be one new song. But we've been playing that one for a while and it's a short one. A lot of these places, we've never even played before. Um no, actually, none of these places we've ever played before. So, yeah, we're mostly gonna be focusing on playing the stuff off of Hometowns. We still love it. We aren't tired of it and we've never performed it for any of these people before.
IH: What are a few of your favorite bands?
Nils: I'm trying to think … like I said, I have got a really wide taste in music. I think, going back, I listened to a lot of Leonard Cohen growing up. I like a lot of Canadian artists. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Hayden?
Nils: He's a Canadian singer/songwriter. He's really great. He's been doing it for like, probably 12 years now. So, he was a big part of high school, growing up. I really, really enjoy his stuff. Another really great Canadian album that I seriously cannot get enough of is … are you familiar with The Tragically Hip?
Nils: Okay, so they're a crazy huge band in Canada. But the lead singer, Gord Downie, he released a solo album called Coke Machine Glow. To me, it's one of my favorite albums. There's something about it. There are a lot of Canadian references in it. Actually, there's a lot of Ontario references and stuff. That's an album I can never get enough of. Same thing with M. Ward, Transfiguration of Vincent was just … I can't imagine not listening to that album. It seems like it will never get old. And I like the standard things. I think I really always gravitate to singer/songwriter stuff. The melody is sort of front and center. It's what draws me in, vocal melodies. And obviously, Neutral Milk as well. That's probably one of the big ones just because there's something great about it.
IH: Are you guys performing in Florida anytime?
Nils: I'm not sure right now. In August, we're going to do an east coast thing, but I don't know if we're gonna get down that far, but we'd really like to. I hear it's fairly balmy down there.
IH: Wow, balmy is putting it nicely. (Laughing) August is pretty torturous.
Nils: Oh, really?
IH: Well, if you're playing outside, but you probably won't be. You'll probably be in an indoor, air-conditioned venue.
Nils: Then that would be nice.
IH: But it is nice to get out and go to the beach and stuff. Living here is a little rough.
Nils: I'd like to get down there. This tour, I'm really happy to see all these places that I've never seen before and never been to, so hopefully we'll get down to Florida. I'm not sure yet though.
IH: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We're really looking forward to hearing anything you guys do in the future.
Nils: See, there's that pressure again!
IH: I guess the second album is the one everyone is most nervous about.
Nils: Yeah, yeah. But we're trying not to focus on it too much. We're obviously working on more stuff, but we've had this album out personally … we put it out in early 2008. So for us, we really love the songs and we really love playing them, so I don't see that changing, but at the same time, we want to prove that it's not just a one-off type thing.
IH: It sounds like you guys are probably your own harshest critics.
Nils: Yeah, yeah. I think we're pretty tough on ourselves. But I guess there's a benefit to that, too.
IH: Yep, the songs are really good. That's the benefit.
Nils: Well, thank you very much.
IH: Well, it was really nice speaking with you. Good luck on the tour. Be careful and have a good time.
Nils: We will try our best to be safe. You have no idea how many times my girlfriend has told me that. Thank you, Anisa. It was really nice talking to you.
To learn more about The Rural Alberta Advantage, check out their website at www.theraa.com/index.html or their myspace at www.myspace.com/theraa.
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