Author: Alec Wooden
So I only get two words to describe The Rural Alberta Advantage? Easy. Hometowns and Departing. The former is the title of the Canadian trio's 2008 full-length debut, and it paints an apt portrait of the band's indie-folk sound which grew organically from open mic jams and close friendships in Toronto. The latter is the title of the sophomore effort (released two weeks ago via Saddle Creek) and pulls equally appropriate imagery some three years later, encapsulating their movement onward and upward in a mature sound that bears lessons learned since hitting the road. Departing, and the band behind it, is quietly and confidently ready for the next step. Nils Edenloff chats about his band's growth, their tour tricks, and where the road may lead next.Where have you seen the most growth musically within the band between Hometowns and the new record, Departing?Nild Edenloff: It's in all facets, really. Knowing what we learned from Hometowns and trying to put it towards the recording of Departing I think was just hugely important. Recording Hometowns, we still hadn't played all that many shows and were learning a lot in the studio - and over the course of touring the record, we got better at realizing what our strengths an weaknesses were. Departing tries to showcase those things that we've learned over the last couple of years. We did our best to try and stretch the songs out a little more. The songs on Hometowns sort of stop short when they get going, in a way. So we tried to not have a problem with repeating things over again and what not (laughs). I think this one has some more sweet moments on it, but it has the energy in there that Hometowns did, too.A title like Departing obviously evokes some imagery of the road, movement, expansion, etc. Were the songs written during the Hometowns tours? Are you able to write on the road as a rule?NE: It's kind of difficult to write on the road for me especially. The way I sing can tend to be a little hard on my voice, so any additional singing or working on songs on the road isn't good for the long term touring. But a lot of the songs in a way came from the same sort of place as Hometowns. I've always seen these record as being companion pieces, in a way. Some of the songs on Departing were around during the sessions for Hometowns, we just didn't find a way to make them work at the time. So we too our time to rebuild stuff, and go back and rewrite and revise stuff to make sure it's on par with the other stuff we do. And those revisions and what not happened [in a live setting] on the road ? but it's hard to say where they came from initially.Have you found a default muse as a songwriter?NE: I've never been able to figure out when or why a moment strikes. More than anything, when you're writing music, it's trying to be open to whatever may come at you and just being ready for that. I guess sometimes when I'm emotionally bummed out stuff tends to flow more often, and it's just trying to capture those moments when they come around ? but at the same time trying not too push them too much. I don't like the idea of trying to force songs. They work out better when an idea takes its time to come out of you, in a way. That's sort of the process for the songs in a way. They may begin as a fully formed idea or just a portion, and then typically Paul and I will work out the rhythms and stuff, and then the three of us will get together and build the whole thing back up. So it's a lot of stripping the songs down to their core elements and then building them back up. Nothing is sacred in terms of trying to do the best thing for the song.What are some tricks that have made life on the road a bit easier for you?NE: Amy is pretty good about finding places in each city ? she does her research on cool local restaurants and shops and stuff, so we're not always pulling up and going to a Subway or a McDonalds (laughs). That's cool because it breaks up the monotony of the tour.Perhaps putting your own Canadian hometown aside, have you noticed any general differences between Canadian and American crowds?NE: I don't know if we've gone to cities enough times to know things like 'Oh ya, the guys in Pittsburgh?totally like this' (laughs) or just to know the ins and outs of areas. You never know if maybe it was just a cold night and people weren't into it, and maybe we just didn't put on the best show that we could. It's hard to tell for sure until you've been to a place enough times to know how the fans usually are.Do you read the papers, the blogs, the critics? How aware are you of what's being said about RAA? It's hard for anyone to avoid these days, and I imagine artists aren't immune to that.NE: I think people would be lying if they said they didn't [read them]. Whether or not they should be, I don't know. I try my best not to, but I'm obsessed about trying to know what everyone is thinking about the record and if everyone is liking it. And if people do [criticize your work] you take it hard. So it's that sort of masochistic thing (laughs) and I don't know why I would subject myself to it. So far, with Hometowns, people have always said really nice things. So when we hear one negative thing it sort of casts a shadow. The album got leaked a couple weeks ago and a lot of the initial reaction was essentially, 'Oh, it's not what I expected' or 'Oh, it's not Hometowns' and that can be hard to hear. But at the same time, it got released on iTunes and now we've heard better things and people having good responses to it, and those people who had bad responses now thinking it's kind of a grower.I've seen you guys live, and it's clear on stage that you guys are very close friends. Were you as close before the band really began in earnest, or have the bonds mostly cemented since then?NE: The band started from an open mic night, so we never really got together to start a band. We more or less were just friends who were hanging out at an open mic night and this eventually started happening and we started playing more. We've always been friends first and foremost, and then the music happened from that. That translates on stage, because we do respect each other a lot. At the same time, when you're with the same people for any amount of time, you might go a little crazy at times, but the fact that we're all friends makes it a little bit easier.What's the hardest part about being a young indie band right now?NE: It's hard for bands to make a living. I'm actually at my job right now (laughs). I work a day job when I'm not on tour because I don't make enough money from the band yet. But at the same time, we've gotten to a point I never would have expected we could have gotten to. So because of the internet there are so many people finding out about bands there are so many people get to live their dreams in some way, whether or not you've living off of it. The pie is just as big as it was before, but now there's a better chance a band like us can get at least a small sliver of that pie. I don't believe we would have gotten a chance to do what we're doing ten years ago.The Rural Alberta Advantage with Night Driving in Small Towns, Book Club. $10. 8:30 p.m. Tues., Mar. 15. The Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.