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The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage: Northern Exposure

story by tim mcmahan


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Lazy-i: July 9, 2009

The Rural Alberta Advantage
w/ Dave Dondero, UUVVWWZ
Wednesday, July 15, 9 p.m.
Slowdown Jr.
729 14th St.

Nils Edenloff was on the phone, calling from -- of all places -- Alberta, Canada.

But then again, where else would the lead singer of a band called The Rural Alberta Advantage be calling from?

"We're just outside of Calgary on our way to Lethbridge," Edenloff said after he pulled the tour van to the side of the road for the interview. "We're wrapping the last of our Alberta shows -- this is the sixth one. I'll be honest with you; this is the first time I've ever played in Alberta, other than high school bands."

Edenloff hasn't lived in Alberta since he moved to Toronto a little over seven years ago. In fact, The Rural Alberta Advantage -- or simply The RAA -- was conceived in Toronto, born out of a series of open-mic nights in the city's oldest and now-defunct bar -- The Winchester. It was there that he and band mates Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole first met and found their voices.

"Paul and Amy were in a band together before this whole thing started," Edenloff said. "One of the other guys in the band was hosting an open-mic night and I joined them. It was very depressing because no one would come. We had to play hours of covers to just make it through the night to pay our $50 tab."

But it was at those shows back in 2005 that Edenloff said the core of The RAA's musical style -- "acoustic, folky songs with a lot of percussion mixed in" -- began to emerge. "Playing those open-mic nights was such an important thing for us to figure out what we were doing," he said. "From there I got the confidence to develop the way that I'm singing now."



The band's name is an homage to Edenloff's upbringing in the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and a play on the province's now-retired slogan which he grew up hearing: "The Alberta Advantage" -- sort of like Tim Kasher's homage to Nebraska -- The Good Life.

The RAA followed the typical rock-n-roll boilerplate, self-releasing an EP in 2006, followed by a full-length in 2008 called Hometowns. Edenloff said they played throughout Eastern Canada and the Ontario region when late in 2008 prominent online music store eMusic featured The RAA as its artist of the month for November. That was followed by Hometowns being named Album of the Year on influential Canadian blog Chromewaves.

Then came South by Southwest. By then, The RAA's booker already had been in touch with a number of labels, including Saddle Creek Records. "So many good things happened (at SXSW)," Edenloff said. "We played in front of (super-hot indie band) Grizzly Bear, did some day shows and met with Saddle Creek Records for the first time."

He can't put his finger on why the band ultimately signed with Saddle Creek. "I don't know if it's the Omaha thing, but they just seemed like great guys to work with," he said. "And it helped that they'd snatched up a bunch of Canadian bands (including Tokyo Police Club). In terms of indie labels, they're really respected without having that soul-sucking nature."

After signing, Saddle Creek's first act was to rerelease Hometowns, which dropped just this past Tuesday. The album is loaded with simple, hook-filled songs about life and living in rural Canada, fleshed out with trippy, bright rhythms for a sound that resides somewhere between Death Cab for Cutie, Deer Tick and Neutral Milk Hotel.

Underlying their music is a pastoral message that recalls the simplicity of the land that spawned it. That said, The RAA's sound is anything but rural, though that hasn't stopped the press from pigeonholing them as a folksy Canadian band. Edenloff doesn't mind.

"If we wanted to avoid that stereotype, we would have picked a different subject matter and not made it so obvious," he said. "I was born in Alberta and I'm proud I was there. I feel like it's had an effect on who I am and the songs I bring to the band. We're all really proud to be Canadian."

And now The RAA is sharing that love with the lower 48, having only received their visas at the beginning of the year. In fact, the show that brings them to Omaha will be the last show of their first-ever month-long tour.

"It's the longest we've been on the road," Edenloff said. "We've done a week here and there before, but nothing like this. Omaha is a great way to end our first big little tour."

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Published in The Omaha Reader July 9, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
















The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns

"I was born in Alberta and I'm proud I was there. I feel like it's had an effect on who I am and the songs I bring to the band. We're all really proud to be Canadian."