You just never know, until you know.
Toronto-based band, The Rural Alberta Advantage, is not incredibly well-known in the States, and the question is overheard in West Hollywood outside The Roxy, “Are they any good live?
She enters the venue, settles in amidst passionate fans getting their mid-week drink on, and, even before they start, her question is answered: this is gonna rock.
Clapping greets the band’s arrival, first as welcoming applause and then as rhythmic accompaniment as the band throws down with “Stamp.”
“The hardest thing about this love is that it’s never gonna last
The hardest thing about this love is that you’re never coming back”
Immediately striking is the infectious nature of their individual and collective passion. The drums are whacked in that way that Dave Grohl does, swinging through the toms. When Paul Banwatt hits those skins…they stay hit. He does so with mouth agape about 70% of the time, a trait that must be a bit hazardous when playing those outdoor shows during festival season. Amy Cole is absolutely adorable, to say the least, and when she’s temporarily free from the burdens of her keyboard work, she dances around the entire stage and infectiously displays one undeniable feeling: pure joy. And then there’s the front man, Nils Edenloff, who looks something like that guy that teaches jazz to Renee Zellweger‘s kid in “Jerry Maguire,” if that guy had a vein bulging as he rocks and emotes at levels reached by Jeff Buckley and few others.
“Muscle Relaxants” follows at breakneck speed, Cole’s Nord keyboards functioning as a bass as a guy passes out. It’s not even the 3rd song and people are already being removed due to over-stimulation.
There’s something prophetic and poetic in their slightly tuned down vocals, a sensibility that wafts somewhere between Hayden and The Weakerthans. As Edenloff sings into the ear piece of an old rotary phone handset converted into a mic, there’s no longer any doubt: The RAA is “gonna steal your heart.”
They do so with foot stomping and tom thumping, with the power of loud and quiet, with the ability to toe that fateful line between heart-wrought truths and sappiness without crossing to the dark and syrup-y side. They somehow manage to address most of the emotional spectrum in an all-too-brief amount of time, leaving on a high note as they say “Good Night,” quietly and intimately.
We stream out, smiling but wanting more.
And, via the magic of the Internet, here it is:
Weeping Elvis: As Canadians, what are the biggest challenges you face in touring in the States?
Paul: We’ve been really lucky, in that we’ve had support from places like eMusic on our first record, iTunes, sessions like Daytrotter, and obviously our label Saddle Creek. I think some bands find it hard to get noticed in the US. And it’s frustrating, because obviously successful US bands usually do just fine in Canada. But, for us I think we just feel very grateful that people have noticed us and have given our music a chance down here. We visit new places, like San Diego on this tour, and play to a room full of new people, and it’s almost overwhelming that there are people there that know our music, singing along.
Have you felt any direct benefit from Canada’s content requirements? Indirect? How much impact do you think that and infrastructure like the CBC have in fostering the development of indie music in Canada?
Paul: There’s no doubt that CanCon rules help Canadian bands like us break through; they force content providers to look harder at what’s going on locally. It also makes Canada feel smaller, like one spread-out scene. Getting support from CBC lets a band build an audience all across the country, no matter where you’re from. I also think that financial support of the arts by government has been a big part of the reason Canada’s music scene is so strong.
Many of The RAA’s songs explore emotional territory. Is there any strategy or approach you employ when crafting a song to tug at heartstrings without becoming sappy or overwrought?
Nils: I’ve always been drawn to personal songs that move me so I guess ultimately I’m trying to write music that I truly like.
Often when I’m working on a song I’m usually searching for that moment where the song personally moves me. If a song doesn’t connect with me when I’m writing and performing it then I can’t really expect it to move someone who might be listening at home or in the crowd.
As for a making a song too sappy I think its a more a gut feel and there is a line that you either feel comfortable crossing or you don’t.
I won’t lie, at times when I was working on the lyrics for Mended with Gold I was a little worried that I may be treading close to that line, but, I think ultimately there is a certain sense of honesty and earnestness within the songs to steer it far clear of that territory.
Recognizing that you’ve just released new material, when does your writing process begin? Or, does it never really begin because it never really ends?
Nils: I’d definitely say the writing process never truly ends.
There is always something strange about writing. You never know when a melody or lyrical idea is going to strike you and sometimes you just need to be ready when the moment comes.
Every now and then a song comes like a bolt of lightening but often, for me at least, there is a long gestational period. Over time you collect these memories, thoughts and song ideas which end up either developing into full songs or being absorbed by other songs.
On Mended with Gold there are several songs with roots going back to our earliest days as a band. Sometimes it takes a while for a song to click or to bring it to its full realization.
So in the same sense that the writing process is never done a song is never truly finished until we’re ultimately happy with it.
Are there any particular artists you’ve been listening to as you spend hours upon hours driving across North America?
Paul: I like talk radio podcasts when I drive. I subject everyone to hours and hours of Radiolab.
Leafs or Oilers?
Paul: I love the Leafs a lot. Amy is a long-suffering fan too. But we’re Toronto-area kids. Nils, to the extent he’s a hockey fan, is an Oilers fan. It’s his hometown! (Which also hopefully addresses the persistent rumors that our band “isn’t really from Alberta”).
What have you learned about the business / your art / yourselves since writing and touring in support that you wish you knew before embarking upon the journey? Was any of that reflected in Mended With Gold?
Amy: From the very beginning, we learned that a big part of what people like about us is our live show. We are lucky to have loyal fans that have been following us since the Hometowns days, and will come see us every time we visit their city. That means a lot to us. So for this record, we made a concerted effort to try and give it the sound and feel that our live performances do. We did this in part by having our live sound engineer, Matt Lederman, come to the studio with us and co-produce Mended With Gold (along with Leon Taheny). We tried to capture a bigger, fuller sound that was still authentically the three of us.
Another thing we’ve learned is how to really listen to each other and make our lives together as a band as harmonious as possible. I think that’s reflected on the record as well; it’s the most collaborative thing we’ve ever done and we’re all very proud of it.