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The Rural Alberta Advantage

rural alberta

The Rural Alberta Advantage is an indie rock band who, contrary to their name, were formed in Toronto in 2005. The lead vocalist and guitarist, Nils Edenloff, originally made the band with Paul Banwatt on drums, and Amy Cole on keyboards and bass. Regarding how the band met, they said they “hosted an open stage at The Winchester in Cabbagetown.” The name comes from Edenloff’s brother who was planning to explore “the rural Alberta advantage” by spending time with family near Donalda, Alberta as they had in their childhood. Over the next decade, they quietly built themselves a passionate fan-base in Canada. They toured extensively all over and playing shows at the Pop Montreal and Halifax Pop explosion festivals, supporting hometowns.

 

Coincidentally, Hometowns is the name of their beloved 2008 debut album, which boasted lively folk-rock and ecstatic sing-alongs. The band was in eMusic’s featured artist of the month, as well as Aux.tv, CBC Radio 3 and Exclaim! They signed on to Saddle Creek Records and Hometowns was re-released by the label. Their second LP, Departing, was a nominee for the 2011 Polaris Music prize. Their third album Mended with Gold was featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered list for the top albums of September. In a few years, they went from “Canada’s best-unsigned band” to sold-out tours and recognition with a featured coverage from Spin Magazine, New York Times, Pitchfork and the Rolling Stone. They made the nominations for two 2012 Juno awards for Best New Group, and Video of the Year for their song “Stamp.” 

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While they were making waves with their music, in September of 2016, the multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole announced her farewells to the fans on their website. In her farewell letter, she said “It has been an honour to visit your cities and countries and towns and festivals, and to perform for you and meet you and talk and take pictures and laugh and sometimes cry with you. These are all moments I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and I’ll always be grateful to you for listening to our band and giving us the gift of the last eleven years.”

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The band then picked up Robin Hatch and soon announced a fourth studio album, which would be the first and only album without Amy. Between that though they released “White Lights” and “Beacon Hill,” which assured everyone that all is still well, even with the reformatted lineup. When the fourth album released, they showed that they still maintained their familiar nostalgic themes of saying goodbye to friends and family in search of a new feeling. Their foundation is on Edenloff’s memories of growing up in Alberta and leaving Fort McMurray. 

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Beacon Hill is a reference to the wildfires that ravaged Fort McMurray in 2016. What’s interesting is that initially Edenloff wasn’t inspired by the events, rather the song organically became about the event. “I feel like inspiration tends to come at the oddest of times and sometimes it’s hard to pin down exactly what impact certain events have on the songs that ultimately come together. It’s not like I was watching the news of the Fort McMurray fire and thought, “there needs to be a song about this,” however as we were working on what would ultimately become “Beacon Hill,” a lot of thoughts I had about the fire kept coming up, and it became more apparent what the song was about for me.” 

In terms of their inspirations, the band members have listed a few that shaped their role in the band. Paul Banwatt has mentioned The Dodos saying “I could pick 30 Dodos songs. The guitar/drum/vocal interplay is always so perfect and beautiful.” Nils mentions a few including Gordon Lightfoot and The Walkmen saying “I’ve been a fan of The Walkmen from the very beginning however You & Me is probably one of my favourites. The whole record has this feeling of emptiness and distance; it also feels like an intentionally mature step forward from the noisiness of the earlier records.” Finally, Robin has mentioned Rush, specifically “Subdivisions,” saying “Not sure there exists a better use of the synth bass pedal. And what a keyboard solo! Coming from the Toronto suburbs myself, I feel very close to this song lyrically, and I do love a smooth time signature change.” 

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Their fourth album, “The Wild” is rather bleaker in comparison to their other work. However, their tunes remain catchy, and their song structure remains strong. Banwatt continues to prove his worth as a fine yet underrated drummer by routinely turning the band’s rootsy tendencies into rowdy barnyard stomps. Together with Edenloff, they create probably the band’s best song on “Dead/Alive” with undeniable high-energy and a cathartic chorus. “Toughen Up” though, contrasts the loudness with shimmering textures and electronic sounds added to their usual acoustic guitar and sustained keyboard and drums. Hatch’s bass and background vocals stay true to Amy Cole’s contributions, though she didn’t end up staying for long.

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In January of 2018, the band announced that Amy would be returning to reprise her role, which meant that Robin was leaving. The band thanked her for her efforts and said “Robin’s been a friend for a long time and is just an unbelievable musician and creative force. She’s helped push us in new directions, and her voice and musicianship is really apparent in our new material.” While since Amy’s return, they have not yet made a new album together, the old crew is keeping on with their old habits and playing on tour. Most notably they’re playing on August 2nd, to 17th and September 13th. Going from the 2019 Pigeon Lake Music Festival, Area 506 and George Street Festival playing with City and Colour, to the Peterborough Music Fest with The Elwins and finally the Supercrawl festival in Hamilton.

Amir Amini