Alberta is often recognized for its prairies and rolling Rocky Mountains. The mix of smooth and jagged landscapes allows artists to draw inspiration from the place so many of us call home. Who doesn’t love a friendly reminder of Alberta’s beauty?
Well, The Rural Alberta Advantage is no exception.
Nils Edenloff, lead vocalist and guitarist, was born in Edmonton and completed high school in Fort McMurray before finding his way back to Edmonton to complete an engineering degree at the University of Alberta.
Like most recent university graduates, Edenloff found himself standing at a crossroads, deciding between using his hard-earned degree and following his dream.
“I thought, well, I could just be doing the same old thing day-in-day-out, wake up in 10 years and nothing would change. Or, I could move out to Toronto, live the dream, and start a band,” says Edenloff.
It was in Toronto that The Rural Alberta Advantage was formed. Like a lot of aspiring bands, things got started with a couple of friends, a lot of spare time, and the promise of free beer.
Former bandmate Amy Cole was hosting a steadily declining open mic night at a local bar, which is where she, Edenloff, and drummer Paul Banwatt first started playing together.
“Paul and I were like, ‘We’ve got nothing better to do, no girlfriends right now, and they’re giving us free beer to hang out,’” says Edenloff.
Although the bar eventually closed down, it opened a new door for the trio, and The Rural Alberta Advantage was formed in 2005.
Originally a five-person act made up mostly of Albertans, The Rural Alberta Advantage played what Edenloff remembers as one “terrible” show that left only Banwatt, Cole, and himself to carry the band. Beaten down at first, the trio continued playing together. They soon realized that something worked with just the three of them, and that it was something special.
Twelve years later, Edenloff claims not much is different. “The template of the band hasn’t changed too much. It’s still a guy singing really loud on the acoustic guitar, and Paul making a lot of noise on the drums,” he says.
The biggest change was the loss of founding member Cole last year.
“We spent a large portion of our lives in a van and a practice space with Amy. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. And it’s just like the end of any long-term relationship and getting used to somebody else,” says Edenloff.
This year has been a “learning curve” for the group as new member Robin Hatch joined in 2016. A member of the same music scene in Toronto and a friend of Banwatt’s for the past decade, Hatch was no stranger to The Rural Alberta Advantage, something that made her an easy choice when looking for a new member.
The Rural Alberta Advantage’s new album, The Wild, was released Oct. 13. For Edenloff, the album is about reflection.
“All my friends and siblings are having kids, and it’s one of those things where you step back and look at the big picture. I guess we’re sort of pondering things that we didn’t have to think about 10 years ago, (like) the mark you’re leaving,” says Edenloff.
While on tour this past year, the bandmates made the decision to road test some new songs — “White Lights,” “Beacon Hill,” and “Brother” — before releasing them as singles. The Wild is about coming to terms with the way the band has changed over the years. Testing out some new material was important for Edenloff because he sees it as a throwback to how The Rural Alberta Advantage started out.
“We weren’t just instantly picked up, signed, and told to write songs. We were slumming around Toronto, playing as many places as we could possibly play, and honing those songs before we ever started to record them,” says Edenloff. “They already have (this) sort of ‘road tested-ness’ to them.”
The Rural Alberta Advantage has strong roots tying it to Alberta, with Edmonton being Edenloff’s hometown. He has always seen Alberta as his home, largely because his family is here.
“I obviously left for a reason, and I didn’t appreciate some of the things that Alberta was offering at the time. I feel like it’s one of those things where you move away and you kind of look back fondly with these rose-coloured glasses, like, ‘Oh man, that was such a good time’,” says Edenloff.
Of course, there are some iconic Edmonton hotspots that hold a special place in his heart.
“A lot of places I could list off, I think, ‘Oh, that doesn’t exist anymore. Oh, and neither does that,’” laughs Edenloff. “But I still have super fond memories of going to The Black Dog back in the day. I know that’s still here! It would be a crime if that ever disappeared.”
“I guess we’re sort of pondering things that we didn’t have to think about 10 years ago, (like) the mark you’re leaving.”
The Rural Alberta Advantage plays two shows in Edmonton at Union Hall on Nov. 29 and 30 during the tour promoting The Wild. For the band’s members, an important aspect of live shows is to ensure that each song can exist as a stand-alone and is slightly different from what is heard on the record. Each song changes and moves when played live, and this is what leads Edenloff to describe their live show as a tightrope walk.
“Robin is doing a ton, my hands are full, Paul’s hands are full … if any one of us slips up, it’s very apparent. We’re all just giving it our all. There’s a danger that’s always kind of inherently there, and that’s why people want to see a tightrope walker — and hopefully us!” says Edenloff.
The one thing that will never get old for Edenloff? Hearing a room full of people sing back words that he had scribbled down years ago in a bedroom in Toronto. Playing at The Needle Vinyl Tavern last year with a completely shot voice, Edenloff remembers how the entire room sang along with him. It wasn’t because they had to, but because everyone there wanted to be a part of the event.
“None of this lasts forever, and we appreciate every single moment that we’re playing in front of anybody. Every show is special,” says Edenloff.
Photography by Matthew Jacula.