The Rural Alberta Advantage

By Adam Marofke

Momentum just keeps building for the Rural Alberta Advantage. Their debut LP, Hometowns, rode a slow building wave of success and ended up on several best-of lists for 2009. This year, the trio of Paul Banwatt, Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole returned with their sophomore effort Departing, a companion piece to their debut.

“They are definitely meant to connect and to be two sides to the same story,” explains Cole. “It’s the continuation and also the conclusion of the themes and ideas from Hometowns.”

Cole explained that unlike many of the songs found on Hometowns, which the band had been playing together for years before recording, the tracks that make up Departing were often works in progress.

“We toured a lot in the last year-and-a-half to two years, and we were trying to incorporate the writing of songs as we went along,” says Cole. “Then, once we thought they were ready, we would try to work them in to the set.”

However, many of the songs that emerged while on the road had quite a different feel once the group got in to the studio to record Departing.

” ‘Tornado’ is a really good example I can think of, where we were playing that live for months with Nils playing it on the keyboard, and then when it came time to record, Nils just switched over to guitar in the studio and completely changed the song into what I think was a much better song,” explains Cole.

The band is currently on tour supporting this new batch of tunes and have just made their third appearance at the week-long music and arts festival South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“We had a really good time,” says Cole. “We played five parties in the day and then we had our headlining showcase on the Saturday night at the central Presbyterian Church, where we had our first ever South by Southwest show back in 2009.”

Despite the busy schedule, the band did have the opportunity to soak up some of the other shows that were taking place across town.

“Paul and I did get to go see Yoko Ono after the show on Saturday, which was really incredible– definitely memorable for me,” says Cole.

You might expect that a small Canadian band, singing songs about rural Alberta, would have a tough time connecting to audiences far removed from the themes, yet this is decidedly not the case.

“Probably the best show we have ever played,” says Cole, discussing a recent show in Minneapolis. “The crowd was just amazing, the venue was amazing and we just had an incredible time.”

While the RAA can always bet on strong showings in Alberta and across Canada, the band has been taken aback by the big, enthusiastic crowds south of the border.

“It’s really cool when the audience members are yelling the words back at you, it’s always kind of a surprise,” says Cole. “It’s really insane to think that we can go to these cities in the States and have people know all the words.”

The strong American reception is really indicative that the band’s reach is growing beyond the regionalistic themes that dominate their music. The success gives the group the chance to continue expanding their sound, while sharing the experience of rural Alberta with crowds across the world.

“We are looking forward to exploring new territory and new themes in the music, and I’m really excited to see what happens next,” says Cole.

But does this mean the group has outgrown their Alberta roots?

“I don’t think that will truly ever happen,” he says. “Nils always says you can’t take the Alberta out of the boy.”

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