Interview with The Rural Alberta Advantage

Note: The following interview is also featured on SFist.
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As previously discussed, we are eagerly anticipating The Rural Alberta Advantage's return to to San Francisco tomorrow night. We recently had the chance to catch up with singer Nils Edenloff via phone, where we talked to him about his bands debut Hometowns, their signing to Omaha's Saddle Creek, the Frank Slide and more.

The Rural Alberta Advtange plays Bottom of the Hill tomorrow night (12/16) with Sonny & The Sunsets and The Shaky Hands. Tickets are $10.

Your last San Francisco show landed on quite a big week for you guys. Saddle Creek had just re-released your 2008 debut Hometowns, and Pitchfork had given you that big 8.0 review. The response from the audience that night was really remarkable -- I imagine it was quite a change from the Toronto open mic nights where the band got its start. How has this transition from local favorites to must-see touring act been for you guys?

It’s been really fun! [laughs] I think we have all just been really excited about the response we have gotten -- it sort of amps us up when we are playing. I think everyone in music, they hope that they will play for a responsive crowd that is really into it, really excited for the music. And now that this is happening -- it hasn’t diminished how much we enjoy it.

But we have said before in different interviews, Bottom of the Hill was one of our favorite shows. It was such an amazing response. Hopefully our hopes aren’t too high for coming back again.

I actually first caught wind of your guys last spring, shortly after you were picked up by Omaha's Saddle Creek. Ever since they released Cursive's Domestica, it has been a label I really follow. How did you initially hook up with them?

South by Southwest was actually the first time we met them. We played a show opening up for Grizzly Bear, and then there was a day party we had the next day. We knew they were going to the day party, but actually had no idea they were at the Grizzly Bear show. So they came to that and we started talking the next day – that’s sort of when things started happening.

They actually found out about us through our booker, who had just started working for us. We had assumed they were buds, but when we actually got down to South by Southwest our booker was also meeting them for the first time. So it didn’t feel like a “dude I’ll do you a favor” type thing -- they legitimately enjoyed it, and wanted to put it out.

It was great, especially since the album was out -- at that point it had been cycled around the internet, and we had been selling a hand stamped CD burned copy for about a year then. We just wanted to totally put it out.

That is the crazy thing about Hometowns. On one hand, the album is over a year old, and some of the tracks actually date back to your 2006 EP. But for the majority of us, this is all fairly new material. How has playing these older songs been for you guys, and can we expect any new material on this tour?

It is something we have been asked a lot, in terms of “you guys have been playing this a lot, are you guys getting tired of it?” I think the fact that we are playing it for people who have either wanted to see us for a while and are now seeing us for the first time or people that just found out about us, it still makes it fresh and exciting.

A lot of playing shows is that interaction with the audience, and when you get it back from them it makes for a special night. So its not like we are tired playing the old songs – we are still happy doing that. But we are also hoping to have a bunch of new songs on this tour – try to work some material out. We actually played a show in Toronto a couple weeks ago and I think we had 5 new songs in there.

I have read that you guys have an interesting setup with Saddle Creek, where you have been able to retain the Canadian rights to Hometowns -- can you tell us a little bit about this?

Yeah, we kind of started our own label up here. The Canadian government is really supportive of Canadian artist -- its something they set up in the 70s, to promote homegrown talent. Our intention was with us controlling stuff in Canada – kind of controlling our own destiny here -- we wouldn’t cut ourselves off from these opportunities.

Any plans to release other band’s material?

[laughs] Well that was the intention for the longest time! We have been incredibly busy this year, and I don’t think we were properly able to handle our own label stuff. But it is something we would like to aspire too – I guess in a way everyone wants to be their own boss.

Speaking of busy -- your drummer (Paul Banwatt) is also in the Toronto electro duo Woodhands. They have had quite a bit of buzz around them as well, recently landing high profile tours with Datarock and Junior Boys. It is pretty shocking looking at the two tour schedules -- I really don't know when the guy finds time to sleep. Has Paul's schedule been harder to manage as both bands continue to grow in popularity?

Yeah, it has been a little bit harder. We have tried to think things up a little better -- neither band is really taking a lot of time off. So it is hard. I know for the longest time Paul was saying “oh there are plenty of artist that play in multiple bands, its not like I’m the only one.” But he is actually in two fairly busy bands right now.

He really is an awesome drummer -- he blew me away at the last SF show.

Well that’s the thing! He is a special drummer. It’s something that – I’m willing to deal with his busy schedule, if I can still drum with Paul.

It seems that there is this de facto comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in the bulk of the Hometowns reviews. I have heard you describe this as a sort of double-edged sword -- can you elaborate on this for us?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a fan of Neutral Milk -- In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was such a amazing album. And because of this, there are a lot people out there that want to hear a new Neutral Milk record. Now, ours isn’t the follow up to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea -- that’s incredibly huge boots to fill. But its flattering to get that compliment, and there are people who may check the album out because of it, people who may not have checked it out in the first place.

I guess my fear is, if you are going in and expecting one thing -- I just hope that people listen to the album based on its own merits. So it is great that we are getting some attention from people who may not have heard of us before, but I hope that they just listen to the record as a Rural Alberta Advantage record, and not as the follow up to their dream record.

At the last show, you told the backstory on Frank A.B., one of Hometowns real highlights -- could you share this for those that missed you last time around?

So the town of Frank is a former mining town in Alberta. I visited it when I was younger -- probably when I was 13, when my uncle was a forest ranger down there. But a lot of kids growing up in southern Alberta will make the pilgrimage down to Frank as a school field trip, and visit the Frank slide.

Basically, there was a rockslide in the early 1900s that buried the entire town. And because it was a more transient community they don’t really know how many people were actually killed -- and because it was so early in the century, it was impossible for them to move the rock. So they assumed maybe 80 or 100 people might have died; that was their best guess, but nobody really knows how many bodies are under there. About twenty years after the frank slide they were building a highway through there, moving a bunch of rock, and I think they found about 20 bodies just while building that road.

Visiting a place like that -- it just sends a chill up your spine. It’s an eerie feeling.

Now I won't close by bugging you about your Alberta roots, but I do want to talk to you a bit about Toronto, your current homebase. There has been a lot of fairly hyped bands to some out of there lately -- Holy Fuck, Fucked Up and most recently Little Girls. We could go on and on. Any local acts we should put on our radar?

There are so many good bands! I think the thing is, the Toronto community is really supportive of bands -- there is a real camaraderie I guess. The more that we realize that, the more we don’t want to take what we have here for granted.

I know two albums that came out just last year that were pretty good. The new Timber Timbre record on Arts and Crafts -- I think he came through San Francisco in the fall.

[laughs] You know, we have friends in a lot of bands -- I'm afraid if we start saying stuff we might get nailed.