By Jordan Grammer | March 30, 2023
When we spoke to The Rural Alberta Advantage before their show at Bowery Ballroom, they said their biggest hope was for the crowd to leave feeling “emotional, whether it’s their first show or not.” And while it was the groovement’s first time seeing them, it certainly won’t be our last.
Creating a setlist for a show is always tough, let alone when your career spans 15 years and you’ve got fans in the crowd that have been there since the beginning. With their debut album Hometowns in 2008, The Rural Alberta Advantage exploded onto the indie scene. Although their first tour was exclusively in Canada, groovers all around the world quickly took notice and the RAA was signed to iconic indie folk imprint, Saddle Creek Records, in 2009. They’ve since released three more albums and with new single “Plague Dogs” released in January, and more on the way.
Since its inception at an open mic night in Toronto, The Rural Alberta Advantage has consisted of Nils Edenloff on lead vocals and guitar, Amy Cole on keyboards, bass, and backing vocals, and Paul Banwatt on drums. Packed into the iconic Bowery Ballroom on a cold Thursday night, the three-piece band dazzled groovers from across the tri-state area and some even crossed the Canadian border to catch the show. True to their word, the RAA pieced together a show that struck you at your emotional core—from your highest highs to lowest lows—and seeing one of their sets is a true experience you have to feel for yourself.
We caught up with the RAA before the show where what answered a few questions for the groovement:
What was your first live music experience you can remember?
Paul: Fishbone at the Opera House in Toronto. Mind-blowing, brain-melting.
Nils: Super Friendz and Thrush Hermit in Edmonton
Your sound has certainly evolved over the years, but you made your start very folk-focused, some online even call it Canadiana, Canada’s take on American folk. As you started bands in high school, were you always geared towards the softer side, or were you still the classic teen angst of smashing guitars and drums?
Nils: I was in a lot of different kinds of bands before this (metal, pop punk, and so much more). But in terms of bands that actually reflect my musical taste, I’d say this is the first. I’ve always been drawn to music but never thought we’d be able to do something like this. It wasn’t until Paul, Amy, and I got together there was something special.
Paul: Definitely inspired by Pavement.
As you’re evolving a new sound now with the new single “Plague Dogs,” are you trying to reinvent yourself, where are you going from here?
Nils: I don’t think we ever know; we’re just drawn to what we find exciting. There’s a sense of once you’ve done things a certain amount of times, it’s difficult to be inspired. It’s just trying to find different ways to trick ourselves and convince ourselves that there’s something special in here. And “Plague Dogs” was something that we probably could have taken down a similar path of other things, but it just wasn’t working. It took a little of starts and stops and starts. And then eventually, the thing that clicked just was the thing that just made everything fall together.
So, we’ll probably hear more new music tonight?
Paul: Yeah, we’ll do at least one. And we’ve got a couple more that we’re going to try to get into the mix as soon as we can. We’re practicing literally during sound checks and then the moment we have a sound check where we’re like, yeah, that felt amazing.
Have you guys been just writing on the road as you’re doing this?
Nils: With all the downtime that we’ve had, we have demo ideas, but sometimes they just hit a wall being like, ‘okay, where is this at right now? We’re like, okay, yeah, this is something that’s right. This is something that’s special now.’ So that’s just a matter of feeling it out until it’s ready to perform in front of people.
If you were to pause this moment in time and say, here’s what the RA is now. In three words, could you describe the music or the energy you’re trying to put out?
Nils: I think emotional is the one word that always comes up. Regardless of what we make it end up sounding, it always comes down to this emotional core. And if it’s not there, we struggle to find the song. I think a good example of that was on the second record, we tried to record “Vulcan,” which we had on the third record. And it was kind of a smashy punk song that just had no heart in it. It was just in there—it had excitement and energy, but it just lacked and it didn’t move anything in the valves in the heart. And once we reevaluated it and were able to figure that out for the next record, it’s like, ‘oh, it has a lot of heart now.’ It was just trying to find what it was.
So you have played in New York several times here (Bowery Ballroom) and at a couple of other venues in Brooklyn as well. But do you guys have a favorite venue to play here?
Paul: Honestly, for me it was this venue and Music Hall of Williamsburg. Yeah. Those two felt very special to play. Just really, really rewarding experiences.
Nils: The first time we ever played a show in New York was at Pianos. We were starting out and so green there. Mercury Lounge too. We have such fond memories of everything, and it’s the fact that we’ve been able to come back enough times that we’ve had these memories of all different places. We feel incredibly lucky.
If someone came into your show today and saw you for the first time, what would you want them to take away from the experience?
Paul: I mean, honestly, we played Boston yesterday, and there were some people there who were seeing us for the first time. And the positive reaction from those people is always super special because it’s obviously easy to like a band that you already like. You go to the show, you already love the band, and all you want is for them to succeed. And just getting to hear the songs live at all is special. You’re already on a high. And then if it’s good, it’s even better. But for everybody who’s hearing songs for the first time and seeing a performance for the first time, if you can convert those people, it’s a big deal. So, I just want our show to be that good that it’s worthwhile for those people.
📸: shot by Owen Labate