The Rural Alberta Advantage is, from left, Nils Edenloff, Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt.

By Kevin Coffey

(C) 2011 Omaha World-Herald

The Rural Alberta Advantage has become one of the most successful Saddle Creek Records bands, outside of their big three — Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint.

They’ve done it through constant touring and, of course, two solid musical efforts.

“Hometowns,” re-released by Saddle Creek in 2009, and “Departing,” out in March, both feature the band’s wistful rhythmic rock with lyrics from Nils Edenloff, backing vocals and keyboards from Amy Cole and drums from Paul Banwatt.

Just after their hailed performances at South By Southwest, we got in touch with Cole to talk about the festival, Saddle Creek Records and “Departing.”

Before we get to the questions, we want to give you something: Tickets to tomorrow’s show at Slowdown. Enter your info and we’ll draw a name to win a pair of tickets. Good luck! [Note: The contest is now closed. Thanks for entering!]

Q: How was South By Southwest for you guys?

A: We played 6 shows, which was less than we did last year. We might pair it down in the future. We had never done South By in the middle of a tour before.

Q: I was there at the end of your last show in the church and you played “Goodnight” without amplification. That was a really great way to hear the song.

A: We very rarely get to do that anymore. We were kind of nervous, saying, “Should we do it again?” It felt really appropriate to do it.

Q: It sounds very similar on the album.

A: When we recorded it, we played it live off the floor (with no electric amplification). We’ve only tried to perform ‘Goodnight’ amplified once before and since it’s never on mic, it would have felt weird to record it studiowise. We wanted to do it how it feels live.

Q: Between “Hometowns” and “Departing,” you guys had quite a bit of time.

A: We actually finished recording “Hometowns” in late 2007. It’s been a really long time since we recorded those songs.

We were very, very excited to put out “Departing.”

Q: The various times I’ve seen you guys, you played a lot of the “Departing” songs before it was released.

A: We have been trying to work the new songs into the set, and we wanted to try to work things out by the time we got into the studio.

Q: Is it nice to have more songs to play a headlining set?

A: Yeah, it’s a 75-minute set. That’s what’s required. So, we said, “Let’s play everything.” For our longer shows, we’re playing most of what we have and Nils might throw in a cover or two.

It’s definitely good to have two records worth of stuff.

Q: You guys have been on the road forever. You tired of it yet?

A: We toured like crazy. Everything kept growing and happening after “Hometowns.” We played in Canada for a long time, New York and SXSW. We didn’t really stop touring for a good year.

Then we took our break. We took five or six months to relax and record “Departing.” We hope to spend this year touring as much as we can. It’s a big reason why we were successful with our last album. We love playing live, and we’re really happy to be out there again.

Q: How and where did you record “Departing?”

A: We recorded with our producer Roger Leavens at Boombox Studios. It’s a new building for them, but the same studio equipment. We did it in Toronto where we live on evenings and weekends after work over a period of four or five months. We started in late summer and finished in October.

Q: With “Hometowns,” you put it out yourselves before Saddle Creek picked it up and re-released it. How did it feel this time to have a label?

A: It’s done and you’re just waiting. It was very hard. We were like, “Let’s do it now.”

“Hometowns,” we just put it out ourselves. “We’re done, let’s just sell it at shows.” We didn’t have this waiting process. This time, there’s more people waiting for it and more people expecting it and Saddle Creek was super great and accommodating. It wasn’t to do with their timing at all. We were also perfectionists and didn’t want to put it out before we were ready.

Q: So you’re happy with Saddle Creek?

A: Saddle Creek was awesome. We’re really happy. We hung out with them at South By as well.

While we were recording, we’d send them stuff we were working on. They’re not the kind of label who gives you detailed crazy notes, and they released it exactly as we recorded it. There were no changes made due to label involvement.

Q: I thought there were a lot of Alberta-specific songs on “Hometowns,” but with “Departing,” it seems like you’re holding true to the album title and leaning away from Alberta stuff.

A: That’s probably true. Nils always envisioned six separate EPs, but it turned into two full lengths. “Departing” is ending off that series.

It’s about leaving and making peace with leaving, where “Hometowns” was still very much rooted in Alberta. This is about moving on and leaving it behind instead of dwelling on it like a lot of “Hometowns” did.

Q: It still has a similar sound to it though.

A: We’ve heard that. That might be true. This is meant to be a companion to “Hometowns” and leaving behind all those ideas.

It’s not a happy record, but I wouldn’t say it’s a sad one either.

Q: I like “Coldest Days” because you all are doing what you do best. It has a lot of melody from you, Nils’ voice is great and Paul’s drumming is superb.

A: Yeah, I like “Coldest Days,” too. That’s one of the more collaborative songs we did. It was a cool one when it all came together. That’s probably one of the first ones that we started playing live, too.

“Stamp” was also really fun. Paul was saying it’s our best live song right now. We all have a lot of fun playing it live. It’s really an awesome and really energetic kind of song. We really get into it.

Q: How about the video for “Stamp?” It’s pretty hilarious.

A: We like it, too. A friend of ours, Jose, came up with the concepts. We shot it in a couple hours on almost no budget just for fun. We didn’t expect it to get so much attention from blogs and stuff. But we were really surprised and happy.

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