The Rural Alberta Advantage: “We thrive as a grubby bar band!” (3/25 at JB’s)

“I just love playing shows anywhere…  With every tour it’s a combination of, ‘Oh, wow!  We haven’t been here in a long time,’ or, ‘Hey!  This city has always...

“I just love playing shows anywhere…  With every tour it’s a combination of, ‘Oh, wow!  We haven’t been here in a long time,’ or, ‘Hey!  This city has always been so great to us!’” says Nils Edenloff, lead vocalist and guitarist of folky indie rockers The Rural Alberta Advantage, or RAA.  The Toronto-based trio (which also includes keyboardist/bassist Amy Cole and drummer Paul Banwatt, who actually has family in Philly) is currently on their first full-scale US tour since 2019.  “In 2022 we had Spring shows, but then we got COVID.  These days we always need a plan, but I guess it’s good that we’re being more cautious and thinking about the greater good.  I mean, prior to the pandemic, I’d played through sickness way worse than this,” Edenloff tells me, laughing.

The Rural Alberta Advantage has played the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection a number of times over the years, and during my recent phone chat with Edenloff we tried to recall each of the shows (each of which he tells me he remembers fondly), and we forgot only one of the five: 2009 at Kung Fu Necktie, 2010 at Kung Fu Necktie, 2011 at The Church [This is the one we both forgot, despite being the band’s biggest show in the city!], 2014 at The Church, and 2019 at the late Boot & Saddle.

Next Saturday, March 25th, The Rural Alberta Advantage will find themselves back in the 215, playing Johnny Brenda’s for the very first time, and I understand that tickets are nearly gone (Hint, hint!)  While the band is thus far unfamiliar with the venue personally, Edenloff tells me he’s excited to finally play the famous Fishtown room: “We’ve heard a lot of really great things about Johnny Brenda’s…  But you hear about places and you Google them and you look up pictures, but you can’t really get a sense of it until you walk in.”  However, it does seem to fit the criteria of what he tells me are the band’s favorite kind of venues: “When we first started working with our booker, right after [2008 debut LP] Hometowns, he was like, ‘We can jump up to theatres,’ and we did do that a bit, but we thrive as a grubby bar band!  That’s where we feel most at home!”

Last year The Rural Alberta Advantage released The Rise EP, their first new music since 2017 full-length The Wild — their only release during Amy Cole’s brief intermission from the band — and this January they released follow-up single “Plague Dogs,” which Edenloff tells me had actually been in the works for quite some time: “It was a little like pulling teeth.  We’d been working on it for a while…  The seeds of it were growing over the pandemic.”  However, he tells me that, after a lot of time and an unsuccessful studio session, the song seemed to just come to him all at once: “I got home from work and I’m having a massive panic attack, like sometimes we spin our wheels and just nothing happens…  The opening riff was from when I was just riffing on guitar and basically just everything snowballed.”  They eventually got a chance to record it last August with Gavin Gardiner (who did The Rise), before spending the last 1/3rd of 2022 finessing it live on a sold-out Canadian tour.

Recent setlists have featured “Plague Dogs,” along with about half of The Rise, but Edenloff tells me that fans can certainly expect a lot of oldies, as well.  “We don’t run away from our back catalogue,” he tells me, referencing the fact that they still regularly play roughly half of Hometowns every night: “Some of those old songs are pretty short, too, so we can get a lot in!”  However, The Rural Alberta Advantage have a handful of upcoming recording sessions booked (in addition to another song that they recorded alongside “Plague Dogs”), and Edenloff tells me that there’s a good chance audiences will hear some of this brand-new music, too: “We’ll be trying out some new ones and gauging the response of the crowds.”  And when I ask about the best responses the new music has been getting, he tells me it’s all about the way that live crowds have been receiving it.

“To be in a room with people again and raising your voice and feeling the energy of the crowd…  I think honestly, just the fact that we’ve touched people in such a way that they just remember who we are.  They’re still coming out to our shows and that feels pretty awesome!  I mean, we’re still out there!”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.