by Michael Elves
When Nils Edenloff and the rest of Rural Alberta Advantage take to the stage of the Burton Cummings Theatre on Thursday November 1, 2012 don’t expect a set list composed of the heavy-hitters from their first two records, Hometowns and Departing. Instead – as Edenloff revealed in an interview with Stylus – the members of RAA will take advantage of a prime spot opening for indie-darling Dan Mangan to try out some new material on an unsuspecting audience in advance of recording their third album.
“Definitely what our goal is with this next tour is to try to be playing some of the new songs because I feel like that’s sort of the best test for us as to whether a song is working or not – actually playing it live in front of people, sort of like this ‘test by fire,’” Edenloff laughingly noted of a practice the band is no stranger to: “It’s the way we worked on the last two records – trying our best to road tour new songs – and that’s our goal with this. Once we get back we’ll assess where we are with the new songs that we’ve been touring, hopefully try to get those done and keep on with that process.”
When the question is put to him as to whether the main test is with the audience reaction to new material or to gauging how well a song works within the band, Edenloff hedged by noting that “[i]t’s definitely a mix of both,” before he explained further: “[S]ometimes you can get wrapped up in that sort of headspace and be like ‘oh man, this is gonna be amazing, there’s gonna be a twenty-minute solo, everyone’s gonna love it’ and then you play it and ‘oh man that’s just not working for me.’ You can really gauge whether or not something is grabbing someone from the gate in terms of new songs or whether it’s ‘yeah y’know maybe we need to make a couple changes here so it’s more engaging for the audience.”
Edenloff does view the tour with Mangan as a great opportunity for a ‘tabula rasa’ type crowd who are relatively free of expectations from the opener allowing the band greater latitude to experiment with the set-list than they would have if the bill had “Rural Alberta Advantage” at the top. “[Opening] is one of those things where it is definitely about finding that balance because you don’t want to completely lose people but it’s a matter of switching it up and finding the right pacing.”
Opening for Mangan is not without its challenges, as Edenloff noted that “[t]hese are also going to be in a different sort of environment for us – all the dates across Canada are sort-of theatres so it’s definitely going to be a learning process in trying to work out the pacing, because you know we’re used to doing well over an hour when we’re headlining and we have the pacing figured out for our sets, we know what works and what doesn’t work so it’s a matter of finding those right sorts of things – you’re giving and taking as much as you can.”
The trio of musicians in Rural Alberta Advantage (Edenloff on lead vocals and guitar, Amy Cole on backing vocals and keyboard, and Paul Banwatt on drums) are ultimately all open enough as musicians and performers to read the cues audiences give them and make changes as need arises. “Definitely after running songs a couple times you can tell ‘yeah that’s not a good transition from that song to that song’ and those are things you end up working out on the road – figuring out with the new songs: what are their strengths?’” Edenloff revealed, before adding that he approaches songwriting with a similar “rear-view mirror” approach:
“I never tend to bog myself down on ‘what am I trying to say about this?’ It’s more after; once you’re all said and done you sort of realize ‘this is the things I was going through and this is how they all link together.’ At the end of the day we’re writing music that is personal and moving to us so it’s not like trying to craft a record full of hits or something – not ‘no, this is only going to be a massive song’ and only focusing on singles or something. I believe that we’re always trying to focus on ‘how does this fit in with the larger body of work that we’re doing?’ and it’s looking back at it after to see how it ties in.”
We’ll have to wait and see how the forthcoming record ties into the RAA songbook, but Winnipeg audiences will get a sneak preview and a chance to influence what makes the cut when the band takes to the stage on November 1st.
Rural Alberta Advantage opens for Dan Mangan on Thursday November 1, 2012 at the Burton Cummings Theatre. Tickets are available now at all Ticketmaster locations for $30 + service fees. For more information on Rural Alberta Advantage, visit www.theraa.com