>> Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Earlier this month, rustic pop threesome the Rural Alberta Advantage released their much-anticipated second album, Departing.
Thematically darker and more sparsely arranged than its predecessor, Departing is the RAA doing what they do best: writing engaging and honest narratives about family, heartbreak, and relocation.
And as on their debut Hometowns, the songs are brought to life by Nils Edenloff’s earnest, nasally delivery; keyboardist Amy Cole’s charming fills and vocal harmonies; and Paul Banwatt’s adept yet playful drumming. Building on what they accomplished with their debut, the band sounds more certain, more comfortable with their percussive folk-rock sound (see: 'Tornado '87' and 'Stay').
I recently caught up with Amy Cole on Sunday afternoon and asked her about the band’s unconventional three-piece live set-up, Departing being seen as a companion piece to Hometowns, and the highly amusing video to “Stay”, the first single off the new record.
Catch the Rural Alberta Advantage live this Thursday at the Pyramid.
PoS: First, I wanted to ask you about the band’s songwriting and recording process. Did it change at all for this second album?
Amy Cole: Somewhat because when we recorded Hometowns, we had already been playing the songs live for quite awhile. This time there’s a few songs that we haven’t played live or we haven’t played them live in the way they ended up being recorded, so it was definitely a different approach to that extent.
At the same time, the way we write songs has always been the same. Nils will come up with an idea – he’ll have a melody on guitar or some lyrics or something – which he’ll bring to practice. And Paul will usually work out the rhythm – he’ll figure out what kind of drumbeat will go with the song. And then we’ll all get together and tear it down, build it up, and see what works best. In that respect, the process was the same as Hometowns.
But, it was a little bit different because we had less opportunity to work the songs live. There wasn’t really a deadline for Hometowns whereas this time we really wanted to record at a certain time and get the record out by a certain date.
PoS: There are no guest musicians on Departing with every single instrument and sound coming straight from the three of you, correct?
AC: That’s very true, yes. For the first record we were just creating the songs as we go and we’d say, “Oh, it’d be really cool to have a horn section in the song,” or “let’s add a cello.” This time the songs are a really, really accurate reflection of the three of us and what we do. We were really aiming when playing the songs live to make them sound like the record. Just like it’s really three people playing the songs.
PoS: And I guess this setup allows you to reproduce your sound a lot more authentically in a live setting.
AC: Yes, exactly! Not often, but sometimes there’s a case where someone will go, “Where’s the cello line in ‘Don’t Haunt this Place?’” This time, ideally, nothing is missing.
We’re more confident in what we did this time around. This first time we had never tried recording music before and we just sort of when in and asked, “What should we do? How should we make these songs?” This time we’ve really honed our identity. We know who we are. We know what we do. And that’s what we tried to make happen on this record.
PoS: Speaking of the band’s three-piece identity, I’ve seen you play live in Winnipeg before twice and if I remember correctly there’s no bass guitarist. Have you ever entertained added a bass guitar?
AC: Actually, we’ve solved the bass issue! *laughs* I now have a Moog Taurus 3 set of bass pedals, so in additional to my other instruments, I’m playing the bass pedals. It works as a bass guitar.
We didn’t want to add another member since we’re really happy as a three-piece. This has been a really effective solution so far, and people seem to be really happy with the low end now. And we’re really happy now since this has been a problem we’ve been trying to solve ever since we’ve started. You know, not having a bass player, especially when you’re playing a larger room, makes it really hard to get that low end happening, that kind of rumble in you chest that is awesome. With the bass pedal, we’ve fixed that issue.
PoS: Where was the album recorded?
AC: The album was recorded in a studio in Toronto, the same place we recorded our first record. Our producer Roger, he produced Hometowns too, moved to a different building, but it is the same studio, so we did the same thing as last time. We recorded it over three-four months – I would say over evening and weekends because we all have jobs and other obligations still.
PoS: Did you say you all still work?
AC: Yeah! Paul is in school, Nils has a day job, and I do free lance stuff. We all do other stuff besides being in the band. So, when we were recording, we all had other things on the go, and that’s kind of the process for this album.
PoS: I read that Nils is an avid fan of old pianos/instruments. Is this true? Were some of these used in the recording of Departing?
AC: I guess so, yeah. He does have a music room with various cool instruments. On the road he picked up a custom 88, a kind of electric piano, this huge huge piano that we would never tour with because it’s enormous. It sounds really great, and we did use it on Departing. It’s on almost all of the songs. I’ve even tried to mimic the sound of that with my own small portal keyboard.
PoS: I’ve also read that Departing is thematically a companion piece to Hometowns albeit a little darker. Is this accurate?
AC: Departing is definitely a companion piece to Hometowns. We’re continuing the themes we started with in Hometowns and also concluding them. It’s sort of a book end to letting go of this idea of leaving home. And, of course, there’ll still probably be Alberta references in future songs, but the subject matter probably isn’t going to be the same. We wanted to conclude, and that’s why we ended the record with “Good Night.” It was always the idea to start with “The Ballad of the RAA” and end on “Good Night,” which is what we did on Departing. We definitely see these records as two parts of a whole.
PoS: So then is track sequencing important to the band?
AC: Yes! Track sequencing is really, really important, especially to Nils. He’s a really big fan of an album being a whole piece of art rather than just picking single songs off iTunes. He likes the process or experience of someone listening to an album all the way through as a whole and really getting a sense of what we’re trying to say through that. He took a long time sequencing this one, as he did with Hometowns.
PoS: I was watching the video for “Stamp” earlier and thought it was absolutely hilarious. Who directed the clip and who came up with the idea behind it?
AC: Our friend José Lourenço from Toronto directed it and came up with the concept. We thought it was really good and actually the boy in the video was one of the assistant engineers on Departing, which is a really weird coincidence.
PoS: Who wrote the fans' interior thoughts?
AC: The director, Jose, did. He’s a writer too.
PoS: They seem remarkably accurate.
AC: *laughs* We’ve heard that from a lot of people. We have a couple of fans that come to a lot of our shows and one of them wondered “is this about me? Am I the one in the video?”
Interested in winning a cd copy of the RAA's Departing? Courtesy of the Vos Factory and Paper Bag Records, I have one for giveaway. To enter, simply shoot me an email (on the right hand side) by Monday, April 4th @ 8 p.m. CST with the subject line "The RAA's Departing CD Giveaway" and your name in the email's body. I'll draw the winner randomly and contact shortly thereafter.