A chat with Amy Cole of The Rural Alberta Advantage
After a week of miserable weather, a front of something much more pleasant and desirable is coming down from up north. The Rural Alberta Advantage – a Toronto-based indie rock trio comprised of gritty-voiced Nils Edenloff (vocals/guitar), Paul Banwatt (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole – is bringing its odes to heartbreaks and hometowns to Turner Hall Ballroom Thursday night.
OnMilwaukee got a chance to talk to Cole about the band and its upcoming album-in-progress, as well as get a little insight into the political punchline that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did The Rural Alberta Advantage come together?
Amy Cole: It started a very long time ago. There used to be a pub in the east end of Toronto called The Winchester Tavern, which no longer exists. It's now a Tim Hortons doughnut shop. But at the time, it was a pub that had open mic night on Tuesdays, and a few of us that were just friends started attending. Then we got the job of hosting the open mic night because nobody else came ever (laughs).
So we got paid about $50 worth of food and drinks a night, so we'd get like two-for-one pasta specials and a couple pitchers of beer, and we just played for each other because no one else was there. That's kind of how Nils, Paul and I sort of met and started playing music together.
OMC: Did any of those songs that you guys worked on those open mic nights ever make it to albums?
AC: Some of them did! There's even a couple we're considering this time – obviously not the same as they were back then; we learned a lot since the open mic days. So the songs have been torn apart and rebuilt and things like that. But I think there are elements of them that still might wind up on our new record or future recordings. It's pretty neat; the longevity of the ideas is pretty interesting.
OMC: Now, you guys are currently working on your next album. How has that been coming along?
AC: Great! It's so far so good. We've been taking a lot of time to work on new material, which is why we haven't been touring much recently and why we're really excited to get back on the road. Now that we have a few songs ready and we've started recording, a really important part of our process is to test that material out in front of live audiences, gauge reactions and see what songs people are excited by.
Or in the case of some of them not that excited, which has actually happened. We'll play a few songs, and either we feel like it could go better or we're not feeling right about it or something. We really appreciate the dynamic between us and the audience. It's a really important thing. So a few of the songs we're going to play on the next tour are songs we've tried out before, but are completely different arrangements now, and we think they're improved.
OMC: What was that first weekend of recording like for you guys?
AC: It was fun. On our first two records, we recorded with Roger Leavens at BoomBox Studios, and it was a different process. We never stayed set up and got to really have a vibe in the studio. Both of our first records were recorded over a long period of time, nights and weekends mostly. Whereas this time, we're taking larger blocks of time in the studio to try to develop a vibe, get comfortable being set up and really get into a flow of recording. It was a really cool experience for us to do that.
We're at a place called Candle Studio here in Toronto, which is a newer studio. You feel like you're in a really cool living room (laughs). It's not a high-tech studio, but it just feels so comfortable. You'd want to hang out there anyways, so it was really a great place for us to come up with a few new ideas while in the studio and a great place for us to feel good about performing and recording. I'm hoping the rest of the sessions will go as smoothly.
OMC: What did you guys do during this two-year off period? What kind of ideas were you trying to flesh out?
AC: Well, in terms of lyrics, that's more of a Nils question. And he has been doing a great job of not only writing new ideas, but also going back and thinking about things he used to write about, thinking about how those themes are still relevant but have evolved because we're all at different places now than we were then. He's expanding on those old ideas and taking them into new directions, which is exciting for us to hear different things from him lyrically.
It's weird, but it sort of inspires us – it inspires me, anyway, personally – when we have a really cool turn of phrase or something. It kind of helps us build the song, which is cool. I think the new songs are pretty different and interesting, and I'm hoping people will like them when we play them.
OMC: It sounds like you had a ton of songs developing in this period of time. Did those all kind of evolve, or did some get pushed aside?
AC: On our rehearsal space wall, I've written every song we've ever kind of worked on ever, including new ones. So it's a really long list at this point. Sometimes, if we're stuck on one, we'll just, "What about this?" and we'll do that and that'll turn into something we're really excited about. And then "What about that one?" and we'll take that one apart and go over it again.
We like to have a lot of ideas because we don't just want to work on 12 songs and that's it. We want to work on as many songs as possible and then pick the best of the best after touring, after working on them and after reworking on them.
OMC: If you had to guess, how many songs would you say are on that list?
AC: It's quite a few. We're always adding, and nothing gets taken away. The possibilities are … endless (laughs). Like I said, for us, it's a slow process, so nothing is off the table. Anything that has potential is there. I like to be surprised – we all like to be surprised – so sometimes something we think is good will come a month later. We'll change one thing, and it'll have new life.
I would say we have an album's worth of songs ready, but we want to have more options and to see what works the best in terms of playing them live and recording them.
OMC: I have to ask: This past year, your mayor in Toronto, I don't know, made some headlines I guess. How is it like as a citizen of that city, and what are your feelings on that situation?
AC: It's gone from hilarious to unbelievable to sad to anger-inducing. I'm amazed that there's no sense of shame at all. We actually talk about this a lot in the band, that every other politician would've done some sort of damage control or been contrite at some point, and it just doesn't happen. And it seems to work. Like, he's still the mayor, and right now – this is very sad – if there was an election today, he would win again.
AC: The reason for this is complicated. Toronto, in terms of voting, is not really one city. There's Toronto the city, then there's a bunch of other areas which used to be other districts that had their own mayors. But then they were merged about 10 or 15 years ago into a mega-city, so it's mostly the outskirt areas that are big supporters of Ford. The actual Toronto city proper hates him, but we're outnumbered.
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