Ashes to ashes: The ghost of home never lets The Rural Alberta Advantage go

By Jennie Orton

The Rural Alberta Advantage return west with a new member and lease on life.
Photo: Vanessa Heins

VANCOUVER — While many of us jumped on the train of thinking of 2016 as a formative hell beast of a year, one we gave credit to for any metaphorical fire and brimstone we experienced either directly or indirectly, The Rural Alberta Advantage frontman Nils Edenloff was one of hundreds who experienced fire of the literal kind.

As wildfires tore open the fabric of his hometown of Fort McMurray, AB, narrowly missing his parents who had returned there from visiting him in his new home of Toronto just days before, he was face to face with a sudden and desperate homesickness.

“I felt like I left on my own terms,” he admits. “But there was always that idea that if I wanted to I could always go back to Fort McMurray.”

“The fact that maybe there won’t be something to go back to was sort of hard to wrap my head around.”

The result of this period of reflection and loyalty to the grassroots that grew him was the new single “Beacon Hill,” released like a New Year’s gift to fans in early January. The track, a dramatic but relentlessly optimistic morsel of Canadiana, has a tone that suits the hearty resolve of tens of thousands of people who evacuated the city, fatality free, last spring.

It is a resolve that runs deep in Edenloff’s Alberta blood and equipped him to deal with the other bombshell that 2016 was sporting: the departure of decade long band mate Amy Cole in September.

Cole, who left to explore other artistic avenues, left a large hole in the family dynamic of the band; one since inhabited by singer and musician Robin Hatch, friend of drummer Paul Banwatt.

“It’s hard to lose someone you’ve been family with for 10 years,” he confesses. “But Robin is a lot younger than Paul and I so she’s making us work a little harder.”

The result is a road-test-worthy amount of new material and North American and European tour legs to see what sticks for a return to the studio in the spring. After a hiatus from new music that Edenloff worried would contribute to a loss of interest in his band and their brand of earnest story-telling, same day sell out shows in the Albertan home land (as well as one in Vancouver) renewed his belief in the bond with the fans that share his lineage.

“It felt good that people remember us because, I dunno, things move fast in this day and age.”

So as the new lineup marches on, through the ash and dust of 2016, they do so with an evolved sense of visibility and new stories steeped in the smoke and the earnestness of their home soil.

“Any place you spend a considerable amount of time in is going to leave an indelible impact on you whether you realize it at the time or not,” he muses. “Alberta was so supportive from day one. It’ll always be ‘where I am from.’”

The Rural Alberta Advantage will be playing the Fox in Vancouver on February 25th, Commonwealth in Calgary on March 1st, Bo’s in Red Deer on March 2nd, and The Needle in Edmonton on March 3rd. All shows are sold out.

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