Nils Edenloff is at work. He’s not in the studio or soundchecking before a show; he’s at work. When he is not on the road, singing lead vocals and playing guitar with The Rural Alberta Advantage, he returns to his job at a computer engineering firm, a job he has kept despite the growing success his band has gained since its breakthrough debut Hometowns. Their second outing, Departing, marks the band’s first record since joining Saddle Creek records. Paste caught up with Edenloff during one of his times back in the office to discuss the band’s new record, fan expectations, and some of his favorite places to play.
: You guys are playing SXSW this year. Are there any stops along the way that you are excited about?
Nils Edenloff: Yeah, well, we’ve got two big shows in New York and that’s going to be fun, and hitting a lot of places that we haven’t been in almost a year now, so its going to be fun to get back to some places. I think we’re playing Boston and Philly, but yeah, we’re just excited for it in general, just to be touring again.
: What about SXSW itself: What are your plans for that?
Edenloff: I think we have a couple day parties, and we have a showcase on the Saturday night at the Presbyterian church. It’s not going to be as busy as it was last year, I think last year we tried to play everything we possibly could, and kind of ran ourselves a little ragged, but we’re touring down and touring back, so we have to keep that in mind when doing the whole South By experience.
: This is your third time there?
Edenloff: Yeah, its gonna be our third time in a row. We’ve been pretty lucky.
: Tell me about the new album.
Edenloff: We recorded it last summer, when we had some down time, and we recorded it with Roger Leavens, who recorded Hometowns, and we finished up in early November. We’re pretty pumped about it. Just waiting for people to start logging their opinions.
: This is the first album you have recorded since joining Saddle Creek records. How was the recording process different from the first album due to that?
Edenloff: They took a sort of hands-off approach, which was really nice. In a way, it was pretty much the same as it was with Hometowns. We didn’t have them peering over our shoulders—they weren’t really in the mix, in terms of the songs we were doing and recording and such. However, always in the back of your head when you’re doing a second album, and you already have an audience that’s kind of there and waiting for it, not in the same sense as when we were recording Hometowns, but with Departing, we know that people are waiting for this. There is a little bit of pressure, but we just tried to stay true to ourselves and just make a record that made us happy in the same way that Hometowns did.
: What is the songwriting process like?
Edenloff: All the songs essentially start with me on guitar. I may take just a sliver of an idea to Paul and Amy, or I might have a fully formed song, but at the end of the day, we kind of take the songs that I’ve got and strip them apart basically, and then build them back up. We just do our best to make the song the best that it can possibly be. It’s that rebuilding that’s a collaborative process, but I guess the songs more or less start in some way in my head.
: How do you make that decision to change a song to, say, a keyboard song?
Edenloff: Usually it kind of reaches a point where it doesn’t do a heck of a lot. It usually depends on where the song feels like it’s going. It will reach this point when it’s not really going anywhere. It’s hard to describe it. There are certain points when we’re playing a guitar song, and we feel like we’re locked in to an inherent rhythm and its not really going anywhere. That was definitely the case with songs like, say, “Under the Knife.” It was sort of a guitar song, just the strummyness of it, it felt boring in a way. So we just changed it. There’s no real rhyme or reason I guess. It’s like, “Lets try this to sort of reinvent something,” because sometimes that gets the creative juices flowing again.
: Just try it out and see how it goes?
Edenloff: Yeah, exactly. They’re not crazy complex songs, so its usually not that hard. And a lot of times when we make that change from a guitar song to a keyboard song, it really frees up Paul to do something completely different, because he’s not playing to the rhythm of the guitar, it’s like a clean slate for him, so he’s more or less focused on playing drums to the vocal line, and that allows a song to take on a completely different path.
: Around the time you formed there were a lot of oversized bands coming out of Toronto. How is your dynamic different as a three piece versus taking the oversized band route.
Edenloff: There was a time when we tried out having a bunch of friends with us on stage, but it didn’t do much to help out with what we were trying to do with the songs. I think our arrangements and the focus of the songs tend to be very precise and specific, as opposed to creating a big ruckus of noise. We try to make a ruckus of noise, with the three of us, but its more about precision in a way. I think the stripped down aspect lends itself well to the songs we’re making. We’re trying to not unnecessarily add too much. The songs themselves tend to be very intentional with the arrangements we come up with. I’ve always thought it’s more important to focus on the rest than the actual notes, because sometimes those can have more effect. Somebody might have an amazing part, but if its going over some other part it might end up sounding crappy. We like the stripped down, minimalist approach that we have to music.
: Going back to the new album, what were some of the things going through your head, thinking about the fans and whatnot?
Edenloff: When we were recording Hometowns there was the intention that hopefully some people would hear it, but at the end of the day there’s probably a good chance that not a lot of people will listen to it. So in a way you’re making a record for yourself, and there’s not really that pressure. But once you’ve got a built up audience and they’re waiting for a new record, there’s obviously that pressure. It’s sort of this exchange—it’s like, when people are buying your new record, they’re paying for you to make another record, in a way. It was impossible to escape that, but we definitely tried our best to put ourselves into the same mindset we were in when we were making Hometowns with Departing, and not focus on all that other stuff, given that we have grown a lot since Hometowns. But if you are analyzing every specific nuance to the recording, of how people are going to respond to it, then you’re gonna drive yourself insane; you have to trust your gut.
: Aside from gaining popularity, how else would you say you have grown since Hometowns?
Edenloff: The amount of shows that we have been playing, since Hometowns came out, just like touring in the states and Canada, I think we’ve gotten better as musicians, in a way, as performers, and then that translates into the music that we’re making. After Hometowns, we realized what we do well, and understand some of our strengths and weaknesses, and Departing tends to showcase some of those strengths more than its weaknesses, and that’s what we were trying to do. I feel its more mature, more grown up, more focused in a way.
: What would you say are some of your weaknesses?
Edenloff: That is a hard one, I kind of did open the door there didn’t I? Well I think that one of the problems we had with Hometowns is that it was really schizophrenic in a way, it was crazy ADD, because I guess I tend to be a little ADD myself, easily distracted, and listening to the songs, some of them ended before they got going, in a way. So one of the things we were trying to do with this record was push the songs to completion, so they don’t feel done prematurely. It’s not like we’re writing seven minute “November Rain” ballads, but we were trying to just play around with ideas more within the songs. So that was one weakness that I think we had on the last record that we tried to rectify on this one.
: What have been some of your favorite places to play in the past?
Edenloff: A lot of the bigger cities, we’ve got some pretty great responses. We played New York a couple times, and Chicago was great. We’re really excited for Minneapolis this time, we’re playing a huge venue and the local radio station, The Current, has been really supportive of us. San Fransisco too, has been really good, just in terms of the states. And then obviously playing shows in Alberta has been pretty awesome too. Its where I’m from, its my hometown, its what the songs are about. It’s hard not to get excited about the response that those shows are getting. We’re definitely looking forward to a lot of shows, obviously those ones because we’ve had such enjoyable performances in the past, and then also we’re excited to go to places that we’ve only been to once, and its been a while since we’ve been back, so we’re hoping to go there again, and it will be another great place to play.