Nils Edenloff isn't sure if he's a gambler. "I took an engineering degree, so not typically," he laughs, considering the question carefully. "Music has been a risk for me though. I was always afraid to pursue it as a career because, even though I loved it, I didn't think I'd be able to make a go of it. So I took engineering and, in a round-about way, ended up doing music instead."
The leader of Toronto's the Rural Alberta Advantage has seen his band go from the mainstay at an open mic night in a failed bar, to touring the world and playing soft-seat theatres with City and Colour (at the Olympics) and Sarah Harmer. Their 2008 debut Hometowns garnered international acclaim and there's plenty of buzz about their new record Departing, both of which were produced by Roger Leavens. All of this stems from the imagination of a heartbroken kid who fled Alberta with no real prospects waiting for him in Toronto. Somehow, every roll of the dice has paid off.
Speaking to his RAA band-mates, Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt, it's clear that Edenloff still applies the detail-oriented practices of an engineer to making records. If Departing sounds even more dynamic than its predecessor, it's not blind luck.
"Nils would take credit for the sequencing of the record," Banwatt explains. "He obsesses over things like that because he really wants people to have 'the album experience.' If you want a view into the inner workings of the mind of Nils Edenloff, think about the sequence of the record because he sure did."
"It's been very carefully organized to give the listener the very best experience possible, listening all the whole way through," Cole adds.
Edenloff agrees; in an iPod shuffle era, he takes a track listing super seriously. "I appreciate a well-sequenced album because it should have a flow or arc to it. We did that with Hometowns, and I tried to do that again here. I wanted it to feel like a story, like you're on a path that you need to take again from the beginning." It's particularly meaningful for Edenloff since he's been using the RAA as a narrative outlet for some of his deepest pain and conflict. Hometowns was almost a therapeutic exercise, exploring transitions ― from failed relationships to existential confusion about entering adulthood ― with an angst-y edge. The raging emotion is tempered on Departing but the chips are still down and the album doesn't lack conviction.
"I think in terms of songs, they come from the same spot," Edenloff says of the new record. "Some of them emerged a while ago and over the course of touring Hometowns and getting more comfortable as musicians, we got better at doing what we do well. So they're born of the same place. A lot of it is about growing up and moving on, so I see the two records as being intertwined."
Ultimately, Edenloff views the RAA's first full-lengths as bookends for a chapter in his life that he's ready to abandon. And he's closed it more quickly than he imagined he would, already thinking more about taking his next plunge. "I'd always wanted to make a series of EPs, where it started with 'The Ballad of the RAA,' the first song off of Hometowns, and then ended with 'Good Night', the last song from the new record," he says. "So this feels like a conclusion. Going forward, I'm not gonna say there won't be Alberta songs, but they won't be from the same place."