The Rural Alberta Advantage didn't come out of nowhere, exactly; the band's songwriter Nils Edenloff actually comes from Fort McMurray, a town on the Athabasca River in northeast Alberta, Canada. Memories of Alberta—both Fort McMurray and Alberta's capital, Edmonton, where Edenloff first lived after leaving home—are all over the Rural Alberta Advantage's incredibly likeable debut, the aptly titled Hometowns.
Edenloff wrote much of the album in a Toronto apartment singing to a mirror, allowing the sound to bounce back directly into his face. "I had broken up with my girlfriend and was living in a place by myself," he says, "and I think a lot those things sort of culminated in the things that showed up in Hometowns. There's a lot of lost love, I guess, and longing for your home. And I guess leaving your home, in a way, is sort of a breakup with it."
The trio has a sparse but emotionally potent sound, led by Edenloff's overdriven acoustic guitar and shout-sung lyrics, which evoke Neutral Milk Hotel in certain lights. More frequently, however, the Rural Alberta Advantage feels closer to a punk-folk aesthetic than Jeff Mangum's brass-driven sideshow.
"Four of us were hosting an open mic night in Toronto," Edenloff explains of the band's origins. "Eventually two of them were sort of like, 'Guys, this is the most depressing open mic night in the world. I'm tired of baring my soul like this. You guys can do it.' And Paul [Banwatt, drums] and I were like, at the time, 'Well, we got nothing better to do. We got this beer tab, so... why not just keep coming?' From that, Paul and I started working on stuff together and that's really where the band more or less started. Paul and I were playing by ourselves for a bit; we liked what we were doing, but there was a bit too much space, so we brought Amy [Cole, keyboard] in to fill that gap between us. The three of us, from the very first time we played a show together, it seemed special. We were getting the right kind of response from people."