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First Play: The Rural Alberta Advantage, The Wild

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Holly Gordon

The Rural Alberta Advantage has been wailing out heart-on-your-sleeve indie rock for 10 years, leading sing-alongs and cathartic dance parties alongside three full-length album releases.

But on The Wild, the Toronto-based band's fourth full-length, there's been a big change: in fall 2016, it announced that longtime bandmate Amy Cole had left, with keyboardist/singer Robin Hatch joining to complete the trio. While Hatch has done small tours with the band since summer 2016, this album is her first recording with her new bandmates.

"It's obviously different, you know, having played with Paul [Banwatt, drummer], Amy and myself for over 10 years, and then working on playing with sombeody new. But it's been great," says frontman Nils Edenloff. "It's definitely been a learning curve for all of us. At the end of the day, Robin's an amazing musician and I think, if anything, she's forcing Paul and I to step up our game a bit [laughs]."

The three bandmates teased their first song together, "White Lights," in November 2016, and released their first new single two months later, titled "Beacon Hill." The latter was focused on Edenloff's hometown of Fort McMurray after the 2016 fires tore through it, a complicated plea to a town he doesn't want to disappear.

Ultimately, both songs made it hard to gauge how the Rural Alberta Advantage would sound in its new form. Recorded in the same session, "White Lights" and "Beacon Hill" have trademark RAA notes: the former building from a quiet start, the latter kicking off with a more driving drum line, and both crashing into a frenzy of sound and feelings.

The Wild is what fans have been waiting for: at times a foot-stomping shout-along ("Brother"), at others hushed and nostalgic ("Letting Go"); you can hear the heart of Rural Alberta Advantage beating amidst its changes — ones within the band, and the ones that simply come with getting older.

"When we're going into a record, I think we're always trying to elevate our game to the best of our abilities but at the same time [finding] what makes us us, you know?" says Edenloff. "Our music's pretty honest and it's who we are as people."

Listen to the full album in the player to your left before its Oct. 13 release, and read on below for Edenloff's guide to the band's new songs.

1. 'Beacon Hill'

"That was actually the first song that the three of us worked on and recorded, so it's kind of a starting point for the three of us — Robin and Paul and myself. Obviously at the same time, when we were starting to get together and write stuff, that's when the whole Fort McMurray fires happened, and I never expected what was going to happen, would happen. The weekend before, my mom and stepdad were actually visiting here in Toronto [from Fort McMurray] and yeah, they [were] just looking at the weather and they're like, 'Yeah, weather's looking great, you know? Take the bikes out, it's gonna be really great.' And then, three days later, getting an alert on my phone about the fire evacuating the entire city. I think any place that has identified who you are as a person, to a certain degree, the idea that it might not be there, it was a little shocking. I think ['Beacon Hill' is] dealing with that sort of stuff."

2. 'Bad Luck Again'

"Paul's drums on it are pretty awesome. I think we tried this one a number of different ways. That's the thing, we're always sort of like — until we've come on the final version of the song, we're always refining it and it's like, 'No, it's not right,' and going back. But once I kind of played around with the sort of finger-picky guitar sort of thing, and Paul's drums just kind of fell into place and it all just made sense. It's got this sort of weird, old-school hip-hop-y sort of vibe to it, in a way.

"I think the song itself, in terms of themes, I think it's just sort of like dealing with the bad times as a badge of honour. Sometimes there's people that, you know, it's just 'woe is me' sort of thing, and you can't kid-proof the world. You can't solve everything, but there's just bad things [that] happen and it's about overcoming the adversity."

3. 'Dead Alive'

"I know Robin really enjoyed recording this song — there's a lot of wailing keyboard on it, which is pretty great. I feel like it's also one of the ones where the harder we play it, the better it feels. We've always really enjoyed unhinged moments in the set, and I feel like 'Dead Alive' really tries to capture that as best we could in the studio.

"I know for myself, when we did a spring tour [in 2017], in February I got super sick during it, and I feel like [through] the whole recording process I was, off and on, getting sick. When we recorded the vocals for it, well for this song, we were getting down to the end of a day in the studio and I was just recording some scratch vocals and I was really frustrated, losing my voice and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, once we went back to it, it's just sort of something that was captured in that sort of frustration that really worked. I think a lot of the scratch vocals are what make up the vocals in the song right now."

4. 'Brother'

"That's another one that I had the first part of it, like the initial verse, for a long time. And we tried it on the last record, we tried it on the second record. Something wasn't really coming together with it. And we're working on it, you know, a little less than a year ago with Robin and she kind of had this idea for the chorus, it's like, 'You know, can you make it a little boombastic?' and something just came together with it. Once that happened, everything locked into place really quickly. I know Paul really feels like it's a combination of a lot of different influences. He hears a little bit of National in there ... little Gordon Lightfoot or something.

"In terms of ... the loneliness on the record, I feel like this song, it definitely has that sort of loneliness in it. I feel like when I was working on this song, just with the vocal, with the lyrics and stuff, I was finding I was always coming back to this sort of darkness and being cold and alone. And I was [like], 'What the hell am I talking about? [laughs] I don't know if you remember, it was about a year ago now, the Rosetta satellite? They sent it up to track an asteroid or a meteorite. And there was these two satellites that were kind of paired up together and they sent off one to circle and get some more pictures up close of the asteroid and then it crash landed, they couldn't find it. And the other one was kind of circling for it. And they had this amazing Twitter campaign — this sounds really cheesy — of these little cute, drawn satellites and one of them's all sleeping on the asteroid waiting for his brother to show up, and I feel like ['Brother' is] kind of that idea of waiting for someone — it's directly from that."

5. 'Toughen Up'

"That song, it was the last one we finished on the record. And I feel like it's definitely an amalgamation of all three of us — with the addition of Leon [Taheny], our producer — throwing in all of our influences together. Everyone had a hand in certain aspects of it. But to be honest, I think it's the furthest out of our comfort zone. We wanted to try some things a little weird.

"I think [there are] a little more sonic textures than we would normally add, in terms of producer-y sort of sonic textures. We tend to be really sort of tangible, now we're making this meaty sound out of this guitar as opposed to trying to apply those things to tools and stuff. We were working our way through the song in the studio and kind of crafting it there, whereas we usually do our best to jam out the songs beforehand and we're like, 'Yup, I can see this.' Where this one, it took a little massaging and trying to figure out where we're going."

6. 'White Lights'

"We recorded it around the same time as we did 'Beacon Hill,' so it was another one that we were working on with Robin in that same session. It's one of those things, for me it was like I kind of had the opening chords for a bit and there was just something that sort of locked in. There was just this simplicity in the first line that kind of felt like a conversation with a friend. And other than that, the lyrics kind of came closer to us, closer to crunch time I guess when we were getting ready for going into the studio.

"But I remember basically the weekend before, hanging out with some friends that I had known, like high-school friends from Fort McMurray who now live in Toronto. And we were all friends for almost 20 years now and just [saying], 'God, yeah, I gotta finish the song in a couple of days.' But I just remember hanging out with those guys and staying up later than we should, doing more damage to the body than it should probably sustain. There's just this sort of memory of staying up late, and it's like an old friend, type thing. And I feel like there's a certain sense of friendship and comfort in the song — that's what I really always think of when we're playing it."

7. 'Alright'

"Like I was saying with working on lyrics, it always kind of comes down to me and I feel like the lyrics — sometimes it's hard for certain songs, to work on them just on my own, because I feel like a lot of the lyrical stuff fits in so nicely with Paul's drums that the two kind of get worked on at the same time. With the exception of other certain songs, [and] I feel like 'Alright' is one of them, where it just sort of feels like a campfire-y song. And that's what I kind of wanted to get."

8. 'Selfish Dreams'

"I think the origins for this song go back to our open-mic days. We've never been a band to just really throw stuff out; if it's not working, we'll just shelf it for a bit and then we'll come back to it. There's a bunch of ideas that you never know when something's gonna click or someone's going to try something new.... But yeah, this one, it might be [laughs] one of our oldest ones. I'm really happy with the way Leon and Paul kind of worked on it together. Paul wanted this really big drum sound on it. Part of me feels like it's got a little bit of a throwback '90s rock in there."

9. 'Wild Grin'

"This is another one that we were kind of struggling with in the studio. We'd tried it a number of different ways and things just weren't working together. We were getting down to crunch time and I remember we hit a wall with it and were like, 'All right, let's call it. Tomorrow's a new day.' And as we were leaving, Paul's like, 'Well, Nils, you better fix it by tomorrow' [laughs]. Yeah, zero pressure. So I'm like great, thanks man. So went home, decompressed for a bit, you know, played around with a couple country songs and from that, somehow, I just started playing something different and took it in a completely different direction and the next morning I'm like, 'OK, I think I got it.' And everyone expecting [to say] no, that's not it. But Paul was just immediately moving, he's like, 'I know exactly what I wanna play,' and it just really came together. We basically finished it that day, so it felt good.

"Sometimes these pressure situations are kind of what I need at the same time, to get the writing process going. I know before we were booking our first session for 'Beacon Hill' and 'White Lights,' our manager was like, 'All right, so we're gonna book these sessions,' and I was like, 'Guys, I don't think so, I don't think we're ready, I don't think we're ready!' I don't know what we're doing but, unless you sort of do that thing that scares you, you're never going to force yourself to finish anything. Sometimes you need these things."

10. 'Letting Go'

"It's funny 'cause I'm the one who sequences the record and everyone's like, 'Go ahead, you do it, you enjoy it.' And for me, it's something that I like to think people care about, even though, talking to a friend as I was doing it, and he was like, 'You're just being a dinosaur, no one listens to records anymore like that.' I'm like, 'OK, well thanks, everyone's just on Spotify now,' and they just laughed at me. That being said, I think as we were working on the song, it was always something that we were like, 'Well this is obviously going to be the song that closes off the record.' I know Paul felt like it's the emotional heart of the record, even though it's the last song.

"It's just about saying goodbye to somebody that has been close to you, and sometimes those goodbyes, there's a lot of words involved and it's a very powerful and emotional thing and sometimes you don't have that chance to say goodbye like you wish you could. I think it's just dealing with that sort of thing and the idea that, at the end of the day, all of these moments, these events that make up your life, they tell a larger story and they're something that you always carry with you. I think that's what I was going through at the time with the song. Trying to capture."

The Wild will be out Oct. 13 via Paper Bag Records globally and Saddle Creek in the U.S. Pre-order it here and get the band's tour dates here.