Change is constant.
Certainly that’s always been the case with the Rural Alberta Advantage. Through three albums, Juno and Polaris nominations, the steady hum of critical praise and the relentless miles of constant touring, the trio of Nils Edenloff, Paul Banwatt and recent addition Robin Hatch have not just been confronted with change, they have been wailing, pounding and sighing their way through it. Change hung over them in the melancholy nostalgia of Hometowns, shook them during the finding-your-feet urgency of Departing and found its way through their cracks in the turmoil of Mended with Gold.
Though it’s always left a mark on the band, as they journey into The Wild, their fourth album, this perpetual change seemed to be casting a darker shadow. Maybe it’s the fact that singer and songwriter Edenloff almost watched his childhood home of Fort McMurray burn to the ground. Maybe it’s just, as Edenloff notes ruefully, that everyone in the band is getting older. Maybe it’s just that we’ve all had a rough year. But never before has the band felt quite so surrounded by the heaviness of being — nor quite so determined to pull through.
“I think it’s this idea of change that I had no control over,” Edenloff explains, referencing the wild fires that almost erased the northern Alberta town from the map. Though he notes that he has a love-hate relationship with the place he grew up — as anyone who has left does — the idea that he might never be able to see it again stopped him in his tracks. “That felt like it was something for me to decide, and then — it makes you wonder about how much you really get to decide.”
Unintended consequences and unexpected hurts pop up throughout The Wild, perhaps nowhere more powerfully than on ‘White Lights,’ an equally rousing and wounded consideration of the thrills and tribulations of band life. Honed in front of their fans during 2016’s Road Testing Tour, it’s a starkly honest accounting of what being on the road means for the band and for the people back home, a song that basks in the warm adulation of the spotlight while still feeling the chill of personal distance running up its spine.
“I’ve had those moments where you come back, and the person here has felt your absence so deeply — for them, life just went on, except you weren’t in it,” explains Banwatt. “You really feel it when you get home. You’re doing something that feels so awesome, but you’re affecting all those people who are loving and supporting you in that.”
Duelling ideas of wonder and woe have always been essential to the RAA, but this dynamic might be at its most acute on The Wild, which even down to its title evokes ideas of huddling together while something lopes and lingers on the edge of our awareness. The band weathers the storm of ill tidings in the pounding ‘Bad Luck Again,’ searches for a fading connection over the dark distances of ‘Brother’ and finds thrilling abandon and a disconcerting recklessness in ‘Wild Grin’.
If the songs are frank and forthright about the challenges of change, though, The Wild still has the underlying resiliency, the howling catharsis that has defined the RAA, the hopeful grounding that causes people to stomp and sing along.
“Ultimately, I think all the songs come from a pure place, an honest place,” explains Hatch. “It’s just us up there, and whatever we’re going through, I think people can feel that.”
“The number of people who come up to us and tell us we helped them get through something,” echoes Edenloff, “it’s overwhelming. I think when you go through these kinds of things, you start to think about the mark you’re leaving. And then you can see it in those interactions.”
When everything’s changing, it sometimes just helps to know that there is someone out there changing with you.