The journey through life is like a rollercoaster. There are good times, there are bad times, and there are times when life decides to throw a few rocks and potholes across the road just to make navigating it that little bit trickier. James Priestner, vocalist for Vancouver storytellers Rare Americans, knows this as well as anybody so, ahead of the release of the new album, Rare Americans 2, we spoke with James about the challenges he has faced, and what he hopes listeners take away from the stories he and his brother Jared tell through their music.
Thanks for your time. How is life with Rare Americans at the moment?
James Priestner: “Really good! We just released Rare Americans 2, it’s great to finally get it out in the world, and not in my iTunes! We recorded this album a while ago. I’m happy to see people are digging it.”
Rare Americans 2 is now out. Could you explain briefly how this follows on from your debut?
“I think the overall energy from our debut record carries over to Rare Americans 2. There’s a lot of high-energy songs. This record is overall a little moodier, I would say, than the first. We also started diving deeper into storytelling.”
I love the idea of all animated videos, again, how did that concept come about and how are they linked?
“We felt we had big stories to tell and animation presents an opportunity to do so. I almost feel like we put out little mini movies, not just songs. Without a gazillion dollar budget, you couldn’t do that with live action, especially with the volume of videos we produce. We teamed up with Solis Animation out of Toronto, they are an incredible team of storytellers who are able to take our vision and amplify it to new heights.”
Reading your life story, going back as far as the age of two, life has been challenging for you James. How did discovering punk rock and music in general help you deal with those challenges?
“Well, life hasn’t been all that bad, I’m really lucky to come from an amazing family that’s done everything possible to let me pursue what I wanted to in life. From sports, to travelling, to my artist journey. Within those different lives, there’s undoubtedly challenges. Any time you are pursuing a career in something you face roadblocks and self-doubt.
I was always an avid music fan since day one. My parents played the greats like Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles. I got into alt and hip hop as a kid, and my two older brothers were punk rockers so they introduced me to punk music.
Music is a way to relate, to belong, to realize other people feel the way you do too. It’s amazing how music helps us connect. I love when you meet someone new and you ask ‘who are your favorite bands?’ If they respond with someone you love, it’s like you’re instant pals.”
You tackle a raft of subjects on the new album that will hit home hard with most people like mental health, relationships, and financial issues. What do you hope listeners will take away from the record?
“That if you are going through something similar, you aren’t alone. These are major issues in the world that a lot of people are dealing with. I would say even with the difficult subject matter we tackle, this record is filled with hope. The whole idea is no matter what you are going through, you can push through to the other side of it.”
As a storyteller, what do you get out of being able to tell your story to other people through the band?
“I just write songs because that’s what I love to do. To have a band that people care about, who wants to listen to these songs, man, it gives me purpose. Songwriting is a craft that I’ll likely enjoy till the day I drop!”
Throughout your life, what do you think the most important lesson you’ve learned has been?
“My brother has used the lyric ‘two ears, one mouth,’ meaning really listen, empathize, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to understand from their point of view before you spit yours. I haven’t always done that, but as I get older I remind myself to do so, and it almost always works out better.”
Industry-wise, you’ve had a lot of interest but decided to go fully independent with this release. What prompted that decision and what challenges have you faced along the way?
“We were on a major label, but honestly it just wasn’t for us. We come from a business background, we have the infrastructure and team to do this independently, and it’s super rewarding when you reach new milestones as a DIY team. Also, who wants to pour their blood, sweat, and tears into something and have someone else take 80+ percent of the revenue? Feels like highway robbery to me.”
The story of Brittle Bones Nicky has been one of the things that has resonated with fans. Following the release of part two, that would appear to be the end of that story or will Nicky appear in future work in some other form?
“Oh I think the story of Nicky is far from over. We have a lot of ideas of where we could take this. That’s another fun part of being DIY, we can take chances. Who knows, maybe we’ll do a full BBN musical one day.”
You have a lot of interaction with your fans online. How has that developed during lockdown and has it been important to keep that going as you can’t get out and tour?
“For sure. I like to talk with them over Zoom, direct message them, send them new songs to get their feedback. It’s nice to learn about your fans, because it gives a window into the broader spectrum of who might connect with your next release. I think understanding your audience is very important for growth.”
Hopefully, that will all change in the next twelve months. The album is out now so what are your plans for the year ahead?
“RA3 baby! Record is already fully done.”
As life looks like it will be coming back to normal, as a storyteller, what do you hope people have learned over the last twelve months about some of the topics you’ve covered such as mental health, relationships, etc?
“To be filled with hope. You can always start over, it’s never too late to pursue the path you always wanted to. Lots of people are filled with all sorts of dark thoughts, but you can work with those thoughts and channel them into something positive.”
Thanks again for your time and good luck with the album. Over to you for the final words…
“Thanks a lot! Really appreciate you taking the time to research our band, and ask thoughtful questions. We’re really excited to continue our journey, release another record this year, and continue evolving as people are creators.”