Rare Americans’ James Priestner on Touring and Getting to Know Fans (10/9 at The Foundry)

Word on the street (It’s actually from a quite reliable source.) is that tickets are running low for Rare Americans’ upcoming show this coming Sunday, October 9th, at The...

Word on the street (It’s actually from a quite reliable source.) is that tickets are running low for Rare Americans’ upcoming show this coming Sunday, October 9th, at The Foundry…  And, considering that their first-ever North American tour completely sold-out earlier this year, I might suggest getting them ASAP…  At the core of Rare Americans are brothers James and Jared Priestner, who decided to start a band while on an impromptu trip to the Caribbean a few years back.  Since then, they’ve released four full-length albums, including You’re Not A Bad Person, It’s Just A Bad World, which dropped this August on EMPIRE.  The band — rounded out by Slovak guitarists Lubo Ivan and Jan Cajka, and drummer Duran Ritz — churn out tunes that would seem to be equally inspired by pop-punk and alternative (of both the rock and hip hop varieties), often accompanied by animated visuals courtesy of their work with Crooked City Studios.  I recently got a chance to chat with James Priestner, who told me about their music, their fans, and their approach to live performances.  (Opening the show will be DYLYN, whom we interviewed last year, and who put on a stellar opening set for Mother Mother earlier this year at Theatre of Living Arts, so I’d also recommend coming out early…)

Izzy Cihak: You released your most recent album, You’re Not A Bad Person, It’s Just A Bad World, this August.  How do you think the album compares to previous releases, both in terms of sound and just the process of writing and recording it?  You’ve released a lot of full-lengths in a relatively short period of time.

James Priestner: With every record you gain experience, so I think we went into this one with a clearer game plan.  The producer we worked with (Ben Kaplan) we have worked with several times so there was no feeling out process, both sides could just get to work straight away.  We went a little “harder” on this album in terms of sound.  There are bigger guitar tones, more riffs, and even some screaming vocals.  I’d say this record is quite varied as there is also a couple more acoustically driven songs.  I like when records vary from song to song, and I feel we did a pretty good job of that on this one.

Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the album?

James: We are on tour right now and a lot of the VIP ticket buyers ask about the story behind the song “Carson.”  That is a true story of a boy from Vancouver who dealt with extreme bullying and was killed tragically a couple of years ago.  Just a really sad story, and I think a lot of our fans have experienced similar treatment from other kids at school, so it hits home for them.  In general, the subject matter of the record has to do with bullying, mental health, and our young fans seem to be relating to the songs which I’m really happy about.

Izzy: Do you currently have a favorite album track?

James: A couple stand out.  I like “Run The World,” it’s a cool message to the youth that it’s their time now, not the old guard.  I really like “Moving On” as I think it’s just a solid song.  It’s dead simple, and a lot of the best ones are.  We have been playing it acoustically on tour and it’s so nice hearing people sing along when it just came out.

Izzy: I’m really interested to hear about your collaborations with Crooked City Studios, and all of these animated videos that you have put out.  How did that all come about?

James: In 2019 we went looking for an animation studio that could be a reliable partner for us and we came across Solis Animation from Toronto.  They had done a video for a band called PUP that we liked.  We did three videos with them and one of them was the song that really got our name out there, “Brittle Bones Nicky.”  The workflow with them was fantastic, and they are very creative, so we proposed to them starting a new company together.  They were totally down and Solis Animation became Crooked City Studios.  We opened up a new work space in Toronto earlier this year.  We’ve done projects for HBO Max, New Balance, Comedy Central, and have a few of our own IP projects in the works.

Izzy: Instead of asking artists about their biggest influences, I prefer asking them about some of their favorite records.  So, what are some of your favorite records, whether of all-time or just recently?

James: I’d say a few favourite records of mine are:

Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

The Strokes – Is This It?

Izzy: You seem to be very interested in the wellbeing and backstories of your fans, so I’m curious if you’ve noticed patterns in the kinds of people who seem most into, or drawn to, your music?

James: Absolutely.  We’ve played in 10 different countries this year and we’ve noticed our fan base is very similar across the world.  Lots of kids who feel they are “outcasts” in a way.  Our fans are fantastic.  Insanely polite, respectful, intelligent, creative.  They are kids who really dive deep into the song meaning and take hope from our music.  We definitely don’t attract the “influencer” type audience.  Our fans know all the worlds to the whole set and are proud to rock our merch.

Izzy: You’re currently in the middle of a US tour and you’ve been on the road basically the entire year.  What have been some of the highlights of these shows and audiences so far?

James: Finally just making that connection in person.  We started getting popular during the pandemic and would get all these deep messages but it didn’t really seem real online.  Now that we’ve played all these shows and met kids in person, it finally really clicked that what we’re doing is meaningful.  Europe was amazing, so cool to be in Budapest, then Germany, then Paris or the UK and see lineups of kids and packed rooms.  Hard to believe we get to do this every day.

Izzy: I know that you played a number of festivals.  Did you get to see any bands that especially impressed you?

James: I thought Imagine Dragons had a great set.  We also saw Dup Lipa and she’s a total pro and the production was amazing, but she also had 20-30 people on stage with her.  Imagine Dragons really just has the band and the frontman Dan carrying the show, it was cool to see his power in action.  I also really liked seeing Turnstile, they put on a great show.

Izzy: And you’re going to be playing The Foundry in the very near future.  What can be expected of the live experience?

James: We have a very energetic and interactive show.  There’s several different “moments” throughout the show to keep people on their toes, and we even do a Q and A half way through where fans can ask us questions about the RA universe.

Izzy: You’re on the road with DYLYN, who I absolutely love.  (I interviewed her last year and caught her with Mother Mother earlier this year.)  What are your thoughts on her, both as a musician and just a touring partner?

James: She is a 10/10.  Solid songwriting, powerhouse vocalist, and a great human.  They are perfect tour mates and both our crews get along super well.  They are using almost all our backline so it also makes the production seamless every night.

Izzy: I’m always interested in a band’s touring rituals.  So, are there certain things you always make a point to do while on the road, whether certains kinds of places you always make a point to stop, or just things that you try to do before or after you play live?

James: I always do the same warm up, both vocally and physically.  We do a little “team huddle” right before we hit the stage which has became a ritual.  Besides that we take it as it comes.  Every day is a little different, each city presents its own unique experience, and we just try and enjoy it as much as we can.  Touring ain’t easy, especially with the amount we’ve done this year, you gotta get your rest and take care of yourself or your body will push back.

Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you?  How are you hoping and planning to spend the first part of 2023?

James: After this tour I’m going to take a well-earned vacation!  It’s been a very intense year and I’m looking forward to relaxing for a few weeks in Costa Rica, do some scuba diving, trek through the jungle and not think about the music industry for a bit.  It’s such an all-consuming lifestyle.  After that, I’m super excited for 2023, we have the two largest projects we’ve ever done releasing, both with a long form video we are calling a “mini-movie.”  We are experimenting with concept albums that have one story start-to-finish.  We will also hit the road again going to Canada, Europe, and USA likely in the fall of 2023.  Hopefully a few festivals as well!

*Get your tickets here.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.