Storytelling school

Few Americans use animated storytelling to stand out

For any musical artist, visuals are often a key part of their work. But for Rare Americans, it’s what sets them apart from their peers. At the heart of the band’s work is its penchant for storytelling. Their fascination with how people interact in the world carries over into their music. But their whole unique style was a happy accident that came to exist as an additional member of the group.

At the root of Rare Americans is a bond between brothers – but it didn’t exactly start out that way. Until 2017, James and Jared Priestner had never really spent much time together due to an 11-year age gap between them. They lived very different lives – James as a player in the Western Hockey League, while Jared worked in the family business. But an impromptu trip to the Caribbean changed everything.

“To be honest, I had no idea what we were going to do for 10 days,” James laughs over the phone from Leuven, Belgium.

At the time, James was studying at audio engineering school, writing songs and playing in a band. He joked with his brother that he would bring his guitar and they would see if they could write a song over a few beers. Jared had aspirations to write an album, although James doubted that would happen.

“Of course, 10 days later, we’ve written 15 songs,” James continues. “I don’t even know if we went to the beach.”

The brothers’ musical chemistry was immediate, and the band soon expanded its lineup to include guitarist Lubo Ivan, bassist Ginger Chen, guitarist Jan Cajka and drummer Duran Ritz. After spending the last few years releasing an onslaught of music (most recently the deluxe edition of RA3: Jamesy Boy and the zoo opposite in April), they are set to release a new nine-track mixtape You’re not a bad person, it’s just a bad world August 19. Through a mix of pop-punk and alternative rock, Rare Americans addresses how taxing the current state of the world can be on someone’s mental health.

Borderline rap-rock single “Love Is All I Bring” explores the possibility of a catastrophic storm hitting the West Coast and how it would force everyone into survival mode. (“I put my head down and put myself in the shoes of someone who was actually going through this the day the storm hit, just for my own curiosity about what it might be like,” says James.) The band’s latest single, “Moving On” is more personal, detailing the fallout of a breakup and the mental and emotional toll grief can take. Despite the seemingly depressing theme, the album is full of energetic hooks, determined to find joy despite overwhelming odds.

You’re not a bad person, it’s just a bad world also gave the group the opportunity to give back. The group has pledged to donate $1 from each pre-backup to Pink Shirt Day, which aims to end bullying. It’s these types of actions and themes that have helped the band forge a real connection with their fans.

“We get a lot of feedback from people with very deep stories that our music has helped them fight depression – even kids who are contemplating suicide say our music helps them find purpose in their lives,” says James. “And when you actually hear someone commenting that to your face, it’s just incredibly impactful.”

It’s also the band’s love of animation — that kind of visual storytelling — that really helped Rare Americans stand out. Neither brother has any animation experience (and they didn’t intend for these visuals to be a staple of their project), but after creating about 10 videos, they couldn’t get enough of it. help noticing that their fans were all responding with the same comments, like “Wow, these guys are great storytellers.”

James credits these active fans with helping Rare Americans find their place in the music landscape. “It was almost our fans who kind of gave us that identity,” he says. “Since then, we have identified [that] it is a key element of the group.

Animation also appealed to Rare Americans because it allowed them to produce a steady stream of content – ​​which is important for a band that releases new music as often as it does.

“We’ve always been very prolific and we wanted to release a lot of music and videos,” says James. “We thought animation was a way to do it on a decent budget. There’s only a million more artists coming out every day, so we felt like animation was kind of a one-shot that not many people were doing that could kind of help us stand out.

It’s no surprise the band aren’t hitting the pause button anytime soon after the release of You’re not a bad person, it’s just a bad world. Their animated storytelling happens to go beyond music videos to a possible streaming series. The series is set to follow a character named Jamesy Boy (inspired by James) who finds himself in an alternate dimension called Crooked City, where he becomes a superstar. But he realizes that the fame he experiences there may not be what he actually wants for himself.

“We have pretty much the entire first season written and almost a completed pilot for the first episode,” James says. “And now we’ve just signed an agreement with a company to essentially present on our behalf.

“I was taking personal experiences leaving a major label,” continues James. “Once you walk into the big machine, and people tell you what to wear and how to dress and what writer you’re going to work with, it’s like you almost lose yourself in that process.”

He hopes this show will be linked to many artists, but the music of Rare Americans will not be on the back burner either. Besides, they have already recorded another album for next year, and they feel like they are ready and waiting for this moment.

“It feels like we’re just getting started – and we’re really ready to keep putting our foot on the accelerator.”