INTERVIEW: Rare Americans

We’re extremely happy to have with us today a band of musicians turning the music world on its ear, the Rare Americans! James Welcome to Vents Magazine! Before we ply you with too many questions, how have you been faring in the year 2021 thus far?

Thank you for having us! It’s been a pretty good year so far. To be honest, it feels like 2020 has kind of blurred into this year. Christmas was cancelled this year in my family, and my birthday is in February so no parties or anything. In Vancouver we’ve been pretty locked down for the past few months. No gatherings, travel, or indoor dining. It’s just starting to open so I’m really looking forward to travelling and touring. We’ve been really productive through this whole pandemic though, it’s allowed us to record a ton of music, create videos, and work on other upcoming RA projects.

Congratulations on the upcoming June 9 release of your new single, Hey Sunshine! James, as the frontman I’m going to throw this first question at you: What was the genesis of Hey Sunshine?

I was seeing a girl for a few months a couple summers ago and we reached that moment where it’s like okay, are we in a relationship or is this just casual? I feel like everyone has been through that. For the online daters of the world, it’s when you ask, “Can I delete this app now or what?!”

Anyways, she was in grad school and left for the summer while we were still in this deciding phase. So, it led to the chorus, “goodbye is the strangest part, is this the end or just the start?”.

The Rare Americans are labeled as “Alternative/Indie.” We want to ask your thoughts on that label…Would you agree with that categorization?

You know, the other night I came up with a way better genre name. I want to call ourselves “Crooked Pop”. It’s alternative/indie/yadda yadda but with pop sensibility. I think a lot of pop (which I like by the way, this isn’t a dig) is pretty formulaic and Rare Americans is definitely not that. However, my aim is always to be as melodic as possible. Alternative now is such a broad genre. If you look at the charts, I think Taylor Swifts last album was simultaneously on the Pop and Alt charts, same with Billie Eilish. Genres are blurred, and we mix so many of them it’s tough to classify us so, we’ll go with Crooked Pop.

Hey Sunshine feels like a real great buildup for the Real Americans new concept album which is dropping on September 29 and is entitled Rare Americans 3: Jamesy Boy & the Screw Loose Zoo. Concept albums can be brilliant when done correctly (see Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End). Whose idea was it in the band to undertake a concept album?

We didn’t set out to write a concept album, this isn’t our take on “The Wall” or something. These songs just ended up being so much more personal than anything else Rare Americans has written. The first two albums are largely “outside looking in”, taking on exterior topics, and this record is much more “inside looking out”. Once we made the record and started putting video treatments together, I realized it was largely about my life. The only nickname I’ve ever liked is Jamesy Boy, so I thought hey why not use this as a way to introduce my character in the band. We then went deeper and made all the songs & videos connect. I won’t give that away yet though, because the connecting piece isn’t out yet!

I think we all love the title for the upcoming album – What’s the story behind the catchy title?

As I said, Jamesy Boy is the only nickname that’s ever felt good to me. When I was a hockey player my nickname was “Priest” and I hated it. The Screw Loose Zoo is the name we’ve dubbed our fan base. If you’re an RA fan, you’re a part of the Screw Loose Zoo. It goes back to the idea of Crooked Pop. People with kinks, who are maybe a little weird, with a screw a bit loose. This whole Rare American’s journey is so much about the community we’ve built that it only felt right to name the record Jamesy Boy & The Screw Loose Zoo.

Who produced Rare Americans 3 and what was that collaboration like?

It was co-produced by Rare Americans and Ben Kaplan. A couple songs were co-produced by Chin Injeti. Honestly, we spent so much time demoing this record that all the parts were in place by the time we got to properly recording. Ben took what we had written and made it sound 1000% times better. I gave him pretty specific guidelines on how I wanted this record to sound sonically and he knocked it out of the park. I didn’t want this to be a traditional “rock” sounding record like RA2, I wanted it to be more hip hop and Crooked Pop influenced.

What’s the Secret Origin story on how Rare Americans came together?

No secret at this point! My older brother Jared and I took a trip to the Caribbean a few years ago. It was our first brothers’ trip as he’s 11 years my senior. It’s a pretty isolated island so I wasn’t sure how we were going to fill our time, so I brought my guitar and suggested we try writing a song together. He laughed and said “A song? Fuck that, lets write an album!” I laughed in the moment but sure enough we spent 12 hours every day writing songs. We wrote 15 songs in 10 days and that became the first RA record. When I got back to Vancouver I was really excited about the songs and put together a band to record. We’ve kind of just been building over the past couple years and now have our lineup that consists of myself, Lubo (who I had played with in a previous band), our other Slovak Jan, Duran on drums, and Ginger on bass. We run this business independently, so we all have our day to day “business” job in the band. For example, Duran does all our graphic design and social media. Jan does all our accounting, runs our ad campaigns, manages grants, etc. Lubo edits videos and engineers demo sessions. My job is to run the band and make sure we’re reaching our goals.

Do you have a favorite tune off of the upcoming album, one that resounds for you?

I think my favorite song is Shay. I really liked it from the moment I wrote it. It’s got a vulnerability that I resonate with. It was written about a girl I met on a trip to the Philippines who’d recently become a widow. She was on this trip to try and find peace, and we developed this beautiful chemistry. It was a nice escape for both of us and I wrote this song in my room while she was staying like 5 doors down from me. I remember writing it late at night and thinking “jeeze I hope she doesn’t hear this right now!”.

Rare Americans were prominently featured in the hit movie Scoob…Did that exposure open you up to a whole new audience?

It gained us a small boost in monthly listeners but nothing crazy to be honest. It was more so a cool moment for the band. One thing that surprised me is how my friends and family perceived it. It was almost like once that happened, in their eyes, we were massive rock stars. It was a fun challenge. We got given a synopsis and two days to turn around a song. We just got to work, recorded it in my home studio, and two weeks later it came out.

What sort of a partnership do you have with Lubo? Is it akin to a Lennon/McCartney?

I wouldn’t say that, because Lennon and McCartney were both incredibly prolific songwriters. Lubo’s primary role isn’t to write lyrics or vocal melodies. He is incredibly creative and has an arsenal of sounds that he uses to create vibe and intrigue to a song. He is also great at coming up with hooks on the music side of things. He also has a wide range in his toolkit, from huge metal sounding guitars, to the prettiest reverbs and delays that you’d want to listen to while you sleep. The most beautiful part about Lubo is absolutely never knowing what you’re going to get out of him.

Are you surprised that there seems to be such an intense hunger by the fans for the music you’re putting out? Reading up on Rare Americans it was quite striking for me to note that you have such a strong and passionate fan base!

Thanks! It’s really what makes this so fun every day. It’s crazy to see more and more people getting Rare Americans tattoos. We really work hard to be a fan-first band. That means spending a ton of hours on DM’s, comments, discord chats, zoom calls, customer service emails, etc. The world moves very fast these days, especially in the content space. I’m noticing bands release a lot more material than they used to. I think if you sit idle for too long, your fans will find music from a different artist who’s willing to give it to them at a rapid pace. We have a lot of songs and I’d much rather have them out in the world than sitting in my iTunes library. Different songs connect with different people.

What sets Rare Americans apart from every other band on the scene right now?

Well, I don’t want to toot our own horn or anything, but if I had to pick, I would say depth, and storytelling. I think we can compete with the best in the world lyrically. Both Jared and I work hard to make sure our lyrics aren’t generic. We always try our best to be raw, and to not shy away from tough topics that kids are grappling with in their heads. We also seem to weave a narrative through our songs which I think is unique to Rare Americans.

How has the global pandemic altered your touring schedule and do you anticipate returning to the open road for full tours pretty soon?

We’re a young bang who hasn’t gotten to experience much of the touring world yet. We did one 15 show UK run pre-pandemic, and that was it. Likely we would have visited 50+ cities at this point but that’s life. We just partnered with a great booking agency which we’re really excited about and we can’t wait to aggressively hit the road as soon as boarders open up.

Where do you all see Rare Americans in another five years? Individually, what do you all hope to see the band achieve within that space of time?

I see us as more than just a band. We are transitioning into a media company now that we’ve partnered with Solis Animation, soon to be called “Crooked Pop Studios”. We’re working on two TV series that connects to the Rare Americans world. We also have a lot of different types of content coming that weaves Rare Americans songs with narrative based skits. I hope to be selling out 3000+ seat venues and bringing a Pink Floyd-esque live show to our fans that combines music and animation, live.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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