“In 2019 we launched ‘Brittle Bones Nicky’ with an animated music video on YouTube, and unbeknownst to us, it took off online,” frontman James Priestner tells American Songwriter over email. “It told the story of Nicky, a young boy who grew up in the foster system in Canada, with the odds stacked against him. It follows his life story. 60 million streams and thousands of comments later, it was clear people really connected with Nicky. There were a ton of theories about who he was, if he was real or not, what happened to him after, etc. I decided ‘why not continue the story?’ [So] I put my head down and wrote a sequel, which follows Nicky’s journey into the afterlife.”
That sequel—“Brittle Bones Nicky 2”—finally arrived last week, and it might just be even more wacky and catchy and compelling than the original. Featured below with another animated flick, the track bounces between heaven and hell, rock and rap, sincerity and absurdity. It sounds like Eminem and My Chemical Romance had a baby, and that baby was raised by Gogol Bordello.
“It’s a rollercoaster ride of a song,” says James. “The intention was never to try and take this into a radio hit or get on a more mainstream playlist. This was purely a creative endeavor for our fans. It really has no rules, doesn’t follow typical song structure, and it’s meant to be consumed like a short film. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for songs with structure and making a cohesive piece of music, and we have plenty of songs like that. However, this is not one of them, and I think it’s pretty cool for a band to have both types of songs.”
The Canadian alt-rock band is rounded out by James’s brother Jared Priestner, guitarist Lubo Ivan, bassist/engineer Jeff Quinn, backing vocalist/guitarist Jan Cajka, and drummer Duran Ritz. They recorded “Brittle Bones Nicky 2” at Hipposonic Studios in their native Vancouver. “The song was a co-production between Ben Kaplan, Chin Injeti, and Rare Americans,” James explains. “We had a horn section, a group of gang vocalists, a makeshift symphony, and six different character voices in the song.”
For James and his bandmates, crafting a follow-up to the original “Brittle Bones Nicky” felt like a natural way to engage their fans during a period of transition for the band. “The song came about because of the connection our fans had to Nicky, from the first song,” he says. “We have an upcoming album called Rare Americans 2 that we’re releasing on March 5th, so I thought bookending the album with the sequel to ‘Brittle Bones Nicky’ would be a nice end to this chapter of Rare Americans.”
Rare Americans may be entering a new chapter, but “Brittle Bones Nicky 2” proves that they’re still committed to the vivid storytelling and rambunctious, genre-blurring style for which they’re known.
According to James, he writes at his best within designated time slots. “I say, ‘Okay, for the next five hours I’m not leaving this room, and whatever I come out with, I come out with, but I can’t give up before the five hours is up.’ When I do that I almost always come out with the foundation of a song,” he says. “It allows me the creative time needed to brainstorm, work out melodies, and lyrics.”
While his musical influences change frequently, James cites Modest Mouse, Arctic Monkeys, Blink-182, Alkaline Trio, and Eminem as “a few all-time favorites.” More recently, he says, “I’ve really gotten into J Cole, Oliver Tree, and Lewis Del Mar.”
“Brittle Bones Nicky 2” is Rare Americans’ second release of 2021 following “Knives, Guns & Bed” with Clare Twiddy. Both tracks come after previous singles “The Moneyz,” “Gas Mask,” and “Hullabaloo.” Rare Americans 2 follows their 2018 self-titled album.
Asked what he hopes listeners take away from “Brittle Bones Nicky 2,” James responds, “That life is full of endless possibilities and people are inherently conflicted.
“This sequel dives into the afterlife and poses the questions ‘Do heaven and hell really exist? What would it look like? How much does your life on earth dictate where you end up in the afterlife?’ I am agnostic, so I really don’t know what happens to us or what I think does, but I’m fascinated by one of life’s great mysteries.”
“Brittle Bones Nicky 2” is out now. You can pre-order Rare Americans 2—out March 5—here.
Photo by David Astorga Bocos