Written by: 
Michael King

Duran Ritz ('12) was only 12 when his father laid out the plan.

Duran Ritz
Duran Ritz ('12)

His father, a blues musician, always dreamt of touring Europe alongside his family as a band. However, even with their menagerie of musicians, they were still missing one piece that would bring it all together.

"I started to just fill in the gap of the family band," Ritz says. "So, my dad got his dream, and I started drumming."

After touring with his family for a month in Germany, Austria, Czechia and Switzerland, Ritz found a love for the drums.

Now he's the drummer for Rare Americans, a Canadian rock band. Most recently, the band, known for its innovative videos, has been nominated for the Breakout Group of the Year Award at the 2022 Juno Awards.

"I think that was one of the moments where you feel a little bit validated. Where you finally feel like, 'Oh, OK, like maybe we're doing something right,'" Ritz says. "I'm not crazy about award shows, but I think it was nice on a validation front."

One O'Clock
Duran Ritz
Duran Ritz ('12)

Ritz, who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, earned an associate degree in music performance from MacEwan University. During his time there, he gained a new appreciation for jazz music.

After he graduated, Ritz wanted to go further in his education. When one of his friends recommended UNT, he had to go see it for himself.

"I remember I went down there to audition," Ritz says. "I spent a week on campus, and after hearing the other musicians play, I couldn't believe how good everybody was."

At that moment, Ritz knew he wanted to study at UNT. He began his journey to pursue a bachelor's degree in jazz studies.

Through his time at UNT, Ritz climbed his way up through the competitive program. He was mentored by his professors, especially by Professor Emeritus Ed Soph. During his senior year, he became the sole drummer for the One O'Clock Lab Band, the premier performing ensemble of the university.

"I remember feeling in over my head because I thought the music was such a high level," Ritz says. "I had tons of fun, met lots of great friends and we worked really hard that year."

Hunkering Down

After graduating, Ritz moved to Vancouver. He played freelance gigs and started a drum lesson business that he still operates today.

In 2019, after getting a recommendation from another friend, Ritz went to check out Rare Americans. The band had just released "Brittle Bones Nicky," its most popular song yet. They had just signed up with a major label and were planning to tour across the world.

After hitting it off due to their mutual connection, Ritz agreed to join the band during its tours. He became their drummer, as well as their social media manager.

Things were looking great. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

"The coronavirus definitely cratered things, but we took advantage of that situation," Ritz says. "I think if we were known as just a touring band at the time, we would have been impacted a lot worse."

With no other choice, Ritz and the band got to work. While the band was stuck in quarantine, they kept writing new songs and improving their craft. Shifting to an online focus, Rare Americans earned over 500 million cross platform streams, as well as over two million followers. When the lockdown eventually lifted, they were ready to rock.

"I think because we were so online focused from day one, it really helped when the pandemic hit," Ritz says. "By the time it opened up, we had grown quite a bit."

Milk and Honey

With the release of Rare Americans latest album, Searching for Strawberries: The Story of Jongo Bongo, Ritz shows no signs of slowing down. He and the band have just completed their "Milk and Honey Tour" in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., just like his father dreamed for his family so long ago.

"Ultimately, I've always just wanted to have a life where I can play music and support my life with it," Ritz says. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm living that right now."

Between his work with Rare Americans and his drum lesson business in Vancouver, Ritz hopes to connect to people with his music, one song at a time.

"People just message us and say, 'Hey, your music impacted me' or 'Your music encouraged me to stand up for myself,'" Ritz says. "It's good to hear that our music seems to be creating positive impacts on people."