Jamestown Revival’s Jonathan Clay is no stranger to the music industry. The Magnolia, TX, born-and-raised singer/songwriter has been active as a solo artist since the release of his debut EP, 2006’s Whole New Me. From there Clay was able to sign a development deal with Atlantic Records and released his second project, Back to Good, in 2007. A third album, Everything She Wants, came in 2010 amidst various song placements for shows on MTV, ABC, and FX.
However, accomplishments rarely ever hold any real weight by their lonesome. What good is a dream come true if you can’t share that dream with your best friend — especially if that best friend is someone as musically inclined as Jamestown’s other half, Zach Chance?
Speaking with Clay (and briefly with Chance) on the phone for about half-an-hour, it quickly became evident that the joy of creating something meaningful alongside another meaningful person is the ultimate reward for the childhood partners-in-crime, who reunited to form Jamestown Revival in 2010. I could keep writing cliches about friendship, or I could let Clay explain why: “We just enjoyed playing music together a lot more than playing it apart.”
Five years later and the southern folk-rock duo find themselves in the midst of an extensive tour for their highly successful and critically acclaimed debut album, UTAH, which was released in September of last year. The tour has brought them in front of massive festival crowds at Austin City Limits (a homecoming of sorts for them), Coachella, and Wakarusa, amongst others, with an appearance at Lollapalooza on the horizon later this summer.
But as much as Jamestown appreciates the overwhelming love and support, they remain some of the most humble and grounded musicians that I have ever spoken to. Indeed, if I didn’t know anything about them, I very well could have mistaken them for a far less established group. Perhaps this ego-less approach to life is why they opted to forego the expansive studio budgets and bright lights of a big city recording experience, instead finding a log cabin high in the mountains of Utah to track the aptly-titled album entirely to tape.
The story of Jamestown Revival is really that of two best friends who help each other remain true to themselves, relying on and sacrificing for one another in the midst of a crazy musical journey through an even crazier music industry. Read on to hear directly from Jonathan (and at times, from Zach) about his thoughts on Jamestown winning iTunes’ singer/songwriter album of the year, why they don’t record while on the road, a preliminary release goal for their UTAH follow-up record, plenty of stuff about their current home of Austin — which they share with JamFeed! — and much more.
Interview by Julia Waicberg.
How did you guys get started as musicians?
Jonathan Clay: My dad played guitar, music was a big part of my household growing up. Zach’s mom sings and his dad played piano, so it’s something that is in both of our family lineages. None of our family members performed professionally, but music was on both sides of our families. We wrote our first song together when we were fifteen. At first we were friends, but then that friendship developed into a bandship. But we started as friends, and first and foremost, we still are friends.
You (Jonathan) had a solo career for awhile. Why did you and Zach reunite to form Jamestown Revival?
JC: We just enjoyed playing music together a lot more than playing it apart.
Who are your musical influences?
JC: Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, and John Prine are big ones. Everybody from James Taylor to The Everly Brothers to The Rolling Stones… a lot of classic music. We don’t listen to a whole lot of current music. Zach does a better job of listening to more current music than I do, but I’m a bit of a grandpa.
You call your fans “revivalists.” Where do you find your biggest fan base?
JC: Austin, LA, New York, Boston, and Chicago. I guess that parallels all of the biggest cities, but it’s where we have the biggest shows… We can rest assured that the fans are going to be there, and that they are going to have our backs.
You moved from Austin to California in mid-2011. What caused the move away from your home state?
JC: We just wanted to change it up. We wanted a change in scenery. We felt like it might inspire something, and that it did. It inspired an entire album!
You lived near Bakersfield, CA. What about that area allowed you to write so much of UTAH?
JC: I think it was just being away from home and feeling completely displaced. There was a longing for familiarity. And the mountains and the water were all new to us.
You guys have been touring for awhile now. What are your thoughts on recording while on the road?
JC: For us, if you’re tracking vocals and guitar for a song and you don’t finish it that day and you want to come back and finish it the next day, you’re not going to be able to get the same sound. You can never repeat. When you break down and then come back, you’re never going to get the same sound twice. And I think that holds true in a larger sense. For us, the album should really be one complete thought. It’s a really important thing. And I feel like it would introduce a bit of a disjointed quality if you were doing a couple songs in a studio here and a couple songs in a studio there. The whole cohesiveness of the album is a really important aspect of it — for it to read like a book from start to finish, for it to feel like a complete thought, and to feel like all those songs are of the same family.
Do you have any necessary touring rules?
Zach Chance: You can tell when people aren’t in a good mood. You know, when someone needs their space. There are some general unwritten rules, like if you’re lucky enough to be on a bus you need to be clean. But nothing too crazy. Everyone’s pretty respectful.
Is there anything you make sure to do while you’re on the road to take your mind off of music?
ZC: We always make a point to get some camping in. We really do enjoy the outdoors. You get out and collect your thoughts, even if you’re not writing a song about hiking. I think doing that, stepping away from your phone and the congestion of the city, is a really good place to figure out where your head’s at. So we try to make time for that. We’ve also gotten really into bowling.
What has been your favorite festival to play at?
JC: Being from Austin, I would say ACL. It was really cool. That was the first festival I had ever been to, just as a fan… That was five years ago. And then five years later, being able to play that festival, that was pretty special.
What is the next step in terms of your next album?
JC: Our plan right now is to finish a song or two by the end of the year and follow it up with an album early next year.
Do you have plans on where to record yet?
JC: No. We haven’t gotten to that part yet… Making an album is a team sport. You’ve got me and Zach, you’ve got our management, our band, our producers, our label (Republic Records). We have a lot of people involved and it will be a decision that we all make together.
iTunes named UTAH the Best Singer/Songwriter Album of 2014. How was that experience for you?
JC: That was really cool! You know, when you create something like an album, and you listen to it so many times during the mixing process and the recording process, you can’t even tell by the end of the process whether or not it’s good. So getting a little bit of recognition, it gives you some much needed approval and affirmation that what you’re doing is worth it, and that you’re not crazy.
Do you listen to your old music still?
JC: Oh, no. Once we’ve signed off on the final master, we don’t ever listen to it… It’s kind of like “Okay, I think I look okay in this picture,” and then “Okay, I’m done with this. I don’t have a need to look at this picture ever again.” Whereas, your significant other, you could look at them over and over. But when it’s yourself, it’s not fun to look at necessarily.
How do you know that a song is good and complete?
JC: It just has a bit of magic to it. And sometimes finding that bit of magic is really difficult, so when you find it, it’s obvious. Sometimes it feels like you’re digging for a needle in a haystack, and then all of a sudden you prick yourself. And then it’s obvious that it’s right there… When you get it, you just know. You just think to yourself, “Okay, that’s it.”
You guys are from Magnolia, TX, but lived in San Marcos and have been residing in Austin (for the second time) since late 2013. Your sound seems to fit into the Austin folk scene, would you agree?
JC: Yeah. And from a larger perspective, just Texas and southern music in general. Austin is obviously a very dynamic, eclectic place. There are so many different kinds of music, but I do feel like we took a lot of influence from the south and southern music. You know, Texas songwriters. Guy Clark and Willie Nelson, to name a few. We merged that with kind of our own inclinations and I guess this is what you get.
What is your favorite venue to play in Austin?
JC: To have a show at Stubb’s Outdoors — that’s the goal. That could be my favorite place. We’ve played inside at Stubb’s, but yet to play outside.
You’re playing at Blues on the Green in Austin later this summer. Have you played before, and are you excited about it?
JC: We’ve been to Blues on the Green before, but haven’t played. But we’re very excited. It seems like in the city of Austin, we’re legitimately building a musical home. It’s always been our home in the truest sense of the word, but now it’s starting to feel like a musical home as well.
What is your favorite national park in Utah?
ZC: Man… Utah is a well-kept secret. Zion is great. I’m pretty partial to Bryce Canyon, just because we took this backpacking trip there. I think we did 18 miles in a day-and-a-half and were covered in blisters, but we spent several days out there and had a great time. And obviously, Zion is awesome. Utah is amazing. And Park City, we always love getting up that way.
Follow Jamestown Revival on JamFeed to stay up-to-date with all of their latest moves, and if you’re in the Austin area be sure to catch them at Blues on the Green on August 5th.