The day was Wednesday May, 24th of the year 2017. At 20 years old, I had just packed up my life and moved from Fort Worth down to Austin with the hopes of chasing a music filled adventure in a new city. After hours of moving into an 2nd floor apartment in the sweltering Texas heat, I was ready for my first big night in the Live Music Capital of the World: Blues on the Green in Zilker Park featuring one of my favorite bands, Austin's own Jamestown Revival.
We arrived at Zilker with a picnic basket full of local beer and a heavy appetite for some good tunes. As soon as the music started and the words of Jamestown Revial's "Golden Age" blared through the speakers, I felt the pulse of this great city to my core. Thousands of people of all types, together in an open field and all bound by the joy of music.
Jamestown Revival, formed by childhood friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, have lived a musical journey that has taken them from small town Magnolia, Texas to Los Angeles and beyond, and finally settling back in Austin. Their troubadour-like style and easy-going nature represent the Austin feel and has proven to be a hit across the country. Covering everything from feeling homesick to living with an adventurous spirit and exploring, this group combines expert story telling and an old school sound, all wrapped in killer harmonies.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have an awesome in-depth conversation with Jonathan and Zach. We talked all things music, their adventures to California, their upcoming album, and balancing family and a music career. Take a look at some of the highlights:
Kevin: My first question is where are you guys these days and what have you been up to? We've seen you start out in Magnolia, TX and head out to California, and the last album had a song called "Back to Austin". So, is that where y'all are living right now?
Jonathan: Yeah, we've been back home for about the past three and a half years, I feel like. Something like that. We came home, finally put our roots down in our home state of Texas, and I actually had a son. We've really just, man, dug in, and really felt like we're home to stay. And so, at this point, you know we toured a lot last year. This year we've really cut back on a lot of our touring in order to really write what we feel like is the best album that we're capable of writing. And so we've been really committing a lot of time to that and writing every single day essentially. And we've got some songs that we're really excited about.
Kevin: That's awesome. So can you tell me a little more about the album that's coming up? Is it a similar style to what you had so far, or are there any major differences that you're excited to share?
Jonathan: You know, we were actually going through all the songs that we have so far today.
Zach: Yeah, we actually wrote one today. I'm driving home from Jon's house right now.
Jonathan: We were talking about it today, and this album and these songs feel like the songs we've been trying to write for the last three years. I'll say that. And, I think we've both really grown, as just humans, as song writers, and as musicians. I feel like we've really honed the blade, I'd like to humbly say.
I think people will hear some similar things to what they liked about the first album. I think there's going to be some sort of exploration like there was on the second album, but I think and I'd like to hope that it's going to be the best thing we've done yet.
Zach: Yeah, I think that last album we were on the move a lot, so we had to write that in these little spurts, kind of. Whenever we had the time and the mental energy to. What's been nice this time around is we've just really been able to focus on it, we've just been home. So we've been hermetically sealed in our little studio space, just crafting every day, really. Exercising song writing like it's a muscle. And so, we feel really pleased with where our heads are at. And maybe we're on a high from writing a song today, but it just feels good. I don't think we realized how much, for us to be creative and be good, we need to be home, reflecting, collecting stories, working together, and having some sense of a routine. That's something we've realized.
Kevin: I'm really excited to hear the new stuff. Going off of that, about your move to California, how did that affect y'all personally in your own lives, and then did that change your music at all? Did it kind of allow for a new range of sounds or did you just need a change and decided to move out to California?
Jonathan: You know, honestly what I think it really did was, it gave us a story to live. And we just wrote that story. And in turn, it gave us an album to write. And out of that came so many subjects and things to write about, you know? Like, feeling lost, feeling homesick, feeling adventurous, feeling like we're getting some footing, feeling like we're losing that footing again, missing our friends and our family back home, and then eventually heading home. And really just all the aspects of that story, the story that we got to live for those two or three years out there.
And how did it affect our sound? I think those were the years where we really found our voice as songwriters, as two man band, because for years we were just two people, and we didn't have a band. We played just the two of us, we learned how to play with dynamics, we learned how to really utilize what little instruments we did have, which was an acoustic guitar and a piano. We explored how could we make the most out of those two instruments on stage and just two voices. So those things carried into the studio and what we learned there really carried into our live show, now playing with a wonderful six-piece band full of some incredible players and dear friends.
Zach: Yeah, I think California was really motivating, too. When we moved there, the idea was, let's change it up, let's be uncomfortable, let's go live somewhere new, let's get out of Texas. And then you get to a city like Los Angeles, and there's so many people trying to achieve some sort of creative outlet or do their thing, and you realize, I mean it's a kick in the pants. We really realized how much we had to get our shit together as songwriters and performers, and so going to a place like that was really motivating.
Kevin: That leads me to my next question, which is, having seen Austin grow from a more local music scene to now having a more national impact with ACL and SXSW, how does it compare to Los Angeles? What are those two cities like in terms of the music scene and how are they different? Do you feel like being in Austin, knowing the musicians around town and having your family here allows for a sort of comfort to be yourselves musically, or does it maybe hinder your sound at all?
Jonathan: I definitely wouldn't say it hinders the sound. You know, honestly, musically, I think the big difference between Austin and Los Angeles is, there's a lot more of the business side of music in Los Angeles. There's just not really near as much of that in Austin. And I think overall, just the musical community in Austin is a lot smaller. I mean, obviously, there's just a lot less people, but it feels a little more close knit, and just a little bit smaller. I feel like a lot of people who live in Austin just really love calling Austin home. And that's what it is really for us, it's home. We love playing Austin, and it's great to have the support of your home town. Most of all, it is our home, and that's our priority here.
Zach: Yeah, I think the biggest difference, more than just the scene itself, and maybe it's just Jon and I, but I think we're more affected by the atmosphere and environment of a place. California probably affected our songs in just the way you feel living in that region, you know, the Laurel Canyon sound that kind of developed in the sixties, you can't help but feel a kinship to that when you're there, and then you come back home and the weather is different, and the air's different, and there's humidity, and that affects the way you feel and how you write, inadvertently, I think for us anyway.
Kevin: You have said that you started out by writing songs that you wanted to hear, and you judged the quality based on the work of musicians that you like to listen to. So can you talk a little about who some of those musicians were, who you grew up listening to, and maybe how you've taken from their sound?
Jonathan: Yeah, I'll kind of talk about how it relates to the songs we've been writing over this past year. Because I feel like we've really honed in and even furthered our understanding of what songwriting is to us and what we're trying to accomplish. I think we've really started digging into, I'll cautiously say, a little bit more of the sixties, touching on some of the sixties' influence with some of these songs, and seventies' influence too. Like some Bob Dylan, a little, I say it very cautiously, like a little bit of Beatles, as far as some aspects of how colorful they were, and some of their really interesting chord changes. When I say Bob Dylan, I mean just that sort of free-spirited troubadour-esque guitar strumming, just not being so uptight, and not being so perfect. Like The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is in our rotation a lot, that album. And then we've really been looking at getting back to our harmonies and listening to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel. I've even been listening to Cat Stevens, just looking at how they were singing songs because they had something to say.
Zach: When we first started sitting down to write again, we were really into that sixties folk thing, a lot of Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Dylan for sure, and then we kind of change it up.
It shifts, because your tastes change, and this is no revelation, but then we went through this Beatles thing. I think you're pulling inspiration from all these people who are obviously great, and who inspired you before.
Jonathan: Yeah, and I think even more recently, Zach and I's writing style, it has slowly evolved. Why it evolved, or what direction it evolved towards, I don't really know, but it just has this sort of natural evolution about it. Here over the last few months, we've actually been in a little bit more of a bluesy phase. The last four songs we've written have had a little bit more of a blues influence, and that's been really cool. It'll be really cool to sit down when we have 20 songs, and we can pick the best of each type of song.
Zach: I do feel like you kind of start writing them, and you don't know what you're doing, and then you get a handful and you're like oh man, these kind of feel like they have a vibe. And then as you start to get more and more songs, you're like, "oh I can kind of see the outline." It's like if you dumped a puzzle out on a table and started putting pieces together and you're like "oh this feels like this would fit together, and maybe if we had a song like this, it would kind of help round out." I feel like that's how we work anyway.
Jonathan: It is. It just kind of starts to reveal itself into what would shape into a record. And to that point about the outline or the skeleton of an album; we don't want to write the same songs. We don't want a body made entirely of leg bones, you know? It's like every bone in your body serves a completely different purpose and it looks different, but it's all made of bone. And it has that common thread running through it, and that's kind of how I think we approach the album.
Jonathan: We want it to be something that holds your interest the whole way through. We want them to be songs that we really love. We were talking about today how in every song that we're writing right now, it's feels physically good to play that song.
Zach: They feel honest, which is really important I think for Jon and I. At the end of the day, if we write songs that we feel like are honest and we connect with, then we'll live and die by that. Even if they're never the biggest thing in the world, if we can go up and sing them and be emotionally connected to them every night, then he and I will stay sane.
Kevin: So going off of the influences that you've had and how they've shaped your sound, how does it feel to be on the other end now, knowing that after all of your experiences and all of your work, your music is now inspiring the next generation of musicians, and the things that you're working so hard on are having an impact on people all over the place?
Jonathan: You know that's something that I really don't think about, but that makes me feel really good. Honestly, like that's so cool. Just thinking like man, your band looks up to us as a band and as musicians. Man, you don't think about that. You don't think about the fact that what you're doing actually could really inspire and affect other people. You're just looking at yourself with that same critical mentality, that same self-conscious mentality that you always have had. And I think sometimes it's hard to get outside of that and look at yourself and say you know what? Maybe we actually are inspiring people, or affecting people for the better.
Zach: You know, man it's not something I think about or would ever even think that we might have an effect on people, so to hear that we might from time to time is really humbling. Cause I feel like we still look up to so many people, you know?
Jonathan: Yeah, I don't think that ever changes.
Kevin: Now that we have talked about your story a bit and your upcoming record, is there anything else that y'all think I should know about you or where you're headed or what you're working on that you would want people to know?
Jonathan: I guess I want people to know the reason we're not touring right now is because we feel like we're writing some of the best songs we've ever written, and we feel like this time off the road will be worth it, and it'll be time well spent. And it seems like it's shaping up to be.
You know, a band like us who's spent so much time on the road, when you don't play shows, and you purposely don't play shows, it almost feels like you're doing something wrong. And it feels like you're not making the right decision. I have to just keep reminding us that we are making the right decision, and sometimes you feel like you need to let the people know who are wanting to go see you play or are wanting to hear your songs, what you're doing.
Zach: Yeah, we're still alive! Still just trying to just carve out our thing, and grow and develop as musicians and people. Man, this has been a fun journey and we're pretty lucky, especially since we grew up together and are friends. We were talking about the other night, just having to do it alone would be such a different challenge, and it's pretty cool that we get to share this whole experience together. So, I don't know what that has to do with the message that we're sending to the world, but if people know we're grateful for the opportunity, then maybe they'll think something of that.
Kevin: Finally, you've worked as heavily touring musicians, you're now working on this new album, but you're people, too. How have you found the balance of creating your art as a job while still maintaining a structured life with your family and friends?
Jonathan: You know, I think it can be a struggle in multiple aspects. One of those being, you work your whole life, you dream this dream your whole life, and then you get a little bit of success and then all of a sudden, your music can become calculated. Your art can become calculated, because that success is that validation that you've looked for your entire creative life, right? And then you get it, and so you start looking at your art as, "well we did this last time, so we need to do this next time." Then all of a sudden you're writing songs just to try to continue your success rather than writing songs like we did in the first place, which was just out of a place that was really heartfelt.
So I think juggling the artistic aspect, that's something we've really had to learn. We've had to learn to just separate all that and just write songs again. There's been a bit of a journey there, and I personally have had to take it a day at a time, a month at a time, and a year at a time. I've learned how to put my family first, and also nurture my art and my music and give it the time that it needs, Also, quite simply, just keeping it fun and keeping it something enjoyable because it can turn into a job if you let it. Like a real job. And we've been through funks where we slacked and we let ourselves cease to enjoy it, and I think we kind of hit a point about a year ago where we really had to shake ourselves out of it. We were in a tour bus, we have a front-of-the-house guy, we have a tour manager, we have a bus driver, and we're sitting there unhappy. And we kind of shook ourselves out of it like, dude, we have got to enjoy this, like, this could all be gone tomorrow.
Zach: It is like a relationship. You've got to spice it up, you know. And it takes work. Also, life is cyclical and so is music, so there's these highs and lows and if you're expecting it to always be this rainbow, then I think you're going to be in for a rude awakening. But what it is, is just kind of keeping the good things in perspective and having good balance between creating and performing and then your life, and not letting those lines get blurred too much.
Jamestown Revival is truly one of the finest groups going right now, with stellar recorded music and a live show that you have to see to believe. From full on rock songs to one man slide guitar tracks, they have the ability to captivate an entire audience in a variety of styles. Aside from the undeniable talent and success, these two guys are simply class acts, and it was such a pleasure talking to them. It feels great knowing that as great of musicians as they are, they are even better people, and I'm excited to share that with all of their fans.
While their touring schedule is currently on pause, take a listen to everything they have recorded thus far, and prepare yourself for what is going to be a an incredible album.
To learn more about the band, check tour dates, or buy merch, go to:
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