Jamestown Revival members Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance are true Texans at heart as they have a love for Western adventure stories and a knack for carrying the rock-country-fused torch of their great predecessors. We met up with the childhood buddies in Austin for a friendly conversation over cocktails, and what a happy hour we had! They told us all about how they love whiskey, camping and fishing – basically all things masculine – and their impending vacation/inspiration quest. Alas, the folksy duo enlightens us to their influences for storytelling, their insatiable desires for adventure, and a reveal on what they believe is one of Texas’s best-kept secrets.
mxdwn: Your music does translate over a lot of genres. It’s got a catchy vibe, a soulful folksy vibe, and glaze it over with an indie rock vibe. How did your sound develop?
Jonathan: Well, one day, we… I don’t want to give a serious answer, but feel like I probably should. I’ll get serious. Honestly, I think our sound developed out of a result of listening to some true songwriting legends and heroes and doing our best to hold a candle to them. Mixing that with our innate instincts and the creativity that makes us us…
Zach: I think learning to be honest in what we were saying instead of just trying to sing about what we thought people would want to hear as opposed to just writing from experience.
Jonathan: You know what? Having a story to tell. That was kind of a definitive shift for us – actually having a story to tell. That kind of was a paradigm shift for us because once we realized and really experienced what it was really like to really tell a story, then it was like this light bulb that went on and it was like we could never go back. We could never write something that is not completely real and we don’t mean every single word we’re saying. It was weird. It really was like an “ah-ha” moment. For me it was. It changed the way I look at songwriting for my perspective.
Zach: But going out and experiencing things and being uncomfortable and having that to pull from is a big… You can’t be fat and happy all the time. You’ve got to be uncomfortable and that’s where the good stuff comes from. If you’re content and just sitting around, then I don’t think you’re going to have much to talk about.
mxdwn: The vulnerability is definitely a powerful perspective. Have there been any storyteller artists that have inspired you along the way?
Zach: A ton. They’re not always musicians, necessarily. I think Louis L’Amour would be one – just a writer.
Jonathan: We’re big into westerns and western stories and stories of frontier and stories of people with the pioneering spirit. That’s something that inspires us. So, Louis L’Amour, obviously, western short stories were his game. He’s awesome at what he does. His memoir is a really cool read. It tells just stories of a man who was just after adventure and how he got his education. It’s called Education of a Wandering Man. Let’s see…
Jonathan: Willie Nelson. John Prine – an incredible storyteller, a guy who can take the most mundane things and make them poetic. It’s a true art, an art we’re still trying to learn. From Walt Whitman to John Muir – naturalists, people who love Mother Nature. That’s something we definitely align with.
mxdwn: How do you feel that fuels into your music?
Jonathan: I think the outdoors serve as our muse. So, I think if we’re feeling maybe like we’re just numb to the world, I think when we get out into the woods, it awakens our spirit. It makes creating feel more natural and easy. Sometimes when we’ve been in the city too much, just the monotony of repetition, the way to break that for us is we’ll schedule a camping trip or we’ll schedule a backpacking trip. We’ll get out into the woods. We will acknowledge the fact that ok, we’re going out camping and we’re friends this weekend. We’re not business partners. We’re not in Jamestown Revival. We’re just buddies going on a camping trip. So we have to draw that delineation to really enjoy ourselves while we’re out there and to really keep that pure and to really let that serve its purpose. A couple weekends from now, we got us a trip planned that we’re pretty excited about. We’re going to Devil’s River. We’re going to go kayaking and fly fishing. They only issue 12 permits a day for 12 kayakers. We’re going to drop off and I think what are we doing – about 15 miles on the river or 20 miles?
Zach: Yeah, it’ll end up being about 4 days. But there are very few people on the river when you’re there, so it’s pretty remote. The only way to be on this stretch of river is to be put in on the top side of it because it’s all private land in-between. It’s some of the most beautiful stretches of river in Texas, but it’s fairly unknown. It really is. It’s kind of one of Texas’s well-kept secrets.
Jonathan: So our buddy, one of our best friends does a lot of our videos for us. He did our music video for “California.” He’s just a good friend first and foremost, and he’s bringing along his camera and of course his fly fishing rod. He’s the guy who got us into fly fishing to begin with and then some guys from a company called Huckberry. It’s kind of like an outdoor curated men’s lifestyle store. We’ve gotten to be buddies with them, so they’re coming out. They’re flying down and we’re going to take this little trip.
Jonathan: We are going to bro-down for real! It’s stuff like that that fills our cup though, and that’s what we have to remember. It’s easy to lose sight of, you know get wrapped up in just the day to day…
Zach: It’s easy. You can kind of get in a bubble and not even realize how monotonous it can get.
mxdwn: In the zone?
Zach: You’ve got to shake the system up a little bit. Yeah, you kind of get in the zone. It builds up a little bit.
Jonathan: It’s very easy to get really insular. You think, “All I need to write songs is just us. We’re just get into a room and we’ll just write songs.” Really, that’s not all you need to write songs because you need stories; and how are you going to acquire stories and acquire memories? You’ve got to get out and do stuff. It’s not really a part of the songwriting process that you really think about sometimes, but it’s a part that’s very real and very necessary for us. It’s a little bit more intangible, but when we don’t have it, it’s obvious when we get into the writing room and we’re just kind of strumming around, sitting around looking at each other feeling dead. When we get out and we get some adventure, and we come back and it’s just easy.
Zach: I think as friends, too, it’s an excuse to have adventures every now and then. Well, we need inspiration, so we should probably go do this or whatever.
Jonathan: It is! You say ten words, and we just start spilling our guts. You get a couple of rum drinks in us, we’ll tell our life story.
mxdwn: Do you plan on doing any writing while you’re on your trip, or just when you get back?
Zach: You collect, come back, reflect. We always have conversations and coffee in the morning. When the weather is like this, then you’re outdoors anyway.
Jonathan: It goes back to consciously deciding not to write, not to talk about music. Leave music back in Austin. Let’s just go have fun. So, definitely no writing. It’s the last thing I want to do out there.
Zach: “Kumbaya” by the fire. It’s a great day on the river. Let’s sing some tunes.
Jonathan: I want to drink whiskey. I want to sit at the riverside. I want to go fishing. I want to do anything but music. Music I don’t want to touch. Turn the phone off.
mxdwn: Well, I can appreciate that your music does have a very real side to it. I think a lot of fans find that relatable, and that’s why you’re music is becoming so popular. It has been featured on a lot of shows. How do you feel about your music transitioning into the mainstream?
Jonathan: Look, if we can carry on the torch of guys like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Creedence Clearwater, if we can carry on that torch then wonderful. There’s nothing bad about it. We’d love for our music to become highly popular. We’re just going to keep doing what we do, and if that catches on, then great.
Zach: I think that if people can find a way to relate to it, then we certainly welcome them onboard. In sharing that experience, I would never be angry with people that find it meaningful. I think our biggest thing is honesty. That’s what works for us. If people find that and like it, that’s awesome. The train is moving.
Jonathan: When I turn on the radio, I feel like I can never find anything that I really like. We’re doing our best to give people something that we would like to listen to. There’s got to be more people out there like us, right?
mxdwn: Making the music that you would love to hear, eh?
Jonathan: That’s the basis of our writing. We were talking about that a couple months ago.
Zach: When you see a band that kind of inspires you, no matter what genre, when you see people doing it that way, and they make what they want to hear I think it translates. It’s endearing in a way. They seem moved by it whether it’s pop or rap or punk or country. That’s the stuff that makes it good.
mxdwn: So, you did some work refining Utah. It’s jumping leaps and bounds. You’ve said that playing it on tour made you rethink and want to refine it?
Jonathan: I think we learned that we had never toured a whole lot before we released Utah. So, I think touring on an album – legitimately touring, real touring – it taught us about evolution within a song. I had never personally experienced the evolution of a song live. How you write the song in your room, and recording a song in this controlled environment then getting out and playing the song every day for six weeks, the song changes. To me, that’s when the song really starts to feel like a good pair of broken-in jeans. It’s like an old saddle. It’s like that’s when a song becomes what it really needs to be and I learned the importance of that. That’s why we’re really trying to play new songs now and let them mature and let them develop and let them get a little road-worn before we bring them into the studio. That was a new thing for us. So, I think a lot of the songs did mature, they did grow, they did evolve to be maybe what they should’ve been all along. That said, recording Utah was a really special moment in time. That was a snapshot of all the songs as they were right then on that day in July. Have they grown and evolved? Sure, but in their state at that point they were really special, too. It’s like a photograph. When you record an album, it really is like taking a picture of your songs, and in the same way that you take a picture of yourself and you look back on it two years later and you’ve grown but you’re still the same person, with songs it’s the same way. So, I’m glad to have the chance now to take the songs out, play them, and really get them right, really get them feeling good. I think that’s going to make our job in the studio easier because if we can do something in the studio that feels good, people are going to feel good when they listen to it. It’s that simple. We did that, I believe, for Utah but we’ll be able to do an even better job with that on our new album.
mxdwn: What kind of goals do you have for the rest of the year besides going on a trip for some perspective?
Zach: Perspective, yeah. Start looking towards the future but also continuing the tour on this album and reach as many people as we can and kind of grow it a little bit one step at a time. That’s always been our approach – just keep our heads down. Keeping forward momentum, for me.
Jonathan: Not to be overly vague or to take ourselves too seriously, I honestly just want to gain perspective and just remember why we’re doing this in the first place and just keep doing what we’re doing. That’s all I want to do because I think if we keep doing that, we’ll be alright. I don’t want to overthink it. I don’t want to squeeze it. I don’t want to lose it either. I can’t even think about it too much. We just kind of have to let it happen. Like Zach was saying, forward momentum. We’ve got some great festivals coming up. I want to go into the studio at some point with a collection of songs that we’re really proud of. That’s kind of something that we’re working on right now. I want to continue to make our show better. I never want to play the same show in the same city. Every time we come back, I want to play a better show. I want to keep pushing ourselves as performers, as writers, and keep on keepin’ on.
Photo for mxdwn by Owen Ela.