- November 2016 -
HAVE A BEER WITH JAMESTOWN REVIVAL
Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance grew up together in the small Texas town of Magnolia. From a young age, they shared a love for music as well as the outdoors. About an hour north of Magnolia, there was some old family land with a dilapidated ranch house where they spent the better part of their adolescence.
At one point or another, music from Creedence Clearwater and The Everly Brothers, to fellow Texans Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, and Stevie Ray Vaughan found its way through an old pair of speakers that sat on the back porch. The pair spent the day exploring that thousand-acre plot of land, and when the sun when down they took to the records of the songwriters and bands that inspired them. At the age of 22, they moved to Austin and began to craft a sound of their own. Deeply rooted in harmony, they merged the sounds of the South with classic American and Western rock.
Looking for adventure, as well as a change of pace, they eventually made the decision to head west and make the move to Los Angeles, California. Throughout the course of the next 12 months, they wrote what is now Jamestown Revival's first full-length album, Utah -- a record that was recently named Singer/Songwriter Album of the Year by iTunes music.
We sat down with Jonathan and Zach in the greenroom at Double Door to discuss the southern slant to their indie rock, recording an album in the Wasatch Mountains and the meaning of the oh-so-catchy line: "with a cast iron soul."
The Show: Jamestown Revival at Double Door // Nov. 16, 2014
Drinks of Choice: Old Fashioned and Stone Fence
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: So, an Old Fashioned. They've become kind of trendy lately.
Jonathan Clay from Jamestown Revival: I know and it fucking pisses me off. I don’t try to put all that bullshit in it. A good Old Fashioned needs nothing but bitters, simple syrup and whiskey. I also like a little flaming orange zest. The orange oil is very flammable, so if you get an orange zest, you can heat it with a lighter, squeeze it and it will flame in your drink. If you christen the rim with it, it almost gives it a smoky orange flavor. That’s really all you need. People try to dress it up with cherries or make it too sweet. I also don’t think the smoothest whiskey translates to the best Old Fashioned. My personal whiskey of choice in an Old Fashioned is Buffalo Trace.
Zach Chance from Jamestown Revival: Yeah, I'm right there with Jonathan. It's an Old Fashioned for me, too. I’m right there with Jonathan. It’s a staple. It’s timeless.
Kristen: You guys are originally from Texas, but you now live in Los Angeles. Is that right?
Jonathan: You got it right up to that point, but we have since moved back to Texas. Los Angeles was never intended to be a permanent move. We went out there for three- and-a-half years and moved back to Texas about eight months ago.
Kristen: What prompted the move back?
Zach: Like Jonathan said, it was never meant to be permanent. Now that we're traveling more, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper in Texas. It’s also closer to our family, and Austin is ultimately where we wanted to be. The move back was a result of a few things. We still find any excuse we can to get out West. It just felt like a good time for a change of scenery. A good time to start a new chapter.
Kristen: So, you’re in Austin now. What’s your favorite thing about it, aside from the music scene?
Jonathan: I like the nature of the city and the diversity of the city. There’s a real outdoorsy thing going on in Austin – everything from rock climbing to mountain biking to hiking. There's the Greenbelt, which is a preservation with trails. It’s all public and it’s scattered throughout the city. Just miles of land.
Kristen: It's funny because that’s not what I picture when I think of Austin.
Jonathan: It’s a very outdoorsy community.
Zach: And it’s an active city.
Jonathan: It’s also a big city without feeling like it. It doesn’t feel anything like Dallas or Houston or Los Angeles ...or other super cities. Although there are millions of people there, it doesn’t feel as big. In Town Lake, for instance, people are out there kayaking and jogging with strollers. It’s a cool community. The energy of Austin is unique to Austin.
Zach: Yeah, it’s just the spirit of the place. People want to do things differently. There’s also great sense of community with local restaurants and businesses. That makes it a great place to be because people are trying to create and do things differently than the norm. That’s where we get the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan from.
Kristen: Do you feel like it’s getting invaded?
Zach: I don’t know if it’s getting invaded, but you definitely see it growing. Some of the money is choking out some of those elements of the dinginess that exist. But it’s progress and people will want to go where it’s cool to be . It's all cyclical I’m sure, and it will be somewhere else 10 years from now, so it’s just getting it’s glory. It’s deserved. I think the one saving grace is the heat in the summer. It gets pretty hot and I don’t know if most people can handle it.
Kristen: That’s how Chicago is for us. The winter keeps all the assholes out.
Zach: Yall’s summers are so great though.
Patrick from A Beer with the Band: Have you been to Marfa, Texas?
Zach: We’ve been through Marfa. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, but it’s the hippest town on the planet right now.
Patrick: Yeah, I went a couple of years ago on a whim and all the people there were like, “We don’t know how we got here. We don’t know why we’re staying, but we’re going to…” It’s got Michelin Star chefs and the business hours are like Monday to Tuesday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. Closed some Wednesdays. Open Thursdays…There are shows in coffee shops…
Zach: I think there are some music festivals popping up that way, too. Maybe everything that gets squeezed out of Austin will migrate that way.
Kristen: You recorded your debut record Utah in Utah. Why did you pick where you did to record that?
Jonathan: We’d spent some time in Utah and always thought it was a beautiful place. It's really a well-kept secret. It’s really pretty out there. I’d been to Zion, and Park City is beautiful. The Sundance Film Festival is beautiful. We happened to have access to a cabin that was about 45 minutes outside of Park City called Hebert City, which is in the Wasatch Mountain Range. We thought, Why not just get out into the woods to record? So, we talked the guys into coming out, brought an engineer – a buddy who we kind of co-produced the record with – and we recorded everything to tape. Real old school, old fashioned. No isolation. Just all in a room. Everything was recorded live so it made for a different-sounding recording.
Kristen: Yeah, live to tape, no headphones. Was that something that came organically out of being there?
Zach: We had planned that out. We knew we wanted to capture the live energy and the vibe of our shows. We also knew a lot of bands we liked and listened to that had done it that way. So, yeah, it was a conscious decision. We knew ahead of time.
Kristen: There are even birds chirping in one of the tracks.
Zach: Yeah, that was on the last night.
Jonathan: As we were finishing up, we were having a celebratory drink. Our drink of choice while in Utah was actually not an Old Fashioned. It was an old cowboy drink called a Stone Fence, which is rye whiskey, lemon juice and apple cider.
Kristen: That’s probably really good for your voice, too.
Jonathan: Yeah, it’s a solid drink. And you know what, you can claim that as our drink of choice. Fuck the Old Fashioned. So, the bird ... We were sitting out enjoying a few Stone Fences and had been up all night tracking. The sun was starting to come up, the birds were starting to sing and the guy who was co-producing the album with us said, “Man, this is beautiful. I’m going to get this.” He just ran upstairs, flipped on the console and stuck a mic out on the porch and that was it. He came back an hour later and chopped up a bunch of sections.
Zach: If you listen really closely, you can hear us talking in the background. He had put the mic on the balcony, and we were just below going over all the songs. We were talking about whether or not it was worth a shit. It’s a cool moment to hear it and listen back.
Kristen: A lot of the songs on the record are autobiographical, with references to Texas and your hometown of Magnolia. What would you say most about home influences your writing?
Jonathan: For me personally, it’s my love for my home. Home is my family. It’s nostalgia. It's the place where you can breathe a sigh of relief when you get off the road. And in going to California, we really did long for that. God, how do you explain home? I don’t know …
Kristen: Yeah, it’s more a feeling than anything else.
Jonathan: Home is the place where your soul can get the closest to peace, you know?
Zach: Yeah, and after we moved to California, talking about home was comfortable. It was interesting being away from the things that were familiar, and comparing our new surroundings to what we knew.
Kristen: Did the record come out of that difference in place? Did you do the writing in L.A.?
Zach: Yeah, most of it. We had written maybe two songs before we left.
Jonathan: There were kind of three phases of writing. There was the anticipation of leaving, which is when we wrote “Revival” and “Heavy Heart." Then there was the "hitting land" phase, where we came ashore to the new world. It was the wide-eyed discovery of L.A. And that was when we wrote “California," “Time is Gone” and “Fur Coat Blues." Then, the third phase was almost like, “Okay, it’s time to go back." We were starting to anticipate going home again” That’s when we wrote “Home.” There was definitely an arc to the writing process, and my favorite might have been the top of that bell curve. Writing “California” was a very cool moment. I remember that day.
Zach: We were probably the most excited when we wrote that song. We instantly felt the energy of that song.
Kristen: Why the line, “a cast iron soul”?
Zach: Like a cast iron skillet, the longer you cook in it, the better the flavor gets. The more you travel, the more experiences you collect, the more seasoning you add, the more stories you have to tell, the more perspective you have. You're collecting flavor. You're making the "food" better. That was the idea.
Kristen: Was there a song on the record that was particularly challenging to record or write?
Zach: The songs that were a surprise to record were the ones where we were trying all these things with the band … Then a song like “Medicine” would pop up, where we just stripped everything away. Ed played brushes on his knee, and Jon and I stood around one microphone. It was the last night -- at about four in the morning -- and the song just wasn’t feeling right. We were trying to it too big, so we ended up playing it really broken down. It ended up being this great moment. The song has this real delicateness to it that came in its charm. It was a good lesson: you don't always need more. Sometimes less is more.
Patrick: I read a hell of a review from Bob Lefsetz from one of your shows.
Zach: That was a hell of a thing to wake up to. When I read the headline I was like, “Oh my god, he ripped us apart.”
Jonathan: When I got the email and saw it was just labeled "Jamestown Revival,” I was like, “Wait, did Bob Lefsetz get my email?”
Zach: We sent him a "thank you" for the write-up and he responded back. I emailed him to tell him that I appreciated his realistic assessment of the current state of music – and his fearless assessment of the current state of music that people don’t always want to hear but need to hear. He just wrote back like, “Man, I love you guys. I’m listening to ‘Golden Age’ right now. Keep it up.’”
Patrick: Did you guys know he was going to be at the show?
Jonathan: No, we had no idea.
Zach: It was this great festival in California. It was on the pier and we were just having an awesome time. We woke up to that the next day and it was like cloud nine.
Kristen: What are you working on now? Are you taking a break from creating while you’re on the road?
Zach: We're always brewing.
Jonathan: Yeah, we’re always writing, but right now the focus has really been on fine-tuning the songs we do have and making our show the best we can make it. We're trying to be better performers, trying to be better players and trying to play better as a band. We're hoping to give people a night where they’re having as good of a time as we are. We’re writing for sure, but when we’re on the road, we don’t tend to do it as much. We write more when we have a little minute to get bored. We'll get a little antsy and if we don't have shows all the time, that’s where we'll get into a nice habit of writing. But I do think we’re living chapter two. We’re starting to tell it.