Salsa Makers, Power Washers, Pipe Sellers, and Musicians: Jamestown Revival Finally Found the Job that Stuck
As soon as Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival sat down in the folding chairs behind the media tent at the Hangout Music Festival, it began.
Lately, I’ve been low
Things been moving slow
I could not tell you why
Maybe too much paradise
Something came calling and I knew this time I had to go
The band’s song “California (Cast Iron Soul)” boomed from the speakers on the 92 Zew van.
“This is embarrassing,” says Clay.
“Someone needs to turn that off,” laughed Chance and the two boarded the van to thank the station for playing their music.
It has been a good year for Jamestown Revival since they opened for the Wild Feathers at the Soul Kitchen in January. They were an unknown band but a board member from the Hangout Festival was in the audience, and Jamestown Revival was soon booked to play at that festival’s Kick-Off party.
“The first time we played in Mobile our album Utah wasn’t out yet, and only a few people knew any of our songs,” says Clay. “ I didn’t realize the turnout for our show at the Hangout would be that good. We were pleasantly surprised.”
“People were singing more than ‘California,’ which is cool,” says Chance. “I want people to come see us for more than one song.”
The Southern Rambler: Jamestown Revival has taken off with the new album and tour since we saw you in Mobile four months ago.
Zach Chance: I don’t know if we have taken off yet. I feel like we have gotten lucky and I just want to keep it going and focus on what is next.
Jonathan Clay: Having the album out has brought touring full circle. People can take home the music and share it with their friends. The sum of the parts is now greater than the whole. Utah was that final part.
Since its release in February, Utah has been called one of the best albums of 2014. That is nice praise for an album that you produced yourself.
ZC: If anyone says that other than my mom, that is a good thing. There is still a lot of year left, but it is cool and humbling
JC: We are our own label and we paid for the record on our own. We teamed up with a distribution group to release it and we now have a small team that helps us and are so important. We still do a lot of things on our own, but it is starting to get overwhelming at times.
You are spontaneous and personable in your shows–you interact with the crowds with observations such as the syphilis billboards that you saw on your drive to Gulf Shores. You later put down your instruments for an a capella verse close to the audience with only the stomp of your boots on the speakers. How do you stay loose and in the moment?
ZC: We don’t think about our shows too much and that helps us stay on our toes. If we plan out the show, we will overthink and it becomes sterile. The best stuff happens when you don’t plan it.
JC. We never rehearse and I am not going to say that we never mess up, but I like a small element of uncertainty in our live shows. We feed off that and we thrive on it. We don’t want a predetermined show that we are regurgitating. We want each show to be unique with a little bit of improvisation.
ZC: Selfishly it is more fun for us to make changes. We will throw in a new cover or try something new. We played “Head On” at the Hangout, a song we wrote a long time ago, but it didn’t fit the album. The a capella part started with Jonathan. Sometimes he gets a wild hair and I follow him.
JC: We didn’t talk about it, but I saw the guy who played before us walk out on the speakers and it seemed like a good idea. I didn’t think about it again until we started playing.
ZC: You have to keep an eye on Jonathan, but I follow wherever he goes.
You’re touring almost every day during the summer at a time when many bands are just playing festivals on weekends. Why keep up that pace?
JC: The album came out in February and now is the time to solidify it. We are trying to go to as many places as we can and connect with as many people as we can.
You’re touring in a prison bus that you renovated into a log cabin?
JC: We are going to be on HGTV’s Cabin Buses. It took a lot of wood, jigsawing, and electrical wiring. I didn’t know what we were doing, but that is how I roll with all of my projects. I have to learn while I do it, which may not be the best thing to do when you are working with electricity. Zach trusted me enough to say, “If you think you can figure it out, then I support it.” He will take a leap of faith with me. Zach has just enough crazy in him that he doesn’t overthink stuff.
ZC: If it is a crazy idea, it usually means I get a good adventure out of it.
Since you grew up together, there must be a history of crazy ideas and good adventures.
JC: I came up with all kinds of harebrained ideas. When we were in high school I thought we were going to make thousands of dollars with a pressure washing business. We canvassed the entire town with fliers and we even included free estimates, but there were no takers.
Was that because of your reputation in high school?
JC: I would like to think it was because people in Magnolia are going green and want to conserve water.
ZC: Or, I think it is because people in Magnolia are hard-working Americans and they will get out and power wash their own driveway.
JC: That’s it. That is the ol’ Magnolia attitude. It was a good place to grow up. The population sign has read 1,100 for 12 years now but everything has grown out and filled in with Targets and Chic-Fil-As.
What were some of your other ideas?
ZC: We owned a patent on a salsa company, but we let that lapse. My mom makes amazing salsa, and we were going to make money off of that, but we got busy with music and that didn’t go anywhere.
JC: We are going to bring that one back one day. We also bought domain names and we had a website to sell pipes because we smoke pipes.
ZC: The good thing now is that music has stuck enough where we can give all of our attention to this. I am not going to say there won’t be more ideas in the future, but right now music is forcing us to focus. I am ok with this being our main focus for now.
You moved from Austin to Los Angeles because you needed a change. Why did you recently move back to Austin?
JC: The band is still in LA, but it was time for Zach and me to change again. We always planned to move back to Texas. We tour more and life is cheaper in Austin.
What has been your best show this year?
ZC: Our first sold-out show was at the Hotel Café in San Francisco before we went on tour with the Wild Feathers. We were loose that night, and that show took the cake.
JC: I have wanted to have a sold-out show since I started playing music. It only took damn near 30 years to do it.
Balance and simplicity are important to you. Have you learned how to step away from the music and touring and find time to clear your head?
JC: I am still figuring out how to get away from it. My wife, Michelle, and I have to slip away and not think or talk about music. It is hard to get away from it and not stress about it.
ZC: It is especially hard right now because this is the busiest we have ever been, but it is exciting for us and we want to keep it going. It is what we’ve always wanted, but it does suck you in.
JC: We are so connected with phones and texting and Facebook. It is hard to turn it off and step away.
ZC: We both recently got away with our families and didn’t talk for five days. That was good and healthy, but we did miss each other.
You’ve added a few new songs like “Trouble Is.” Does that mean you’re writing for the next album?
ZC: We are about to get out and start writing in the next couple of days and thinking about the next album. It is hard to start thinking forward and let go of the old material. I think we are finally starting to do that.
Right photo: D.B. Stancil; Top two photos: Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival by Stephanie Drake