What happens when lifelong friends decide to hitch their wagons together and go into business? Well, often it ain’t pretty, but in some very rare cases the years of late night conversations, heated arguments and roadtrips prove their worth and the result is something very special. This is the case with Jamestown Revival, a duo that draws inspiration from Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance’s roots in the rural east Texas town of Magnolia. We had the chance to sit down with Chance recently as he got ready to hit the road for a marathon tour that stops in Denver tomorrow night at The Bluebird.
Listen Up Denver!: So tell me about the band that you guys are playing with these days. It’s the two of you fronting it and then you’ve got three guys behind you?
Zach Chance: Yeah, so Jamestown Revival is essentially John and I’s baby if you will. It’s pretty much formed around the idea of our friendship and our adventures and mishaps and collective experiences together. So most of the songs are written out of the two of us sitting around with a guitar. For the longest time we toured that way and then we were lucky enough to find some guys that we really enjoyed playing with. So, for this tour we’ll bring our bass player Nick Bearden who’s an extremely talented musician. I don’t think there’s an instrument he can’t play. Then Ed Vinrock, who’s a great drummer. He’s about as greasy as they come and we like that.
LUD!: So it will be the four of you touring?
ZC: Yeah, we just started playing with a guitar player for some of these shows and we have a couple guys we like playing with. So right now the four piece is pretty much standard issue and the guitar comes in when the setting is appropriate and also when we have enough money in our pockets to afford it.
LUD!: Sure, unfortunately that’s always an issue with touring musicians.
ZC: Yeah, so we’re happy to have been able to grow into a four piece and hopefully we’ll be able to add that fifth piece sooner rather than later, but we’ll take it a day at a time.
LUD!: So how did you guys land on the name Jamestown Revival? Is there a story behind that at all?
ZC: Yeah, well…it’s not like we were typing in words to the internet and looking for something that we thought sounded cool. I’ve always kind of been a mild history buff and John and I…I guess we’re old souls in the sense that we like to do things with our hands and we like to go about doing things the hard way because we know most the time you go that way the rewards are a lot greater. So, you combine all that with the point where we were where we wanted to make music together collectively instead of individually. John had been a solo artist for a while and he was pretty burned out on where he was and I had just gotten back into music. I was really excited about the prospect of playing music with my best friend. So, it’s new beginnings. It’s leaving behind the old and venturing into the new. So Jamestown, Virginia reference and Revival is sort of finding like minded individuals who can relate to what we’re doing. So, combine those two things and it’s new beginnings.
LUD!: I know you guys have known each other for quite some time. Can you talk about how you first met and how this friendship started off?
ZC: John grew up around Houston and moved around Houston. I was born in Monahans, Texas and bounced around. We moved quite a bit and we moved to Magnolia, Texas when I was fourteen and John was already living there at the time. So that’s how we first met. We were friends first and then kind of discovered a year and half later that we both enjoyed music or maybe had an inclination towards music. We weren’t necessarily musicians at that point. So, I think we figured out pretty early that we could craft and create together. I think we wrote our first song when we were fifteen. It definitely won’t be on any record anytime soon. [laughter]. So pretty early we figured that out and we started recording, and writing songs, and singing together. It kind of grew out of that but it was never anything really serious until we were in our twenties.
LUD!: You said the first song you wrote was when you were fifteen. When did you really start this project in earnest? Two, three years ago?
ZC: Three years ago. About the time we moved to California. Probably six months before we moved to California. We started Jamestown Revival and didn’t even necessarily know what it meant but we knew we wanted a change of scenery regardless. It seemed like everyone was going to Nashville and we thought we should go the opposite direction. So we went to Los Angeles for an adventure, a change of scenery, there’s more music business out here, a number of different reasons. The result was we were extremely uncomfortable. So, we couldn’t have been anymore lucky.
LUD!: It’s good that you view it that way.
ZC: We both enjoy L.A. but we learned pretty quickly that we can’t spend too much time here. We have to get away from L.A. to really appreciate it.
LUD!: I can see that. It’s the kind of place that can swallow you up it you’re not too careful.
ZC: Oh man, we joke cause you gotta know who you are and definitely have your moral compass when you come out here because if you don’t it’s easy to get sort of caught up in the wash. Probably was a good thing I wasn’t out here when I was eighteen.
LUD!: So can you talk a little about how the two of you work on writing together. Do you actually sit down and write songs together or what’s the process like?
ZC: It’s a very personal, energy driven experience. I think we’re so comfortable around each other and have spent so much time around each other that there’s no fear of just blurting something out and having it rejected. It’s a collective experience. We have to live, we have to go out and do things and have highs and lows otherwise it will be shit. So, it’s usually a culmination of an experience or experiences and then us coming together and talking about it or getting deep or reflecting and then it comes pouring out at some point. You sit down and pick up a guitar and it usually starts out with a decent melody or a word and then it just sort of grows out of that. It’s very autobiographical and I think that way it’s honest and a lot of the people we like listening to are that way. That’s what a lot of old country is and the Neil Youngs of the world and the Willie Nelsons and The Bands. That’s the stuff that people can really relate to.
LUD!: So the artists you just mentioned, are they really strong influences on your style?
ZC: Yeah, very much an influence. Our harmonies are rooted in old country. We didn’t necessarily love it when we were kids but you certainly grow up around it in Texas. Old country and Blues, a lot of great Blues and kind of that swamp feel, soulfulness. So whether we knew it or not we picked up on that and then once we kind of started to figure out what good music was again we were very drawn to it, John Prine, The Everly Brothers, I could talk about John Prine for a month nonstop, dude’s amazing. Creedence Clearwater even, the “revival” in our name is kind of an ode to them. Yeah, all those guys. Guy Clark is another guy I could rave about. Willie Nelson. I don’t think I’d ever get tired of having his record on. It could be a sound track for the rest of my life. Guys like that. But even like a Ryan Bingham you know. There’s been so many awesome musicians coming out of Texas that it’s pretty humbling. It’s like “Damn, I grew up in the wrong state to try and make an impression.” [laughter]
LUD!: So you moved to California and you ended up recording this album in the mountains of Utah?
ZC: We did. Like I was saying earlier we like the idea of taking the long road. At the time nobody was interested in recording us so we figured ‘well, we’re decent enough and we have talented enough friends and people around us to probably pull something out of our asses.’ We first figured out we could get access to this cabin in Utah, then we sold all our friends on the idea that ‘hey, we can pay you very little money but we can load up all this old gear and take some musicians out and set up and stay in this cabin for two weeks and record a record in a way that people used to do.’ Just sit around…live takes, no click track, no headphones, just playing music. Because we wanted to capture the live energy of a show for the songs and really have the moments within the songs. So we sold everybody on that idea and we were lucky enough to get AEA microphones to lend us a bunch of microphones. So we got all this really awesome gear went out and spent five days setting up. Then the drummer and bass player flew out, Nick and Ed, and we spent four or five days recording and tracked fourteen songs. Then we packed it up and it was mixed here in Los Angeles and we added a few sprinkles here and there but for the most part we kept it very much as is. So the drums are in everything, we’ll never get an instrumental off that album because everything is just bleeding into everything else.
LUD!: Right, everything was played live in the same room so if you’re standing in the room you hear like it is on the record.
ZC: Yeah, which is cool. I don’t know if it’s the right way to do things but it ended up being fun and sort of unique to this particular record. The cool thing is having the cabin as the fifth member of the band on that record. You hear that cabin in everything…that sound is that cabin in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. It was great. We kind of bought a bunch of groceries and lived out there for two weeks, didn’t go into town. There were Moose that would come by every morning and we recorded some bird sounds the last night we were there ’cause we were up till the sun came up. The engineer Daniel Dempsey stuck a microphone out on the porch and you can hear us talking in the background winding down. It was an awesome time. I think everybody’s got really fond memories of that experience.
LUD!: Fantastic, it sound pretty incredible. You worked with an engineer, did you have any kind of a producer in there or is it all self produced?
ZC: Self produced, co-produced if you will. It was a very collaborative effort and that was the other cool thing. It was very community feel. I think everybody lent something at one point of another. Daniel Dempsey, Ryan Lipman also helped engineer it and he mixed it so he’s the one who really cleaned it up for us. He’s a friend we’ve known since we were in college at Texas State just down the road from Austin. Everybody chipped in, it was cool.
LUD!: So I understand you put together a short film on this, is that right?
ZC: Yeah, High End of the Wasatch Mountains.
LUD!: Can you talk about that a little?
ZC: It’s just a short, probably nine minute, EPK or mini documentary with some behind the scenes footage of what went on down there. A friend of ours came out and shot some footage and we edited it and put it together and it looks decent enough.
LUD!: So it tells the story of why you guys chose there and gives some insight into how the recording went down?
ZC: Yeah, we got this guy to do voice over work for it. So it’s a pretty light hearted feel but it basically tells the story of how we moved to California and picked Utah and taking the gear out there and setting up and a few of the songs being recorded and the highs and lows.