QA: Jamestown Revival talks about making music and mountain biking
Influenced by Southern soul and Western rock, longtime friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance formed Jamestown Revival in 2011, and the group makes its Grand Junction debut as headliners during the Grand Junction Off-Road day of music in downtown Grand Junction.
Clay and Chance, who hail from Austin, Texas, are relatively new arrivals to the national music scene, releasing their debut, full-length album, “Utah: A Collection of Recorded Moments from The Wasatch Mountains” on Feb. 11.
The 11-track album features songs the 29-year-olds wrote then recorded live while holed up in a log cabin in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains for two weeks in June 2013. Minimal overdubbing was done after with electric guitars because all songs were recorded acoustically.
Jamestown Revival’s music has drawn comparisons to other indie rock groups, such as The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers and Shovels & Rope, according to iTunes.
Friends since they were young boys, Clay and Chance credit their brother-like bond with their ability to harmonize and write so well together.
During a recent phone interview from New York City, Clay and Chance talked about creating Jamestown Revival, their musical influences, the process of making their first album and their mountain biking ability.
Jamestown Revival will play at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, at Fourth and Main streets.
The day of music starts at 10 a.m. with Grand Junction’s Poke Squid. The Williams Brothers Band, also local guys, plays at noon. Texas’ indie-rock band Wild Party plays at 2 p.m., before an Off-Road awards ceremony at 4 p.m.
The shows are free and people are asked to bring two canned food items for a local food bank.
Melinda Mawdsley: You’re childhood friends. Who came up to the other and suggested you start a band?
Jonathan Clay: That’s a good question. I can’t quite remember. It happened when we were 14 or 15 years old. At first it was just about singing. I played a little guitar and we started kind of singing together. I remember it was pretty instinctual for us to start writing music. We didn’t know what we wanted to do. We just knew we liked making music together. It was pretty much that simple. I can’t overcomplicate it. We were pretty infatuated with harmony. It always felt pretty natural. We are very close friends. We were roommates in college. I think we needed to do a little bit of exploring musically before we were really ready.
Mawdsley: Friends since childhood, then college roommates and now a band? Ever look at the other and just want to get away?
Zach Chance: I moved to Magnolia, Texas, when I was 14, so we’ve been friends longer than we’ve not been friends. At this point, it’s kind of like family. I don’t know if you have siblings. There’s never a time when we hate each other, but there are times when you inevitably don’t agree on something.
Clay: We’re the prequel to “Grumpy Old Men.” Zach and I communicate very well and we respect each other.
Chance: I will say this is all relatively new to us. We’ve had a little more success this year than in the past. Adding business to a friendship adds a level of pressure to the friendship, so we’ve had to adapt a little bit. At the end of the day, I’m playing music with my best friend. We can work through anything together.
Mawdsley: Do you have a crazy story from your childhood?
Clay: Zach used to pretend he’d fall out of trees when cars drove by.
Chance: I got my bike taken away from me because I would wait for cars and at the last second would ride out into traffic. My neighbor saw me and told my mom. I got my bike taken away for like six months.
Clay: When I was little, I used to watch this show “Rugrats.” I’d be Chuckie. Zach would be Tommy. I’m very pragmatic, a rational thinker. Zach is definitely more of an idealist. It makes for good creation between the two of us. That carries over into the creative process. Although on the surface we may seem like the same person, in reality we are very different.
Mawdsley: On your web bio, your music is described as “Southern soul blended with Western rock?” What does that mean?
Chance: We were raised in Texas. There’s been so many great songwriters from Texas alone. Being from the South it has a Southern soul, storytellers from Texas and that Southern soulful sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then you go out West and get Merle Haggard, Jackson Brown. All those things kind of influenced us.
Mawdsley: I did want to ask you about your musical influences. You touched on a few.
Clay: Creedence Clearwater Revival. We even pay homage to them for the “revival” thing. The Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel. We are absolutely Willie Nelson freaks. We love storytellers and good ol’ fashioned rock. Throw some Otis Redding in there.
Mawdsley: Tell me about the instrumentation of the band.
Chance: Yeah, we have killer band members.
Clay: We have a drummer, Ed Benrock, and bass player, Nick Bearden, who we play with regularly. Those are our boys. I play guitar and Zach plays piano.
Mawdsley: You left Texas several years ago and moved to California as musicians. Why not stay in Austin or maybe move to Nashville?
Chance: John had been fairly successful doing a solo thing, so it was a big decision for him to shift and form a group. We decided it was time for a change. We had been in Texas for a long time and wanted to be uncomfortable. We had a lot of friends moving to Nashville. That seemed safe. When we first moved to California people would say, “Why didn’t you go to Nashville?” and that sort of verified why we moved to California. It was maybe the best thing we’ve done. We moved there in 2011. Right John?
Chance: We just moved back to Austin at the beginning of this year. We knew we wanted to get back to Austin and now that we are traveling more it’s cheaper to store our stuff.
Mawdsley: Tell me more about this trip into the Utah mountains in June 2013 to record your full-length, debut album, “Utah: The Wasatch Mountain Collection.”
Chance: We set up in this log cabin (for two weeks) and turned the tape machine on and played this music live. We added a few things here and there to fill out the songs, but it was minimal overdub. It was just the live songs. Then we went home and a friend of ours who helped engineer the record mixed it and got the songs to where they sounded good and we ended up using 11 songs — there were three that we felt didn’t quite capture the essence of the song — and that’s why we named the album “Utah: Collections from the Wasatch Mountains.”
Depending on what time of day it was, there’s an energy. And that’s what we wanted. We wanted there to be some emotion in the performance.
Mawdsley: Why the Wasatch Mountains?
Clay: Honestly, it was kind of random. We always thought Utah was beautiful, and we had a cabin up there that we knew we could get into inexpensively.
Chance: We had spent time backpacking in Utah and really loved it up there. This cabin was available to us for very cheap. We recorded (the album) ourselves. (They tracked all 14 songs in four days and used 11 for the album.) It was almost like a demo. When we released it, we essentially acted as our own label.
Mawdsley: How difficult is it to break into the music industry?
Chance: You know, it is kind of hard. Honestly, the reason we recorded it ourselves was because nobody was interested. It was a scary experience. We decided until someone comes along who is passionate about the project and is as passionate as we are, we’ll do it ourselves. We’ve been lucky to pick up awesome people along the way. It’s hard to make a name for yourself because there’s a lot of really talented people doing it.
Mawdsley: The album was released Feb. 11. You essentially said, “Here’s our lives and our music. This is us.” How was that day?
Chance: We were nervous. It’s scary to put things out. Given the resources we had, and the budget we had, we were very proud of what we were able to accomplish. We learned a lot in the experience. Moving forward, it’s just given us tools to hopefully be better.
Clay: It’s hard to really explain. You build this day up for so long. There’s fear. There’s excitement. There’s all of the above. You want it to be perfect, and you know it won’t be, but you do the best you can.
Mawdsley: Tell me about the process of writing that first album. Do you work together? Go off solo to write?
Chance: We have so many shared experiences and have been writing together so long, I think we are just comfortable writing around each other. John would come over in California almost five days a week and we’d just play. You’d get in these tangents and deep conversations and out would spill a lyric or melody. There were days John would come over with an idea or vice versa. The cool part is, for better or worse, our lives are so intertwined we can come together and keep each other in check and as honest as possible.
Mawdsley: That first album has a good mix of slower songs and upbeat songs. Have you found a certain style is easier to write and compose?
Chance: It just depends on your mood. I think sometimes it’s easier to do the somber songs when it’s just us and a guitar. There’s less noise and less tempo with no drum kit in the room. It’s always where we were at with some of the slower songs. We haven’t written a ton of songs for another record, but it sounds like we’ll explore more rock ’n’ roll. We’re still figuring it out as we go. We still have room for improvement.
Mawdsley: You’re performing a free, outdoor show as part of Grand Junction Off-Road. Do you guys mountain bike?
Chance: We do actually, but neither of us would claim to be good. We are extremely novice. We did the other event (Epic Rides hosts) in Prescott, Arizona, and watching those riders go at it, I quickly realized I’m, “A,” horribly out of shape, and “B,” I can’t ride a mountain bike like those guys. Part of the thing that’s exciting for us to do these events is we are big outdoors people. We were pretty big into mountain biking in Austin and went to California and maintained it and that community seems to be a great group of people.
Mawdsley: You said you are big outdoors people. What do you guys like to do with your spare time, if you have any?
Chance: Right now, it’s been kind of sparse. When we get the time, backpacking trips, camping, fishing. There’s some property in John’s family since the ‘60s, early ‘70s. We’ve been going there since we were kids and being rednecks, really. If we can get away and camp and explore, those things really seem to fill our cup and balance it.