Jamestown Revival’s music evokes the quest for the perfect road playlist for fans of the mystical Laurel Canyon sound popularized in the 1970s by the Eagles, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Joni Mitchell. Some country, some soft rock and all open sky, Jamestown Revival’s new album and accompanying tour are upon us.
Jamestown Revival’s Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay are playing at Saturn, 200 41st St. South in Birmingham on May 1. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20.
Q: “Judgement Day.” To me, that song title takes on a lot of different meanings, but when I listen to it I hear a character that feels like he doesn’t really have any other options. Am I right there at all?
A: You know, I don’t know if it’s a character that feels like he doesn’t have any other options. It’s just a character that’s just a little bit disenchanted with everything that’s going on around him. He’s just looking around going, “Is this ever going to let up? Where’s the calm to the storm?” I think the idea was always if you’re sitting at a bar and the music is on in the background and you’re just talking to a friend or stranger, it’s just like “What are we doing here?”
Q: That leads to my next question. “This Too Shall Pass” is almost like a total 180 from “Judgement Day,” and I get a real sense of optimism from that song.
A: It is. I think we’re all a little bit schizophrenic sometimes, and you can go from one day feeling like it’s hopeless to the next day and then gaining this sudden sense of optimism. All is not lost, we still have some kind of compass here and it’s not the end of the world. I think when you look too far out beyond yourself it can be daunting. That song is more about family. When you bring the scope in and just focus on what’s in your life, it’s easy to have a little more optimism because that’s where you can find your biggest joy.
Q: When I listen to this particular record, and most of your work in general, it sounds every place like the 1970s in the California scene. So I think the “California Dreaming” cover is perfect.
A: We’re going for that California sound like Laurel Canyon and California country music. I think especially when we were living in California, we took a lot of influence from that.
Q: Who chose that cover?
A: We had actually already recorded the album and we were sitting around one day in John’s studio and we just started playing that song and harmonizing. We thought it sounded pretty cool and decided to just record it. It was kind of just one of those in-the-moment type deals.
Q: You talked about harmonies, and to me when you two sing together your voices seem so intertwined. Your lives seem really intertwined. You grew up together and you’ve got a band with each other. Are you two almost like twins now where you finish each other’s sentences?
A: I think we could if we wanted to, yeah. I feel like we have a healthy intertwinement, I guess you could say. We might as well just be family at this point. Like any family, we don’t get along all of the time but we do most of the time.
Q: I love to ask anybody that I interview, how does your typical song begin?
A: I think it begins where a really good conversation began. It’s kind of like you can grab a beer at a party and plan to have a good conversation, but sometimes it doesn’t always happen. Then sometimes out of nowhere you’re just sitting down totally randomly and you’re having a really great compelling conversation. That feels like how our songs come about. It always surprises me a little bit when it happens. We get together to try and write songs about three, four times a week, but sometimes it doesn’t always happen. When it’s not happening it just doesn’t feel natural, but when it does — somebody picks something on guitar or they’ll have this one line for a song — and then it’s just like a snowball rolling down a hill. When we’re really onto something it doesn’t usually take more than an hour to write a song.
Q: Do you have that legendary notebook that you carry around with just songs and lines in it? Is that still a thing?
A: It’s called an iPhone now. I wish I had a more romantic answer for you, like this whole leather-bound journal that I’ve had for 15 years with coffee-stained, weathered, pages, but no, it’s just an iPhone now. It’s all backed up on the cloud, so when you lose your phone you don’t lose your songs.
Q: The name “San Isabel” sounds beautiful, and it must be if you named your album that. For somebody that’s never been to San Isabel, Colo., can you describe it?
A: It’s right across from the Collegiate Peaks outside of what the locals call “Buena Vista” in Colorado. I think elevation was about 9,000 feet where we were. You’re up in the aspen trees and every afternoon there was a storm that rolls over the mountains because of the way the atmosphere works there. It’s kind of like having showers every evening and then the sun comes out 15 minutes later. It’s just a pretty ideal place.
Q: In your bio, I’ve read that you encourage listeners to step away from social media. Can you explain why you feel that’s really important right now?
A: If I could sum it up as just as simply as possible, I just think it’s good to focus your attention wholeheartedly on something for just some part of your day. I feel like we’re always just half in one thing and half in another, half in our conversation because we’re checking our text messages, or half checking our Instagram while we’re half driving. Nobody just commits and completely focuses their whole mind to something. I’m guilty of this as well; music is always on in the background now. It’s always secondary, and I feel like music used to be primary. People would buy an album and just sit around and listen to it, and no one does that anymore.
Q: I know you two met in a small town in Texas. What were the steps you took to get you where you are now?
A: We wrote our first song together when we were 15 years old. We were friends first and didn’t even think about singing, and then hanging out singing to the radio. When we knew each other could sing, we thought we should write a song. I was playing guitar and so we wrote a song, then wrote a couple more. We were never really pursuing anything seriously. But then when we went to college, we were both writing songs on our own and some together and then I was thinking about pursuing a solo career, but I was feeling disenchanted with that whole thing. Then Zach graduated and was not sure what he really wanted to do, and we thought we should just start touring together. We spent a good couple of years driving around in Zach’s Tahoe, and I think we had our tour expenses down to $120 a week. We were playing in people’s back yards or empty bars for tips, sleeping in the back of a Tahoe with our camping gear. It was basically kind of like camping on the road, so all we had to pay for was gas and food. Then we decided to move out to California, without overthinking it, just saying why the heck not? My wife, Zach and I headed west and started playing everywhere we could. We wrote a song about that experience and the rest just kind of was history.
Q: I love “Goodnight Hollywood,” and I especially love the video. The most striking line in that song to me is, “I’ve been doing dirty things.” That’s powerful with just the ability to let the listener to fill in their own blanks.
A: I don’t know if we thought about that while we wrote it, because it was more coming from our inexperience, but interpret it as you wish. For us, that was co-writing for us and our label that we had at the time. Zach and I thought songwriting was a sacred thing we did together when we really had something to say. Our label was telling us to get with hit song artists and we didn’t want to, but we finally did it and just felt dirty about it. For some people it works, but it’s just not our thing. It compromises some of your values and we decided we didn’t want to do that anymore.
Q: I interviewed Ben Kweller a couple of weeks ago and he said that was the biggest mistake he’d ever made: letting someone else decide his career for him.
A: There’s definitely those things you do and you’re like, “Gah why?” You just kind of go and you figure it out. I’ve dated crazy people and I think, well, I don’t need to go that route. So it all just kind of comes out in the wash and it’s a part of your story, but you wish you could bat 1000.
Q: Let’s talk about the tour. How eager are you guys to play the new songs live?
A: We’re really excited. We’ve taken a long time off because we felt like it was necessary to write this record. We’re all really eager to get back on the road. Honestly, I feel like I can say this is the first album that we’re excited to play top to bottom. There’s not one track on here that we’re secretly not feeling good to play. I think every one of these songs we’re excited to play and it’s going to be fun to learn how to play these songs, because it’s always a different take live. If there’s one thing we strive to do is make our live shows different in a good way. When we play our show we aren’t serving our album, we’re serving our audience.
Q: Anything else you guys have planned for 2019?
A: Absolutely. We’ve got three legs of the tour, so we’ll be touring throughout the year. After this record comes out, we’re going to continue to release, because we already have tracks recorded that aren’t on the album. We’ve got fire in our bellies and we’re hungry.
Larry May is the owner of CD Cellar record store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston.