Q&A: Jamestown Revival’s Jonathan Clay talks SXSW

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  • Childhood best friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance formed country-tinged Americana band Jamestown Revival five years ago and have already scored a Republic Records deal and a couple million Spotify listeners for their song “California (Cast Iron Soul).” Taking a break from working on the band’s new album, Clay spoke to The Daily Texan about the importance of harmonies, South By Southwest plans and what’s next.
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  • The Daily Texan: What’s it like playing SXSW as a local band?
  • Jonathan Clay: Austin is almost unrecognizable during SXSW. It’s great, but it’s not what Austin usually is. The city almost feels like a weird parallel universe or something.
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  • DT: As SXSW returners, how do you approach the week?
  • JC: We’ve done it for three years now, and it’s one of those things that, when you’re doing it, it feels extremely chaotic and kind of brutal. You’re so dead tired because there’s the radio stuff early in the morning and shows late at night. You feel like you’re burning the candle at both ends. But for us, it’s been a very positive thing. Every year, I feel like we come out of SXSW with good momentum. It’s a good way to kick things off and talk about what we’ve been up to.
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  • DT: Do you have any tips for first-timers?
  • JC: Instead of trying to do everything, commit to a few things you want to do. I think if you run around trying to do too much, you don’t get to do as much. Lines get long, or you end up running yourself ragged. 
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  • DT: What does your band name mean?
  • JC: [My bandmate Zach Chance and I] quit our solo careers to start this band and really put everything on the back burner, so it’s sort of a historic metaphor for Jamestown, the first settlement in America and going out and starting something completely new. It’s really just a metaphor for new beginnings.  
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  • DT: You guys refer to yourselves as the Architect and the Healer. How did that come about?
  • JC: We took these very in-depth personality tests one time, sort of by happenstance. It was really long, like 150 questions, and you have to do all of this answer analyzation and categorization. It categorized me as “the architect” and Zach as the personality type “healer.” It said, oftentimes, he would’ve been a medicine man or a shaman. He has more empathy for people, whereas I very much like to build things — I’m very pragmatic. So we’re very much yin and yang and very much opposites, but I think that’s why we make a good team. 
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  • DT: Do you see that dynamic play out in the music?
  • JC: I think so. I think you see the dynamic play out anytime we are interacting and very much so in the business when it comes to making decisions about the course of our business or the direction we’re taking musically or non-musically. Whether you like it or not, business does play a big role in your career and music, and you’ve got to face that and reckon with that.
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  • DT: What does the new music sound like?
  • JC: Our sound has definitely evolved since the last record. We wrote all those songs with a very duo-centric mindset. It was just me and Zach. Our approach has been a little different for this [album]. We’ve written these songs with the band in mind and more parts in mind and broadened the musical landscape for this album. We expanded into a little bit more old school R&B and maybe a little bit more Southern soul. There are still the very folky, fingerpicking songs, but there are some songs that take on a little bit more of a Motown influence.
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  • DT: You guys center a lot of your sound around vocal harmonies. What inspired that decision?
  • JC: Our harmonies are the spark, kind of our barometer, for whether or not we want to move forward with a song. If those harmonies feel good and they have those overtones and if it feels good to sing, that’s what encourages us to finish the song. When it doesn’t feel good to sing, we don’t finish the song. Our harmonies are our litmus test — everything is centered and is built and revolves around our harmonies.