Jonathan Clay had just returned home from a two-week tour through Colorado that culminated in a performance at the legendary Red Rocks with Trombone Shorty and The Record Company when he spoke to The Tahoe Weekly.
It’s another capstone on the rise of a couple of Texas boys done good.
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“When I moved to Magnolia, Texas, in second grade, the population sign read 1,111,” says Clay. “We lived on 5 acres and had some horses. I spent my childhood outdoors.”
Clay’s musical counterpart, Zach Chance, moved across the state to the same small town at the tender age of 15.
“This switch flipped and we started writing with this totally different mentality. It’s the closest thing I‘ve ever felt to some kind of creative enlightenment.” – Jonathan Clay
“When we became friends, it somehow became evident that we could both sing,” says Clay. “We thought, ‘Man, we should sing together,’ so we started writing songs and seeing what we could do. We had this little band without a name. We recorded some songs with my dad’s old microphone plugged into my computer through like five different adapters. We sold the three songs on a CD at school. Not everyone could burn a CD back then, so that was something.”
On whether the original high-school EP is still in circulation, Clay says patently, “It’s been since put in the vault.”
A few years later the duo took a trip upcountry to Huntsville, Texas, to do some songwriting together.
“We’d never written songs out there, so we brought instruments and something just clicked,” says Clay. “This switch flipped and we started writing with this totally different mentality. It’s the closest thing I‘ve ever felt to some kind of creative enlightenment. We decided we had to run with it.”
Clay and Chance named their band Jamestown Revival as an historical metaphor for a new beginning. Six months later they moved to Los Angeles to make their fortune.
“Life was nipping at our heels and we knew we had to do something,” says Clay. “We thought L.A. might be the best to place get jumpstarted and we were right. It was all of that and more.”
They didn’t know a soul, so Clay created a whole new persona named Josh who booked gigs for the band.
“You got to fake it ’til you make it and we were fakin’ it every stretch of the way,” he says. “Finally at one of our gigs someone was like, ‘Josh said.’ And I was like, ‘Um, I’m Josh.’ If you know nobody and got nothin’ going on, you gotta give everyone the perception that you know what’s going on. If you don’t take yourself seriously, then nobody is going to take you seriously. Being on an island in L.A. is just a desperate ploy.”
Eventually, the band met an actual booking agent at a house party who introduced them to the manager who is still with them today. They recorded their first album, “Utah,” on minimal equipment in the Wasatch Mountains and hit the road.
Jamestown Revival’s breakthrough came when their 2014 single, “California (Cast Iron Soul),” caught national attention after being played by DJ Jason Bentley on Los Angeles KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.”
“It really is a tastemaker feature,” says Clay of the long-running program. “Jason Bentley fell in love with the song and got behind the band. After that, this movement humbly started. It was all very nontraditional outlets. Although this word gets overused, it was very grassroots, which is maybe more traditional by old-time standards.”
Although Jamestown Revival weren’t the first artists to find inspiration and success with songs about California — they follow in the footsteps of The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas and Billy Bragg to name a few — the state nevertheless holds a golden place in the band’s heart as its finest muse and door.
“I think California is like the girl you dated and it didn’t work out because of the timing. But, she’s a girl you could have married,” says Clay. “And there’s always that thought in the back of your mind like: ‘What if?’ There will always be that love affair and time changes your perspective, but it will always a be a special place. Honestly, it’s a place to which we owe our careers. If we hadn’t have moved out there, you and I wouldn’t be talking today.”