Jamestown Revival’s Utah backs the elegant wordplay of “Fur Coat Blues” with the soaring melodies of “California (Cast Iron Soul).” The old time-inspired duo’s relocation three years ago from Austin to Los Angeles inspired the sharp new collection. (They’ve recently moved back.)
“The album started when we moved in 2011,” says Zach Chance, who grew up with bandmate Jonathan Clay in Magnolia, Texas. “We wanted a change of scenery and to shock the system. We got out there, and it inspired the writing of a whole album. We didn’t anticipate that. It just happened.”
CMT Edge: Describe how the new album took shape once you had the songs.
Chance: Once we had those songs, we felt like the coolest way to record would be to get out into the woods. We got into a cabin in Utah at 6,000 feet in elevation and brought a tape machine and our band and our friends who have a studio in Los Angeles, and we recorded as naturally as we could.
Do these songs have a common lyrical theme?
Chance: I think the record’s pretty autobiographical. I don’t think we intended them to be, but as a result of the move and being on the road, it captures a two-year period in our lives from when we were leaving Austin and writing songs about how we were gonna miss it and getting to L.A. and feeling overwhelmed and the experiences traveling through that time. It all ties together in that sense.
Clay: I think lyrical themes that are present are a feeling of displacement and a longing for home, a feeling of adventure and an uncertain future.
Tell the story behind writing “Fur Coat Blues.”
Chance: I had just moved to L.A. and was driving with my roommate to get some things for this house I’d just moved into. We saw this old guy on the side of the road playing blues. He had a little amp plugged into an electric guitar, and he was wearing a fur coat.
That idea was just really funny to me. That “fur coat blues” phrase stuck in our heads. Jon came over one day and had first-world problems on the brain, and we started writing this tune. It all tied together: “I have a problem but it’s not that bad, you know?”
Clay: Yeah, the guy inspired the phrase, but we took it and developed it. It’s like you need to step back and look at the big picture and put your small problems into perspective. You may have the blues, but you’re still wearing a fur coat. It’s not really as bad as it feels in your head sometimes.
Describe your songwriting process.
Clay: More often than not, we’ll get together and have a good, in-depth conversation, something with meat in it, and it’ll just feel right to grab an instrument. I’ll strum a few chords and a melody.
Chance: Yeah, most of the time, it happens right there. We’re in a room and getting deep or maybe just shooting the shit, and everything happens right then and there. Occasionally, Jon will bring something over, or I will present an idea, but it always benefits from having the other person’s point of view. It’s nice to be able to keep each other in check and say, “I like this. I don’t like this.” Hopefully, it helps make the songs better.
Tell the story behind writing “California (Cast Iron Soul).”
Chance: I think we were rehearsing for a show and we had a buddy over who plays drums casually. We were all jamming and hanging out. Jon or I sang that melody, and “California” just fit that phrasing. That led to us spilling our guts about moving from Austin to California and the resulting experience. It’s funny. A word or melody can just trigger a whole train of thought.
Clay: Yeah, our songs are taglines a lot of times. I think that song was something we needed to get out emotionally. We came up with that “California, I don’t even know ya.” Then we had to go play a show. We knew we had something we wanted to get back to, so the next day, we sat down and wrote the verses and the rest of the song. That was one of those songs you get so damn excited writing it.
Chance: Yeah, it was hard to go play a show because we were so pumped. I remember I texted my mom and said, “I think we just wrote a really cool song.”
Describe your experience performing the song on Conan O’Brien’s show.
Clay: Absolutely … nerve-racking. I was shaking.
Chance: You get there so early and sound check by, like, 10:30, and you’re not gonna be playing the song until 5 o’clock. It’s a lot of time to think about playing one song. So, I didn’t expect to be so nervous. … Then you realize the audience you can potentially reach, and then Conan comes over from his desk and watches you play. I couldn’t look to my right, or I would have pissed myself.
Clay: One hour out. Thirty minutes. Ten minutes. Five. “Oh, shit.” Yeah, I was nervous for the first verse, but after I didn’t screw that up, I was like, “OK, we’ve got this.”