The Austin, Texas-based band interprets Louis L’Amour’s western adventures for their brand-new six-song EP.
Louis L’Amour is alive and well in the music of Austin, Texas-based Jamestown Revival. The band’s newest project, an EP titled Fireside With Louis L’Amour, finds the author’s legendary storytelling interpreted in a six-song roundup of tunes directly inspired by The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Volume 1: Frontier Stories.
The new record comes out May 28, and we’re pleased to have the video for the first single to show you here.
“Bound for El Paso,” inspired by L’Amour’s “The Gift of Cochise,” “Fool Me Once” inspired by “The Man from Bitter Sands” — if you’re a L’Amour fan, you’ll no doubt recognize what’s been distilled from story to song. And you’ll love what happens when two Texans get a hold of America’s storyteller and let their imaginations and harmonies run.
Led by Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance — who have maintained a close friendship since meeting at age 15 in Magnolia, Texas — Jamestown Revival made their debut in 2014 and have built a fan base on their compelling music and charismatic camaraderie. “People say they can see it and they can feel it,” Clay says. “I mean, we’ve been friends forever, it feels like. It’s a brotherhood. We don’t always like each other, but we love each other, you know? We truly enjoy being able to do what we do, to make music and travel together.”
The new release follows Jamestown Revival’s 2020 A Field Guide to Loneliness, an intimate collection of songs that reflected the isolation of the pandemic. In 2019, the band put out the critically acclaimed San Isabel, which was recorded in a remote cabin in Colorado.
We talked with the band about growing up in small-town Texas, the influence of Louis L’Amour, and their new record.
Cowboys & Indians: You guys are childhood friends from outside Houston in rural Magnolia, Texas. What was life there like?
Jonathan Clay: When I think about growing up together in Magnolia, I remember it fondly. I moved there in fourth grade, and at that time the population sign read 1,111. It was a very small town. One intersection with a small grocery store and a Blockbuster Video. Remember those? Over the next decade I saw the town grow and change, but the house I grew up in stayed the same. It sits on 5 acres, with a creek bordering the back property line. I lived out some of my best childhood memories climbing around the banks, catching critters, and building forts. Zach moved to Magnolia when we were in 9th grade, and we formed a fast friendship. I feel like the bond we formed running the roads of that small town formed the foundation of Jamestown Revival itself.
C&I: How did you get into music?
Jonathan: My introduction to creating music was through my father. He plays guitar, piano, and banjo. I grew up watching him play, and he taught me the foundations of guitar. He was, and still is, my hero. Watching him sing songs and play instruments as a kid was something I took for granted. Looking back now I realize how lucky I was to have had that influence.
C&I: Is the band presently a duo? Who does what musically?
Zach Chance: Jon and I still write together as a duo and sometimes perform that way, but more often than not, we tour and perform with our band. We like to affectionately refer to our sound as “Southern & Garfunkel.”
C&I: You’ve variously been holed up in Austin, Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, and California. What were you following?
Clay: We’ve chased the muse far and wide around this beautiful country. We’re inspired by the woods, the mountains, and the places void of concrete. The idea of recording at a first-class studio in the middle of a bustling city has just never appealed to us. We much prefer the big sky.
C&I: Your new EP, Fireside With Louis L’Amour, rounds up six songs that distill The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Volume 1: Frontier Stories. How did the idea for the EP come to you?
Chance: We’ve been big fans of the Louis L’Amour stories for a long time. My grandfather read his books and passed his appreciation of them on to me somewhere along the way. Jon and I had both read Louis’ memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, and were very inspired by his personal story. We had always kicked around the idea of trying to write songs inspired by his work as a tribute to his legacy, so when we started digging into the Frontier Stories, we knew there was a great opportunity and challenge to try and distill those short stories down into songs.
Clay: We kept the sequence of the EP chronological, covering the first six stories of The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour. The first song we wrote was “Bound for El Paso,” which is based on “Gift From Cochise.” After writing that first song, we knew we were in for a challenging and worthwhile pursuit. As much as we wanted to create good songs, it was also incredibly important to us that we did the legacy of Louis L’Amour justice.
C&I: How did writing this EP expand your songwriting and you as songwriters?
Clay: In 30 pages, L’Amour manages to build a story, endear you to the characters, and oftentimes surprise you with an ending that you didn’t see coming. Our job was to distill that down to a three-minute song. We had to write with absolute economy of our lyrics. Every word had to count. If a line wasn’t essential, we cut it and replaced it with one that was. At certain points, writing these songs felt a bit like solving a riddle or a puzzle. We ultimately had to make some concessions, but overall I feel like we stayed as true as we could to the stories and the intent behind them.
C&I: What about the American West is so compelling to you?
Chance: I think the tradition and folklore of the American West are such a rich part of our history, especially growing up in Texas and having such a strong connection to these themes of pioneering, independent spirits, wilderness, self-reliance, mythology, and conflict. There’s a dusty stoicism and ruggedness to the idea of the West but also so much beauty and hardscrabble wisdom in the themes and storytelling. The laws that governed were of a code or creed, and the line between good and evil is often unclear, which makes one question their own moral compass.
C&I: What is it about Louis L’Amour in particular that you find so inspiring?
Clay: Ironically, the first book I read of L’Amour’s was his memoir, The Education of a Wandering Man. I fell in love with this legend of a man who was part adventurer, part scholar, and constant seeker of knowledge. He epitomizes the adventurous spirit that we so often seem to suppress — the ultimate pinnacle of a life well-lived. I read this when we were just starting to tour in a serious way, and I was inspired by the idea of embarking down a path that was unclear. I knew I wanted to turn music into a career — I just didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. Setting forth, creating forward motion, playing everywhere we possibly could. Looking back, it was an incredible period of Zach’s and my life together. Although we were hardly making a dime, the journey was pure gold.
C&I: If you could actually sit fireside with Louis L’Amour, how do you imagine that evening playing out? What questions would you have asked?
Chance: I don’t think I’d feel the need to do much talking. I’d much prefer to sit back and let a legendary storyteller pass along as much knowledge and wisdom as one evening could allow for.
Photography: (All images) courtesy Paul Pryor