Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival. Photo by Grace Herr

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

In 2015, Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay, aka Americana-folk duo Jamestown Revival, were seeing their hard work pay off. They released their debut LP, Utah, and were performing at music festivals all over the country, including Coachella, Bumbershoot, Lollapalooza, and ACL Fest in Austin, their homebase. Then their manager threw them a curveball: Some people he knew were making a musical adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel The Outsiders, and they were looking for songwriters outside the usual Broadway-composer realm to pen the songs for it.

The duo, who have been best friends since they were teenagers growing up in Magnolia north of Houston, gave it a shot and wrote two songs. One song was a flop (“a bad Frankie Valli knockoff,” they say); the other got the thumbs up from producers, who gave them the gig.

For the next several years, between writing songs for their band and touring, Chance and Clay studied the Broadway musical art form and worked with the show’s creative team, including Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee Adam Rapp, director Danya Taymor, and musical supervisor and Tony Award winner Justin Levine, with whom they collaborated on the musical’s score. While they helped Chance and Clay shape their Americana sound to fit a musical format, the pair had mostly free rein to write song lyrics and melodies how they wanted.

On April 11, their journey to Broadway reaches its destination when The Outsiders opens at the Jacobs Theatre in New York City. And that gig-winning song? “Stay Gold” made it into the show.

Last week, Texas Highways spoke with Chase and Clay, who were staying at Rapp’s East Village apartment ahead of the show’s premiere on the Great White Way.

Texas Highways: It’s almost two weeks from the show opening. How are y’all doing?
Jonathan Clay: We’re deep in the depths of Broadway musical here, but we’re good.
Zachary Chance: We’re at the theater six days a week. There’s only one day off. And you’re there for the majority of the day. It’s like you’re in a little town or on a cruise ship.
JC: You’ll come out of the theater and be like, It’s still sunlight outside? You feel like a vampire sometimes.

TH: Before taking on this project, were you fans of the Susan E. Hinton book or the Francis Ford Coppola film?
ZC: We were more familiar with the book. We had both read it around 13 or 14, growing up, so we were both fans from a young age. When we started working on [the musical], the book served as our true north for the project. There’s such musicality in Susie’s writing and there are a lot of phrases and moments to pull songs from that really helped us. We visited the film throughout, though. Watching the movie brought some of the characters and the world to life, just visualizing some of it.

TH: Were you fans of musicals, or did you have to develop an appreciation?
JC: I wasn’t a fan, just from lack of exposure. It’s like someone who’s never been to a baseball game. “Do you like baseball?” “I don’t know, I’ve never been to a game.” I was ambivalent.
ZC: We tried to see as many as we could, whether it be in person or the old film versions. There are so many good musicals that just helped us learn about the format and helped us learn about how good music functions within a musical.

TH: How did you approach adapting your band’s Americana sound to suit a musical?
JC: I think for us it was taking our instincts as songwriters and combining that with this new art form. The music and the book work in tandem to move the narrative. People said to us it’s like a baton pass: regardless of who has the baton, the story continues to make forward motion. Whereas when we write songs for an album, we can just live in a feeling. It can be more of a vibe. Not so in a musical.

TH: You’re hitting at a time when different music genres, like rock and hip hop, are being accepted for musical theater. Are you sensing that acceptance for your music?
JC: One thing we keep hearing is, “This musical really sounds unique. It doesn’t sound like traditional Broadway.” And I love to hear that.
ZC: Obviously the book and the movie have tremendous legacies. But also, I think [the musical] stands on its own. It’s carrying on the legacy of this story and what Susie Hinton has brought to the world in its own way and in a new way.

TH: It’s been a long journey to this point. Wasn’t the show originally supposed to open at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2020?
ZC: Covid put a halt to that. We ended up going to La Jolla Playhouse [in California] last year.
JC: There were a lot of unknowns surrounding the fate and future of this thing we’ve been working on. Looking back now, I’m so thankful for that delay because we needed that time. It afforded us time to make it better, to prepare.

TH: So, the delay and La Jolla turned out to be good for the show.
JC: And Angelina Jolie came on as a producer.
ZC: Her daughter Vivienne is a musical theater enthusiast, and she discovered the show from like a flyer in California. She saw the show four times when we were in La Jolla and started making her family members come. She brought her mom to the last show. So, she’s the one who introduced it to Angelina. They’ve both been real advocates for it.
JC: Having Vivienne’s 15-year-old gaze on this thing has really been useful. She is in the phase that Ponyboy [the book’s narrator] is in the story. It’s been really cool to have Vivienne as a resource.

TH: The setting of The Outsiders is Tulsa, Oklahoma. You grew up in Magnolia near Houston. Did you find yourself connecting to the Tulsa setting when working on the songs?
JC: For sure. I think Texas and Oklahoma are cousins of sorts.
ZC: I actually have cousins that live in Oklahoma, so I used to go up and spend my summers in Enid. I have family in Tulsa. But I agree with John. There’s something shared between Texas and Oklahoma, so I think it’s very relatable.
JC: I think most people from Texas have some ties to Oklahoma in some form. My mom grew up, like, dirt poor in Checotah, Oklahoma, and literally rode her pony to school. When I was thinking about the Greasers [the street gang in The Outsiders], I thought about my mom and the stories she told me.
ZC: For me, having spent time in Oklahoma, it was just being able to visualize the landscape and what it looks like and the feeling it gives you when you’re there, passing through there when you’re young, the way the sun hits the ground.

TH: What are your favorite places to visit in Magnolia?
JC: Well, Lone Pint Brewery for one. They won all these awards for their Yellow Rose IPA. They have a bunch of stuff at the brewery that they don’t distribute, like experimental brews and limited-run stuff. You can have a nice pint while sitting outside. And, since I was 8 years old so this may be nostalgia, having a Frito pie from the Bar-B-Que Hut [on Old Hempstead Road] makes me feel like a kid again. It’s the best. And Rancho Grande, that’s the go-to for Mexican food. Just good ol’ Tex-Mex messy plate.

TH: When you’re touring in Texas, do you have any favorite pit stops?
JC: We always love a good Texas Stop Sign.
ZC: Oh yeah! You gotta have a Blizzard. Even when we’re out touring the country, when we see the Texas Stop Sign, we gotta stop. It’s a reminder of home.
JC: We’ve literally had our tour bus stop in the middle of the median, and when there’s a break in traffic, the whole band and crew runs across to Dairy Queen and we all get Blizzards.

TH: What do you put in your Blizzard?
JC: I developed a pretty awesome combination that I think I should be recognized for: banana and Oreo. It’s like a chocolate-covered banana.

TH: It would be cool if they named that Blizzard after you.
ZC: Oh, that would be a bigger honor than winning a Grammy.
JC: Yeah, that’s like up there with a Grammy, a Tony Award— 

TH: Speaking of, what if you win a Tony Award before a Grammy? Would that be weird?
JC: A little bit but I’ll take what I can get.

Jamestown Revival play the Big as Texas Festival in Conroe in May. The duo also has two singles coming out including a cover of the Allman Brothers “Midnight Rider.” They hope to record a new album after they decompress from the opening of The Outsiders.

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