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For Jamestown Revival, penning music for ‘The Outsiders’ on Broadway ‘made us better songwriters’

Jamestown Revival’s Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay.
Grace Herr
Jamestown Revival’s Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay.

S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel “The Outsiders” has had a few adaptations – probably the most memorable is the 1983 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Its most recent adaptation, a broadway musical, has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including best musical and best orchestration.

The folks behind the music are a couple of Texans who grew up together in Magnolia, northwest of Houston, and play as the band Jamestown Revival.

Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance spoke with the Texas Standard on making the leap to a different kind of stage.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Anyone who has listened to your music knows you guys pull from a bunch of different genres, show tunes not necessarily among them. How did you get to Broadway? 

Jonathan Clay: You know, we’ve been writing songs together since we were 15 years old, so we’ve been doing that a long time.

But they were looking for a band that was not from the theater world. And I think our name came across the desk and they reached out to us and wanted to know if we could write a couple songs on spec just to see what it would sound like.

And so we wrote two songs, one of which we thought was way too slow and not going to be what they were looking for. The other one was what we thought was a really quintessential Broadway-sounding tune. And we sent that over, and they really didn’t like it.

They were like, “Do you have anything else?” And we were like, “well, just send them the one that they probably won’t like, but what do we have to lose at this point? We already sent them something they hated.” So we sent them that.

Then they were like, “this is what we’re looking for; this is what we want.” And that was one of the last songs in the musical. It’s the song [“Stay Gold”] that Johnny sings in his letter to Ponyboy. And that was the very first song we wrote for it.

When you’re writing that, are you lifting lines directly from S.E. Hinton’s writing? Are you doing some adapting? What’s that process like? 

Jonathan Clay: You know, I think we really stayed true to the novel that S.E. wrote, that Susie wrote, as much as we could. And we had to change some things because what works in a book doesn’t work on stage and vice versa.

And so in times when it didn’t work, we had to take liberties. But really we wanted to create as faithful of an adaptation as we could.

You know, what she did, it works, obviously. It’s tried and true, and it’s proven. We had a roadmap and a true north right in front of us. So that’s what we used.

» MORE: On ‘Young Man,’ Jamestown Revival reflects on growing up

Zach Chance: Yeah, I think Susie gave us such great source material. We tried to be as true to that as possible.

There’s so many great little phrases or lines or little tentpole moments that allowed us to sort of pinpoint when we were brainstorming or mapping where we wanted songs, and there’s so many great phrases to pull from that ended up being sort of the spark behind the song.

And so many of the song titles and like the idea of where the song was going to come were phrases in the book, like “Hoods turned Heroes.” Or even “Throwing in the Towel” was in there somewhere, and “Stay Gold,” obviously.

So we just would take these phrases around these themes that would spark these ideas and try to run with them.

Right now, at the present moment, how much is the show a part of your lives? Or have you moved on to other creative endeavors, by and large?

Jonathan Clay: We actually got in the studio for Jamestown Revival stuff last week, which was really fun, and it just highlighted how much we’ve actually missed doing that.

But this writing for the musical, I think it made us better songwriters in every capacity. And it was such a fun chapter. And now it’s so fun watching it affect people and watching it create its own life.

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And watching other people sing these songs with incredible tenacity and singing songs that I don’t even – we wrote songs that I couldn’t sing, for sure. Zach can probably hit them; he can sing a lot higher than I can. He’s got a better voice.

But, yeah, they’re incredibly talented. It’s been really cool to see the evolution, but it also makes us more excited to get back to what we do, which is writing songs about our book.

Zach Chance: Like John said, it’s fun to step back into Jamestown Revival, and certainly we’re welcoming that. We spent the better part of a decade – I mean, it’s almost been nine years that we’ve been working on this show. So I think at this point it’s like it’s in our blood. There’s no getting rid of it. I think we’ll forever be quoting lines from the show to each other at random moments.

But it’s fun to finally put it out in the world and let it have a life of its own and let the people who are in the show sort of, like, put themselves into it and carry the torch.

The 77th Tony Awards are Sunday, June 16 at 7 p.m. CT. Find information on how to tune in here.

Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: