Jamestown Revival’s Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance on Getting 12 Tony Nominations for Their First Musical ‘The Outsiders’

A year after the release of Jamestown Revival‘s 2014 debut, Utah, the duo’s Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance were approached to work on a then-upcoming musical. The producers were looking for musicians who weren’t typical Broadway composers. Soon after, the duo locked themselves into the gig with a revelatory anthem, that would end up interlaced through the production of The Outsiders, adapted from Susan E. Hinton’s 1967 coming-of-age novel, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film adaptation, and cult classic, starring Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, and more in one of their earliest roles.

Set in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Outsiders centers around a teenage boy, Ponyboy Michael Curtis, and conflicts that arise between the working-class gang, “Greasers,” and the more elite, “Socs,” and Jamestown Revival’s Americana-dipped “Stay Gold” was the perfect fit.

For Clay and Chance, writing music for The Outsiders took nearly a decade to complete, and the duo released their second album The Education of a Wandering Man in 2016, follow-up San Isabel, and 2022 release Young Man, all before the musical made its way to Broadway, in March 2024.

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Produced by Angelina Jolie, whose daughter Vivienne first suggested she get involved in the musical adaptation, The Outsiders is nominated for 12 Tony Awards: Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score, Best Musical Scenic Design, Best Musical Lighting Design, Best Sound Design, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations.

Clay and Chance spoke with American Songwriter about their long journey to The Outsiders, its dozen Tony nominations, working on their fifth album, and if they’ll do another musical again.

American Songwriter: So here we are, your first musical, and you’ve been nominated for 12 Tony Awards. The big question: how does it feel?

Jonathan Clay: First musical, 12 nominations—it’s easy. You just write a musical. That was like a decade of our life, but it’s been amazing. Any artist who says that one of the best things you could receive back is recognition by your peers is not one of the best feelings in the world, they must be a more righteous person than me. To me, getting that kind of validation and getting in the feedback. and the Tony nominations, it makes me weak in the knees. I’m so thankful and feel so accomplished. I would be proud regardless.

Zach Chance: When you work on something like this for so long, you’re like “I don’t think I’m crazy. I think this is good. It feels like we’re doing good work,” so to have people respond in a positive way is a nice reward.

[RELATED: Jamestown Revival Tributes An American Legend On New EP, ‘Fireside With Louis L’Amour’]

Jamestown Revival’s Zach Chase (l) and Jonathan Clay (Photo: Jackie Lee)

AS: Writing for a musical isn’t the same as a typical co-writing session since there are other dynamics within the storyline to take into account. How long did it take for you to get into a groove working with Justine Levine (musical supervisor), director Danya Taymor and others on the production team?

JC: With Justin, it was about as easy as it could get. I guess co-writing is not a thing we enjoy. We’re just not cut out for it, and that’s okay. We’ll keep doing our thing. And then we met Justin, and it felt like the most natural thing ever. And we were like “Oh, this is fun. This is why people like co-writing. It isn’t that we don’t like co-writing. It’s just that we only really clicked creatively with a small number of people, for better or for worse. It’s just the way we feel. Justin was the first person we clicked with on a co-writing level, where it felt like we’re not just doing this to do it. We’re doing it because we all benefit from this.

ZC: That was one of the cool things about the whole creative team. It felt like every time a new ingredient was introduced, we all got along. We all enjoyed being trapped in a room for 10 hours a day together, creating together. It was fun. It was very communal and familial. There’s something to the chemistry of how we were all able to create.

AS: You can hear that connection to the songs and how they are delivered in the musical. Were there songs you wished had made the cut?

ZC: The efficiency of the story is something we learned in this process. But there are so many tangents and other side stories in the book and the show that we wanted to explore that didn’t make it in. There’s little songs that we joke and sing to each other. Adam Rapp [who wrote the book for musical] always jokes that we should record all the cut songs as b-sides and have them playing in the bathrooms during intermission. There are some that we were fond of, and they exist. They just don’t exist on stage. Maybe they’ll be released as Outsiders of the Outsiders.

AS: The structure of a musical song is different from something you would have written for Utah or Young Man. What was that learning curve like for you both?

JC: We had to learn to write songs that drive a narrative forward. If they weren’t driving the narrative forward, then they weren’t going to work for the musical. At first, it was hard to put that as a first priority. If it’s an awesome melody, and it doesn’t do s–t for the narrative, you’re out of luck. Turnarounds need to be shortened. Everything has to drive. It has to move and keep propelling the story forward. It took a while for me to realize that and write with that intent.

ZC: Early on, we were used to writing more [songs] where there’s more structure. Justin was helpful in helping us identify that. We’d write a song and say “It feels so good to sit in this” and he’s like, ‘That’s gonna feel so awkward when somebody’s singing it on stage.” Then you get further along and realize he’s right.

JC: At some point, you’ve reworked it so many times, it’s almost hard to experience it again, to experience the book and the scene and get inspired.

ZC: There are songs that we thought weren’t working, that ended up being right for the moment. There’s so many other factors when it’s on stage—staging, lighting, choreography—and how all that comes together. So some songs surprised us and ended up being great. You have to see it over and over again to realize all the things that are and aren’t working.

AS: When The Outsiders was put on hold during pandemic hit, what did that extra time afford you in reworking and fleshing out the songs?

JC: Everything that, at first, felt like a setback proved to be beneficial. In hindsight, we were nowhere near ready. We were ready to move forward, but I don’t think we realized that the progress we needed to make was more workshopping. That’s when Danya Taymor came on board as director and we solved some things like the opening number and had time to ruminate and go back and edit and try things out, and have a read-through. Sometimes you have to sit on stuff for a while when you’re writing for a long time.

ZC: And rewriting and not being scared to rework things. We approached what we’re saying in the songs. It did take nine years, but a lot of that time was necessary. It needed more work. Then when we got to La Jolla [run at La Jolla Playhouse]. We still weren’t ready, but you learn to put it on its feet, and you realize all the things that are or aren’t working about it.

JC: The adage that I’ve heard is, you’re never ready to open your musical you just run out of time. I feel like that definitely rang true. By New York, I feel like I was like we gave everything we had, and it was ready.

AS: What did you pull from the book in the film into the songs?

JC: The details in the movie helped with the vision and swagger. It’s a lot easier to see swagger.

ZC: It’s really fun to see Matt Dillon embodying that character [of Dallas Winston].

JC: He [Dillon] set the bar for Dallas and gave us something to shoot for, but Josh Boone [Dallas in the musical] does a pretty damn amazing job.

AS: Thinking back to Utah, The Education of Wandering Man, and where you are now, how has songwriting shifted for you both?

ZC: I think we’re in our prime. We’ve continued writing for Jamestown, then stepped into The Outsiders world and I feel like we’ve broadened. We’re learning new things and feel inspired by it all, and the things we’ve collected along the way. We’re already working on a new album, and it feels good to get back with the band. We’re like a little sailboat. We’re pretty nimble. With the musical, it’s like a cruise ship. It just takes a lot longer to steer things.

JC: I think we want to put out an album that we really that we’re really proud of.

AS: What perfect timing to have a new album, right after all the Tony nominations.

ZC: Honestly, it feels like it takes the pressure off a little bit.

JC: I feel like we’re creating something art-forward and it feels good.

Photo: Grace Herr / Courtesy of IV PR

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