Jars Of Clay
Four years ago, a band of eager, but completely unprepared, young musicians came together in a sort of “dormitory acoustic group” at Greenville College in Illinois. Not even thinking about an actual career in music, they began to write songs more for the fun of it than anything. For even a little more entertainment, they decided to submit a demo to a national new artist competition. Three million records later, the music of that unassuming group of college buddies is heard around the globe. And the band, filling store shelves and the hearts of millions, is Jars of Clay.
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Comprised of Dan Haseltine, lead vocals, Stephen Mason, guitar/ background vocals, Matt Odmark, electric and acoustic guitars/background vocals, and Charlie Lowell, piano and keyboards/background vocals, Jars of Clay comes together with an excitement and spontaneity that is reflective of their youthful spirit and creative risk.
Since winning the Gospel Music Association’s Spotlight Competition in 1994, Jars of Clay has achieved multi-platinum status and collected numerous awards - including a 1997 Grammy, 4 Dove Awards and 15 career Dove nominations. They have also received extensive radio airplay on contemporary Christian, mainstream alternative rock and alternative pop stations resulting in 10 #1 singles. But what keeps audiences clamoring for more is the group's talent for blending edgy and dynamic sounds with thought provoking and pointed lyrics that challenge listeners to thrive outside of the typical.
If I Left the Zoo, the band’s third album for Essential/Silvertone Records, grabs hold of the unexpected and stands it on its head. Incorporating a unique blend of organic and playful music - reminiscent of the group’s self-titled, debut album - with inspirational and witty lyrics, If I Left The Zoo refreshes the spirit and ignites the soul.
“If I Left the Zoo asks the question, 'What if?' What would happen if I left this comfortable place? What if I woke up one day and decided to do something completely different?” says Charlie, commenting on the theme of the album.
Practicing what they preach, Jars of Clay left the typical Nashville recording scene behind in order to record with Dennis Herring in Oxford, Miss. near the campus of University of Mississippi. Most of Jars of Clay's fans are college-aged, yet the fact that the band was in town recording was kept secret. The experience of recording in a small, Southern college town seemed to lend a bit of magic to the process, also evident in the record’s outcome.
“Dennis really made us work hard and do things we weren't used to doing,” recalls Dan. “He reviewed the lyrics, said they were great. But then he told us to go back and write them as if we weren't Jars of Clay, but individuals exploring the possibilities of a completely new direction of sounds and styles.”
“We didn't want anyone to hear the process of the record because to us it sounded terrible,” laughs Stephen. “And then one day it's like, hey, this is pretty great!”
Another pattern in the making of the album turned out to be “relying on friends.” Jars of Clay enlisted the help of some longtime pals, such as bassist Aaron Sands and drummer Joe Porter (another Greenville College alum), and some very important new ones, like producer Dennis Herring (Counting Crows) and drummer Ben Mize (also with Counting Crows) to assist in their new effort.
Although the If I Left the Zoo project was lengthy and challenging, it was those experiences that the band felt allowed them to make real creative progress. The result is a record infused with enthusiasm, character-adding imperfections, and total personality.
“Dennis made the band explore all the possibilities of music-making. I think there's more on this record than new songs, there's a new attitude,” shares Stephen. “We were each taken out of our comfort zones and pushed to be more playful and dedicated to being different where we may not have done that before.”
Dan continues, “We try to continue to challenge ourselves to not only grow as Christians, but to also enjoy the moment we are in. Because what we learn during our experiences, gives us a better understanding of the direction in which we are heading. This recording process has been a tremendous exercise in embracing and learning from the moment.”
The first single from If I Left the Zoo, “Unforgetful You,” is elevated alternative rock with quirky musical components and dramatic lyrics that express the failed attempts of humanity to handle life’s changes without remembering God’s plan.
“This song serves to remind us of how forgetful we are and how 'Unforgetful' God is,” reflects Dan. “It's amazing the extent God will go to in order to show us who He is on a daily basis.”
Regarding “I'm Alright,” which includes backing vocals from a gospel choir, Matt comments, “Our perceptions of ourselves and why we believe we are alright, and the reality of why we are alright in God’s eyes, are usually polar opposites. It's important that people remember that God doesn't make mistakes.”
“This is a record that expresses God’s relentless pursuit of us as human beings,” remarks Charlie on the overall motivation behind the project. “It's because of His unconditional love for us that we are allowed to be exactly who we are.”
And exactly who is Jars of Clay? They’re still a group of good friends making music for the fun of it and letting God take it from there.
Jars of Clay takes its name from II Corinthians 4:7.
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
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