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By: Michael D. Vogel

© September 11, 1997. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved. 

Published in:

The Album Network magazineSeptember 26, 1997

 

Resilience and faith are two commodities that are essential in today’s fast-paced life. “The name Jars Of Clay” states Charlie Lowell, keyboard and vocalist for the band, “comes from scripture. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us’ (II Cor. 4:7). That one verse describes exactly the picture we are trying to communicate.” Once just a group of friends sharing a common faith and inspiration to make music, Jars Of Clay have begun a movement to bring religious music into the mainstream.

Much Afraid, Jars Of Clay’s second full-length album, is the anxiously awaited follow-up to their self-titled platinum-plus, multi-award winning debut album. [Writers Note: It is important to note here that Jars Of Clay was certified platinum in the non-secular market several months before it reached commercial radio!] Now with a newly recorded album and single already impacting at commercial radio, the band is ready and eager to prove their intentions. By projecting a more intense sound that traces darker themed characteristics than their debut album, Jars Of Clay demonstrate they are far from being just a pious band.

Although a majority of their music is written in praise of the Almighty, Jars Of Clay manage to expound their joy and faith without preaching. By resisting an urge to sound excessively religious by shoving spiritual beliefs down our throats, the casual observer might not even realize Jars Of Clay are a band from the religious world. But these four guys also have other inspirations, as I found out initially in listening to their new album, Much Afraid, and subsequently on a follow-up conversation with Charlie while in Nashville, a few days later.

It seems like Jars Of Clay just got off the road, yet in the last few months the band has recorded a new album, Much Afraid, and are planning to go back out on tour within the next few weeks. How are you preparing for the road this time around?

Charlie Lowell: “A little over a year ago we started a co-headlining theater tour with The Samples. It was quite a unique situation, though, because the band that had sold more records in the market got the headlining position in the show. It was an on again, off again thing. We were exhausted and ready to take some time off and prepare for the new album. The record had already been out for well over a year and ‘Flood’ had already peaked at radio. So it really just felt like bad timing to go back out on tour; whereas this time around, we are refreshed and ready to hit the road. It just feels like the first official tour we’ve headlined. With a new album and single at radio, and a well-balanced supporting band [Plum], it just seems this time around things are set up to be more successful. I hope I didn’t just jinx us by saying that!”

How much of a role does the band have in the decision-making on who you tour with?

CL: “Actually quite a bit. A couple of months ago we started talking about options and which bands had new albums coming out. We also considered who would fit well with what we are doing musically and artistically, and then see which ones looked possible. Specifically, for this tour, Plum was our primary choice from the very beginning because they have a vision, both musically and lyrically, that is very close to ours. It’s just a desire to make good music without coming in with an agenda or being heavy-handed.

“In the case of our last tour with The Samples, it looked good on paper, but when we got out on the road both bands became pretty miserable. We all got along well on a personal basis, but felt that musically we were moving in different directions and as a result both bands, as well as the audience, were suffering. Ultimately, it was a mutual decision and The Samples dropped off the tour with the vacancy to be filled later by the Gufs.”

In the case of Plum, sharing the same label and management probably doesn’t hurt either!

“Certainly, that’s a huge benefit. In this case, it just makes everything a whole lot easier!”

Having such strong personal convictions, how does the band deal with other artists that have different views and habits then you do?

“We really try not to judge other people. We love all kinds of music so much that it is just a thrill for us to play with other bands. Regardless of their philosophy or value system, it’s simply exciting just to share the stage with another band as well as get to know them personally. Most bands, regardless of the type of music they make, can relate on at least one level to where other artists are at. Inside a common profession, like the music business, most experiences are relative. Therefore, there is a common bond that ties people together based on these similar and shared experiences.

“The end desire is to create music that is of excellent and lasting quality as well as being challenging to our fans. On a personal level, we try to present life’s struggles and experiences through the lyrical content of our music. A lot of that comes across through our faith, our up bringing and what we have come to believe in as individuals. The end result is an album that is a lot darker and more introspective then our first record. For example, ‘Tea And Sympathy’ does not necessarily deal with faith, although that does come into play, but more about the struggles of being in a relationship. ‘Portrait Of An Apology’ is about how one’s heart changes, as well as being seen for the person that you really are and the struggles that you go through. By presenting the music in this fashion, hopefully different people from various backgrounds will all be able to relate to the record.” 

What about fanatical supporters and groupies?

“The concept of ‘groupies’ is very weird to us. Some we try to ignore simply because they are too fanatical. They have no idea who I am nor do they ever express any interest in who I am as person–yet, they are making fools out of themselves. To us, that kind of behavior is too eccentric and therefore something we really try not to deal with.

“Our fan base comes from both the religious and secular worlds. Those that are coming from a non-secular background are usually fanatical about the religion itself, and although they enjoy the music, the whole event turns into somewhat of a religious pep rally. Although that type of event can be very interesting, it does tend to alienate some of the mainstream audience that only wants to enjoy the music itself. But it is also the fan base that gives constant words of encouragement and the desire to keep moving forward as an artist. In the end then, I guess fans walk a fine line. Through positive responses the artists can grow and mature with the audience, whereas eccentric and fanatical behavior often tends to be destructive to both the artist and the individuals involved.”

The approach to the new album, Much Afraid, is much more rock-oriented than the debut album. Was that intentionally done in an effort to shed part of the religious stereotype? 

“Part of it was intentional and part of it was a maturity thing. I think more than anything we have been playing live as a six-piece rock band for the last two years. When we recorded the first record, it was more of a studio project. We didn’t plan on playing anything larger than coffeehouses. In fact, when we were signed to Essential [Records] as a band, we had only played about ten shows and mostly acoustic. And because we didn’t have a drummer at the time, we were forced to use loops instead. But as we prepared to start touring, the necessity for a drummer became obvious–and from then on it has pretty much been a [rock] band thing. For example, our live shows have never really sounded like the first record. So, in actuality, our sound is just the natural progression of who we are as artists and not so specifically an attempt to get away from our spiritual connotations.

“We wanted to create something that would have somewhat of a timeless sound but not in an egotistical way. We wrote this album with a live interpretation in mind without being necessarily reflective of the trends in music at that time. Five years from now, we still want our music to hold up and not sound dated.”

Where did the name for the album Much Afraid come from? 

“A book called ‘Hind Feet On High Places’ by Hannah Hernard. It’s basically an allegory of the journey of life.  In the book there are several characters, the lead character being named ‘Much Afraid.’ A lot of the concepts from that book weave throughout our record. It is also an anthem of hope and faith and a sense of resolution. That, above all else, is what we’re trying to learn and live, and the message we want to leave with people.”

Do you put high expectations on the band because the music has some religious significance? 

“I think there’s a temptation to. We try not to feel too much pressure to be there and please the extreme religious fanatics. We simply try to express ourselves and hope that a connection is made with the audience. Looking back on the first album, it was who we were at the time we recorded it. There’s not really a feeling of obligation or a need to hit a particular topic. The only thing we feel bound by is experience and honesty. Some bands are embarrassed by some of their early material, as if it was something they were trying to be and never really completely achieved it. We are very proud of our first album but at the same time we have grown a lot since then–it was also a tremendous milestone for us as well. ^m^

 

Photograph credit: Matt Barnes

 

Origin:

Hailing from Rochester, NY, Winter Springs, FL and Decatur, IL, the four members of Jars Of Clay have relocated to Nashville, TN

Line-Up:                                                                                    

Dan Haseltine – Vocals

Matthew Odmark – Guitar & Vocals

Stephen Mason – Guitar, Bass & Vocals

Charlie Lowell – Synthesizer, Organ, Piano & Vocals     

About The Current CD:

Much Afraid is the bands third album, and the highly anticipated follow-up to their multi-format, monstrously successful self-titled platinum CD.

Discography:

Much Afraid (Essential/Silvertone/Jive, 1997)                                         

Jars Of Clay (Essential/Jive, 1995)

Frail (Silvertone, 1994)  

Produced By:

Stephen Lipson

Label:                                                              

Essential/Silvertone                                          

Website:

www.jarsofclay.com

 

© September 11, 1997. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved. This originally appeared on the Vogelism blog at http://www.vogelism.com authored by Michael D. Vogel. This article may be shared or reprinted as long as the entire copyright message, including the source location of this article, accompanies it.

 

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