Jars of Clay

Jars of Clay Biography

It’s the dichotomy of living in the physical and human world that Jars of Clay explores in their new project Good Monsters, giving both longtime listeners and new fans a glimpse at the veteran band’s creative dichotomy as well.

It’s not about eradicating one side to glorify the other. It’s about figuring out how to reconcile one with the other. It’s about finding the good within the monster. In order to find balance, neither of two sides can exist without the other.

Speaking of finding balance between two sides, it’s within the first few seconds of the opening track that you’ll realize Good Monsters is unlike any Jars of Clay album you’ve heard before.

In Good Monsters when guitarists Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark make their blisteringly electric entrance on the track Work, when Charlie Lowell’s piano slices through, when the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Sands and drummer Jeremy Lutito make their presences felt, and when vocalist Dan Haseltine reveals, “I have no fear of drowning/it’s the breathing that’s taking all this work,” you sense you’re in for a little different experience than you’ve had from these guys in the past.

It’s transparency by design, an expressed desire to speak truth, as they see it, at the very moment they experience it. “There’s more urgency in these songs. There’s more honesty,” Haseltine says.

At the same time, much of the lyrical content on Good Monsters hones in on intimate emotions. “I had a talk early on with Matt talking about the lyrics, that some of these songs were focused in on such a small amount of an emotion,” Haseltine continues. “Jars has pretty much tried to focus on some ‘big picture’ ideas. When we write songs, the lyrics can tend to be pretty lofty, and this season has represented more of being comfortable with not sharing the whole front end or back end of a story, but just sharing the moment you’re in.”

But what spurred the dual notion of creating a big, loud, in-your-face musical experience that also chronicles the minutiae of a momentary feeling? Again, it’s the dichotomy of the internal and the external. “First, there was this singular intention of making a real rock ‘n’ roll record,” Mason says. “The other part was to take what Dan was wrestling with and communicate a lot of the ideas about community and reconciling the best of who we are with the truth of our own darkness. Those are two different things that happened independently and yet worked well together naturally.”

Those items fit together in lockstep through tracks like the opener Work, the album’s first single, which wraps internal conflict in the record’s most upbeat musical setting. It emerges on Mirror and Smoke, a collaboration with former Sixpence None The Richer singer Leigh Nash; on Light Gives Heat, a treatise on how ill-natured the attempt at good works can sometimes be; and on the epic Oh My God, a three-part exploration on both purposeful and unintentional intersections with God.

It’s the work environment the members of Jars of Clay built for themselves while creating the songs for this record that helped bolster the courage to ask these kinds of tough questions. After a dozen years of writing, recording and touring together, the core members Haseltine, Mason, Odmark and Lowell felt it was time to shake up the way they work, and so they hunkered down in a room with longtime tour bassist Sands and new drummer Lutito (and the extra ears of arranger Ron Aniello) to shape the song ideas they had collected over the previous several months.

When they entered Nashville’s state-of-the-art Blackbird Studio with engineer Vance Powell with songs intact, recording sessions became about existing as a band, playing and singing live, with many of Good Monsters’ final tracks emerging almost exactly as you hear them now.

“All the hard work had been done, and we went into the studio knowing we had good songs we felt confident in,” Mason says. “We were trying to access a place that the ear probably detects subtly, capturing the spirit of people playing together and enjoying it, that garage-y, fleshing-it-out-in-real-time feeling.”

It doesn’t take long to pick up on that feeling; you simply let that spirit fly out of the speakers. It even shows on acoustic songs like There Is A River, originally written as an experimental bluegrass tune; and on Surprise, a quiet, loping look at the nature of new experience. There’s also a spirit of reverence for creative pursuit running through Good Monsters, as shown by the presences of guests like Nash, Ashley Cleveland, Kate York and the cover of Julie Miller’s All My Tears, a longtime staple of Jars’ live show.

“That was a scary song to try to do,” Haseltine says. “We thought we had to tailor it to make it a little more rock and roll, and we were really scared because we wanted to honor how the song was originally written, about [singer/songwriter] Mark Heard and by Julie, who’s experienced so much chronic pain in her life. All of these aspects go in to the song, and when we finished, we thought it was good, but it was really scary that we did it this way.

“But then [Julie’s husband/acclaimed guitarist and songwriter] Buddy Miller came into the studio, and we just sat him down and played it for him, and he loved it and he said, ‘Julie’s going to think this is just an amazing gift.’ That allowed us to have a lot more confidence about it.”

There’s no doubt confidence and experience played a part in Jars of Clay wanting to step out and try this new musical approach. Again, it’s the balancing of dichotomy that truly allows excellence to shine through, and a freedom that washes over the results.

Jars of Clay Bio from Discogs

Jars of Clay began at Greenville College, Illinois, in 1992 (though they weren't using that name at this stage). In those early days, Charlie Lowell and Dan Haseltine were joined by Matt Bronleewe after discovering they shared similar musical tastes, and began working on various studio projects as well as performing with different college bands. In 1993, Stephen Mason was accepted into the college due to the strength of his audition piece 'Frail' (then an instrumental guitar track), and met Dan because of a Toad The Wet Sprocket t-shirt he was wearing, the two sharing an admiration for that band's unique sound. This original foursome then decided to write and record a song together purely for credit in a recording class. That song, 'Fade To Grey' became popular throughout the college, and the band performed it the 'Underground Cafe'. After the success of this performance, they decided to write more songs to add to their repertoire as well as to continue satisfying their course criteria. They also decided that if they were going to continue performing, they needed to give themselves a name. Charlie recalled a verse from 2 Corinthians 4:7 that included the phrase 'Jars of Clay' and the band decided that this would be a good way to remind themselves to stay humble. In 1994, Jars of Clay was born.

Also in 1994, Charlie suggested to the band that they enter a talent contest he had seen advertised in a CCM magazine. On April 27th, Jars of Clay performed at the Gospel Music Association Spotlight Competition, and met with great popular and critical praise. April continued to be busy as the band released its demo album "Frail", (which was limited to a run of 1000 and is now the most highly sought after piece of Jars of Clay memorabilia). This demo, combined with their GMA win, garnered the band a lot of record label interest, and eventually they signed with Essential Records (3), then a small, fledgling label that nevertheless had the distribution power of both Brentwood Music and Silvertone. By this stage, Matt Bronleewe had decided to leave the band and continue his studies, rather than move with the others to Nashville to record their debut album. This left a hole in the group that was filled when Charlie called an old school friend of his, Matt Odmark, and asked him if he would be interested in the spot. Matt accepted and in May 1995 they released their self-titled debut to massive critical and popular acclaim. The first single to be lifted from the album, 'Flood', became a No. 1 hit on both secular and Christian charts, helping the album go 2x Platinum, and seeing the band tour with the likes of Sting, Sheryl Crowe, Michael W. Smith and PFR.

Jars of Clay are considered to be one of the most creative and artistic bands in the US, and not only amongst Christian audiences. Though their name is not as prevalent in the secular scene as it once was, it is still associated with the very highest of production values and creative output, and the band still maintains a very loyal and dedicated fan base, and have performed all over the world, including Australia, the UK, the Philippines, and Singapore. In 2001, Jars of Clay received Honourary Degrees from Greenville College, since Dan, Charlie and Steve never finished their original degrees. The band has always been open about their Christian beliefs, but do not consider themselves to be a 'Christian' band, more a band whose members are Christians. All four .... Click here to read the full bio on DISCOGS.

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