Jars of Clay (Contemporary Musicians)
Christian rock group
The Nashville-based Christian rock band, Jars of Clay, achieved resounding success in the field of Christian alternative rock by infusing creativity with religion, music with scripture, and a distinctive musical style with traditional viewpoints. They broke into mainstream radio, video, and retail in 1996, and sold more than a million copies of their self-titled Jars of Clay album. Their continuing impact on Christian music was assured with the critical and commercial success of their albums into the 2000s and multiple Grammy and Dove Award wins.
Jars of Clay stand out in the realm of Christian rock for various reasons. Their music appeals to both religious and nonreligious musical crowds, it is not too laden and unbalanced by scriptural content, and the band is not hampered by unnatural gimmickry such as heavy metal gear or tossing bibles to the audience between sets. Instead, the four members of Jars of Clay simply present heartfelt music infused with their personal beliefs, presented with overwhelming pop rock artistry.
Dan Haseltine and Charlie Lowell met in 1992 while students at Greenville College, a Christian school outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Haseltine, who was wearing a Toad the Wet Sprocket T-shirt, and Lowell, who also
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enjoyed the band, struck up a conversation. Both had chosen the school because it offered a course in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). A year later, guitarist Steven Mason enrolled at the school as a freshman and teamed up with Haseltine and Mason. Jars of Clay, which then included guitarist Matt Odmark (a friend of Lowell's from his home town of Rochester, New York), recorded a demo in the school's studio, sent it to Nashville's Christian labels, and because of the demo's obvious originality and fresh approach, the three soon began receiving offers.
The group's members left college and moved to Nashville in 1994 to devote full time to their music careers. Once ensconced in Nashville, the band signed with Essential Records and released Jars of Clay in 1995. The album, particularly the single "Flood," received extensive airplay on Christian music stations, and then crossed over into mainstream radio. Jars of Clay sold more than 2 million copies and the group found itself situated firmly at the forefront of Christian rock.
Lowell came up with the band's name, which was inspired by the II Corinthians 4:7 verse in the Bible that reads, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." The verse, which refers to the frailty of humanity and our earthly bodies, is also the lyric of the song "Four Seven" on the band's debut Essential release.
When performing live at Contemporary Christian Music festivals, which often draw more than 60,000 people, band members are expected to sign autographs after a set for as long as people form a line. In addition to signing their name, band members add an inspirational text. Haseltine, who was estranged from his father because of his father's drinking, signs, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Likewise, Mason signs, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering," Odmark signs, "For me to live is Christ," and Lowell signs, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay."
The band toured with PFR and Brent Bourgeois for three months in the spring of 1995, and then again for three months in the fall; they also toured with Michael W. Smith and Three Crosses in the spring of 1996. When headlining concerts, Duncan Sheik, Sarah Masen, Sarah Jahn, Matchbox 20, The Gufs, and The Samples have opened for them.
Despite their lyrical references to the Bible, Jars of Clay focuses more on musical inventiveness rather than on converting fans to Christianity. Haseltine told William Shaw of Details, "People ask us, you know, what is ultimately our ministry purpose? And we don't necessarily do this with an agenda to convert someone over to Christianity." Mason told Shaw, "We're learning about keeping everyone happy, and how that's not really possible."
Christian music, which was led by breakthrough artists such as Amy Grant, Point of Grace, Newsboys, DC Talk, and Jars of Clay, accounts for a only a small percentage of album sales, but its growth has been steady and sometimes truly outstanding. Jars of Clay epitomize ear-worthy music fused with religion's inspirational messages. The band's members are influenced by a wide range of artists, encompassing both the secular and the Christian worlds. The Beatles, Seal, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Jimi Hendrix, Depeche Mode, Sarah McLachlan, Rich Mullins, PFR, and Brent Bourgeois all serve as inspiration for Jars of Clay.
The songs on Jars of Clay are based on Biblical passages. "Liquid" discusses the death of Jesus, incorporating a chant written in the 12th century as part of a Catholic Easter mass by the Wipo of Burgundy. Furthermore, "Sinking" refers to the fact that there is no hiding from God, "Like a Child" lauds child-like faith, "Art in Me" concerns God's craftsmanship and restoration, "He" grapples with child abuse, "Boy on a String" contemplates God viewing creation's plight, "Flood" deals with guilt, sin, and man's pleas for help, "World's Apart" challenges pride, "Blind" tackles doubt, and "Four Seven" explains the Bible's jars of clay verse.
However, Jars of Clay's mission to spread Christian beliefs through alternative rock does not end with their songs. A portion of the proceeds from the Jars of Clay album was donated to the Child Abuse Prevention Center/Exchange Club Family Center of Middle Tennessee, as the band wrote the song "He" after reading the book Death by Child Abuse: The Story of Ursula Sunshine.
Jars of Clay followed its debut album with Much Afraid in 1997. This album, too was a critical and commercial success, earning the group a Grammy Award for Best Pop Gospel Album. The group continued its winning streak with its next two albums, 1999's If I Left the Zoo, and The Eleventh Hour, released in 2002. Both of these albums won Grammy Awards for Best Pop Gospel Album, and The Eleventh Hour also earned the group a Dove Award for Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year.
Jars of Clay may not be trying to convert the crowds at the Contemporary Christian Music festivals, but the band is quietly and effectively doing God's work: reaching people through its music.
Frail, self-produced, 1994.
Drummer Boy (EP), Essential, 1995.
Jars of Clay, Essential, 1995.
VibeCentral (remixes), Essential, 1996.
(Contributor) The Long Kiss Goodnight (soundtrack), MCA, 1996.
Much Afraid, Silvertone, 1997.
If I Left the Zoo, Essential, 1999.
The Eleventh Hour, Essential, 2002.
Furthermore: From the Studio/From the Stage, Essential, 2003.
Who We Are Instead, Essential, 2003.
Jar of Gems, Essential, 2003.
Christianity Today, October 7, 2002.
Details, October 1996.
Guitar Player, March 1, 2000.
Guitar World Acoustic, October 1996.
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), December 22, 1997.
Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK), October 18, 1996.
"Dove Awards History," Dove Awards, http://www.doveawards.com (April 19, 2004).
"Jars of Clay," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 19, 2004).
Jars of Clay Official Website, http://www.jarsofclay.com (April 19, 2004).
. Kimberly Taylor and