Jars of Clay
Not Afraid Anymore
On their last album, JARS OF CLAY let outside expectations bottle up
their creativity. But a new album, with a new producer, got them loosened
up and ready to rock.
by Mark Moring
With more than 3 million albums sold, it?s pretty clear that the guys
in Jars of Clay know how to make great music.
So when they played a song demo for Dennis Herring, the producer of
their brand-new album, If I left the Zoo (due November 9), they
figured he?d like it.
And he did. Well, sorta.
"It?s a song called ?Can?t Erase It,?" says keyboard
player Charlie Lowell, "and we really liked our demo tape. We thought
it was a good rock song. When Dennis heard it, he liked it, but said it
sounded like a lot of stuff on the radio. He suggested some changes."
And more changes. And still more changes.
"We came up with four or five different arrangements that were
very far from what we originally had in mind," says Charlie.
"Dennis wanted to remove us as far as he could from the initial sound
on our demo.
"It was a pretty uncomfortable process. We were kind of asking.
?What?s he trying to do with us? I liked this song a week ago, and now
I hate it.?"
As it turned out, the producer was right all along. The end result was
a song everybody loved.
"Yeah," admits Charlie, "it?s a much better song now
than what we started with."
That process?of change, discomfort, and, finally, a better result?illustrates
what the band has been through since its second album, Much Afraid,
was released two years ago.
All four band members?Charlie, lead vocalist Dan Haseltine, and
guitarists Steve Mason and Matt Odmark?have grown in their faith since
the days of Much Afraid, a title that represented their feelings at
Back then, Jars?riding the huge mainstream success of their
self-titled debut album?had been playing in bars and clubs, touring with
secular bands and visiting places worlds apart from the Christian faith.
All Jars wanted to do was take their songs of hope to a hurting world.
But they caught flak for it?especially from other believers.
The guys were confused. And hurt. And, yes, much afraid.
That?s how they felt when they headed into the studio to make their
second album. They felt intense pressure to make a great record, but they
were afraid to take too many risks, musically or lyrically.
"We were motivated by fear," says Steve, "a fear of
making someone unhappy. We?re people pleasers, and we didn?t want to
Adds Dan, "We still wonder what other Christians think of what we?re
doing. But we?re at a point in our career and our faith where we?re a
lot more confident in our decisions.
"We?ve had to take a long, hard look at what we do, and we feel
very strongly that God is calling us to build relationships outside of the
church, and to be salt and light in places where Christian music doesn?t
normally go. And what that means is moving ahead and not looking back?and
just praying and hoping the church will understand."
When Jars went into the studio last spring to start recording their
third album, the fearfulness of those Much Afraid days was a thing
of the past. This time around, the guys were much more confident?and
ready to take a few risks.
That?s one reason they hired Herring, a veteran producer who worked
with many secular bands, including The Innocence Mission and Cracker. They
knew he?d push them to try new things, to reach for higher and higher
levels of creativity.
"Dennis is a great producer," says Dan. "He just has a
very organic and earthy feel to his production that we all really
"Earthy" is what Jars is all about. Their very name, taken
from 2 Corinthians 4:7, includes the word "clay." The smash hit
song "Flood," from their debut album, talks about being
"one with the mud." And their musical roots have a raw,
down-to-earth edge that characterized their first album?which recently
passed the 2 million mark in sales.
The guys felt like they drifted from those roots on Much Afraid,
and they wanted to return to them for If I Left the Zoo. They knew
Herring could help.
"We wanted to make a record that wasn?t so polished as Much
Afraid was," says Dan. "That?s why we wanted Dennis to
produce it. He was real excited about the whole creative process and
experimenting with sounds and different ideas, doing things we hadn?t
For example, on one song, all the drum tracks were recorded with a
half-dozen cheap tape recorders (instead of the expensive studio recording
"Stuff like that," says Dan, "gives the album a
Says Steve, "We wanted to get in touch with the spontaneity and
abandon we had on the first record, when we were making music just because
we were having fun. We wanted to recapture some of that."
"Dennis pulled us in directions, musically, that we might never
have tried on our own," adds Matt. "Though it was uncomfortable
at times, I think we?ve made a record that?s much more creative as a
So what are the guys? favorite songs on this new album?
Both Charlie and Matt say "I?m All Right" is a favorite.
"It?s really different than anything we?ve ever done
before," says Charlie.
Adds Matt, "It sounds almost like a throwback to the old Rolling
Stones. And lyrically, it?s about how we are all right before God,
because of his mercy."
Dan mentions "Famous Last Words" as a fave.
"It?s from a non-Christian?s perspective, somebody who says
they don?t need God right now, but that they?ll turn to him
later," says Dan. "It?s just a call for urgency, for
Christians to love people well enough to draw them to Christ."
And Steve points out "The River Constantine."
"That song came out of a week-long retreat we took in January,
just catching up on our relationships," he says. "It?s about
the Holy Spirit and how he relates to us. It?s a worshipful tune, and I
think it kind of captures the Jars of Clay sound that people have come to
expect?an acoustically based ballad."
And while the guys have sung the praises of their producer, they save
their biggest praise for their Creator.
"We?ve had so many interesting things and tough moments that we
know without a shadow of a doubt that this is where God wants us,"
says Steve. "He?s done amazing things through these opportunities
to draw us closer to him, and to each other.
"He still has his hand on us. And he?s still doing a work in us
and through us."
As for the rest of us, it?s time to just kick back and listen.
From Campus Life magazine, Christianity Today, Inc. Used by