Jars Of Clay
Jars Of Clay

by Danl Blackwood

Is the music of Jars Of Clay a phenomenon or just another of very few Christian music artists to make a relatively successful showing in the mainstream market? Some would say that the Christian market is peaking, and that in fact mainstream music sales in general are experiencing a soft period. I believe, however, that there is something unique happening here. The music of Jars Of Clay is attractive, not only to Christians because of the Gospel message, but to believers and non-believers alike because of the artistic value of the music. People are being captivated by their sound, so much so that mainstream radio stations are playing their music even before it's actually released. In addition to the normal mainstream markets, like radio and MTV, JoC's music was also heard as background music on the popular soap opera, All My Children. There are rumors of even further mainstream exposure, but I will not explore them here.

While there was an independent recording released called "Frail", they're first major release, Jars Of Clay, is currently #1 on most Christian charts. It recently received Heatseeker Status in Billboard magazine, and is really just getting started on it's climb on the mainstream charts. The most recent effort is a multimedia CD-ROM which includes an excellent selection of video, audio, photos, and other interesting info. They also just finished working with Brent Bourgeois on an offering for the upcoming Petra tribute album, Never Say Dinosaur.

Oh yeah, and then there's a little matter of five, count 'em, five Dove Award Nominations.

Group of the Year
New Artist of the Year
Rock Recorded Song of the Year (for "Flood")
Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year
Short Form Music Video
They are also scheduled to appear on the 27th Annual Dove Awards taking place April 25th, and broadcast on the Family Channel at 8pm (CDT).

Currently on tour with Michael W. Smith and fellow opening act, Three Crosses, I got a chance to catch up with this extremely busy contingent of very Christ-centered young men.

Jars on stage

How do you feel about the tour so far?
Dan: Tour's been great!
Charlie: We love it.
Matt: It's a privilege to be on the road with Michael W. Smith.
Steve: I miss my girlfriend.

I know that Scott Savage has been playing drums for live shows at least since I saw you a year ago with PFR (and doing an awesome job). However, until the I'll Lead You Home tour, you did not have a bass player. So who's the new bass player?
Aaron Sands.
Where'd you find him?
Both Scott [Savage] and Aaron, we met at Belmont University in Nashville.

Sound IconIs it fair to say this tour is more grueling than the PFR tour? [39.1 sec, 841.8K .wav file]
No, not hardly.
Why would you say that?
For one we don't grunt our own gear, which we're accustomed to, and we don't show up at a venue 'til four or five o'clock.
But the dates?
The dates are actually better spaced. We would do 12 or 13 shows in a row with PFR at times, and now we do 5 [shows in a row] at the most. So the scheduling is better.
Do you miss the PFR guys?
Oh, yeah! We saw 'em in Minneapolis when we played there, and it was good to see 'em. They're doing well; they're really excited about the album that they're working on right now.
A recent PFR newsletter said the new album is done.
I think they're near done recording it. When we saw 'em they were still working on it, which was a month ago. So they could be done by now.
[ed. note: The fourth PFR album is in fact done, however the name and exact release date are currently top secret. :-) Look for it sometime this summer.]

Though difficult, I'm sure you are able to somehow find personal devotion time, but how do you find time for worship with fellow believers on the road?
To the majority of people, worship is an experience where you all get together and you sing choruses, and such. I think, for me, worship has taken on a different form with these guys. I would consider worship on the road, times when we can all get together, and enjoy each other's company. Worship, too, I would consider a performance [on stage]. There are special songs, in fact, that just kinda' call our hearts in worship. I mean it's not the worship that I'm used to, that's for sure. We don't really get to go to church, as long as we're on the road. We really miss it.
I would definitely say that your performance was one that, to me, was a worship service.

I understand the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon holds about 20,000, and at the 3/23 show, you had a packed house.
There were about 13,000. Most of the places we play, we play to like two-thirds or three-quarters house, whatever. In an arena where [the stage] is setup, [typically] you're cutting off so much. Matt & Dan

Do you ever get any personal indication from the crowd at these shows that you are actually reaching non-believers?
We did a concert in a club actually, where some of the guys were getting high in the background, which was actually a very cool thing, because ... I mean, they were at one of our concerts. So in light of that, I think that ... not that getting high is an indication, but them showing up, I think for us was kind of a cool thing. Normally, those kind of people don't come to our shows, I don't think. It's cool to actually see people that we want to reach there. It's really hard to tell in this kind of setting with Michael's [show]. There's not always the kind of contact we can really get a read on how many believer's [or non-believer's] there are. I think first of all we just want to do what the Lord's called us to do. The Bible says, the Word will not return void, so hopefully, if we are preaching the Word, which we hope we are, then it shouldn't return void, and people are hearing it and responding to it.

Before the concert, I was wondering if "Fade To Grey" would be on the set list?
It was originally going to be on this tour, but that was in place of "Love Song For A Savior", and we really felt like we needed to do that song. However, "Fade To Grey" is one of those songs that goes over [well] even if people have no idea who we are, and it should be on the next album.

Are you aware that both "Liquid" and the album have for the last few weeks have out-paced Smitty's single and album on both the mainstream and Christian Soundscan charts, and that [as I write this] the album is currently number one?
No we weren't aware.
How does that make you feel, and does it affect how you plan things?
Definitely. It has to. Everyone enjoys success, and I would say the same for us. We enjoy hearing good reports, you know, the way people have been responding to the music. It just continually brings us to realize that we had no part in it, because we claim divine intervention in the songs themselves. We were just a bunch of stupid college students a few years ago that decided to make music together, that was born out of friendships. So I think everything is just a continual surprise, and a humbling thing.

When can we expect another album? The Earthen Vessels newsletter said you'll possibly be going into the studio in September '96.
It'll be later than that, maybe late fall. We like to say, 'the future.' We think in about a year or so the next album will be out. We're anxious, but with the way the schedule is now...
I understand you're doing "Rose Colored Stain Glass Window" on a Petra tribute album. There have been rumors that that's the name of your next album. Is that true?
(Laughter) No, we never even thought about that. We're real happy with that song. If it's born out of maybe our excitement for that song, I mean, there are just endless possibilities with that song. It was an honor to do it, and to work with Brent Bourgeois. And how it came out ... we were just excited. It should be out soon, like in the next month or so.
[ed. note: There are now reports that the Petra tribute album, Never Say Dinosaur, has been bumped to a July release date.]
Sound ClipDo you know who'll be producing your new album? [1:19.6 sec, 1713.5K .wav file]
We won't be (laughter).
When you got to work with Adrian Belew on the first album, how come he only produced "Flood" and "Liquid"?
Cause that's all we could afford. (laughter) He didn't have time. Actually we wanted to do "Fade To Grey" with Adrian. We finished "Liquid" and "Flood", and just ran out of time. We had just five days to mix and cut and track everything. The reason we joke about us not producing is just because ... well, with Adrian there, he was able to kinda' sift through our different opinions, and then between the four of us we have musical taste enough to guide it wherever we want it to ... with some guy that would go, "[in a boxing announcer's voice] In the left corner! ..." (laughter)

Did you ever dream the demo release Frail would become such a collector's item?
No. We printed only 1500 cause that's all we could afford. We would have printed 3000, actually if we could have.
Have you heard that their selling for as high as $500?
Really?! That's crazy. Well, what we're hoping to do is print up another 500 without letting anybody know (laughter).

"Flood" has been getting a lot of mainstream airplay. How did that happen?
Zomba heard about it, and heard how well it was doing. John Huie, who books for us now, was talking to the president of Zomba Records, [the parent company of Jars' record company Essential], and said "you should check this out". The next day [Zomba's president] got on the phone, and said, "I want to know about this band". They heard the album, and got excited about it. They said, "We'll distribute it, and see how it does; put some money into it." They did some test printings and sent the song out to some radio stations and alternative stations just to see kinda' what the response would be, you know, obviously just to test it out, and the response they got was really, really positive.

We're spoiled here in Wichita, as you are in Nashville, having a 24 hour CCM station to listen to, but others are not so lucky. So there's probably a quite a few Christians who listen to mainstream radio, and there have been reports of those hearing "Like A Child" and "Liquid". I know those were released to the Christian market, but have they been released to mainstream radio?
No, but some people have actually started playing [Liquid] before we officially released it.

There have been some who've seen the "Flood" video, not only on Alternative Nation segment of MTV, but in regular rotation. How'd that happen, same thing?
Yeah, they are very cautious about videos. Their rotation starts with 120 Minutes for alternative bands, so they put it on 120 Minutes to see how it does for a little bit. If it does fairly well there they move it to Alternative Nation, which is kind of their prime time alternative show. If it does really well there, ... it goes into regular rotation. And so it's just amazing to us to see that it's actually made it through the ranks. I think that a lot of that is due just to people calling in. It's so nice to have the fan base where people are doing that.

Is the "Liquid" video done? It seems like I read it was being shot.
Well, we worked on it a little bit, but we decided to kind of shelve it 'til this summer. We decided to start over re-shooting. We want it to be really great; we don't want to do a slap-dash job, so we'll wait 'til this summer. Stephen

How do you feel about people rating songs as some more Christian than others?
I think everyone has a certain calling, like some people are called to be doctors, and some people are called to be musicians. Some people are called to be pediatricians, and other doctors are called to work with cancer patients. It's a bazaar analogy, but some people are called to be like, hard core ministry focus, and other people are called to carry the message of Christ to the mainstream, and there are a lot of bands that are doing that in subtle ways that are artistic and creative unto themselves, but in a very loud way.
So then you agree with an recent article in CCM Magazine that asks the question, "Why does there have to be a separation between Christian and mainstream?"
I don't necessarily think there should be a separate Christian music station and a secular station. I think a lot of that is just borne out of ... and this may be a little harsh, but just a lack of artistic integrity. I'm not saying that we have that, but we've been fortunate enough to make it into the secular market. I think there's are a lot of stereo-types in the Christian music industry nowadays, some of which are fairly warranted. Hopefully, by what we're doing, we'll be able to break down some of those stereo-types, and smooth that over. Hopefully in the future there won't be Christian radio or secular, you know, it'll be something where if the music's is good enough and the message shouldn't matter. We just had a situation where one of the secular radio stations found out we were playing at a Christian festival, and so they dropped our song off their station for a little while, and kinda freaked out for a little bit. They ended up adding it again, so it was kinda that mentality...
So they weren't aware that you were a Christian band?
They were aware of it; I think everybody's aware of it, but it's been for the musical merit especially, that they decided to play it.

What are your goals?
I think it's kinda two-fold, and one is holding onto an artistic integrity and feeling like there's an ability to come up with music that lives up to standards that we appreciate and enjoy, and has that artistic creativity to it. And I think the other side of that, is just being honest with who we are as people and letting that come across through the lyrics and the music, and kinda balancing those two together. I feel like this is what we're about, you know, this is the best that we can do, and just pray that people continue to be drawn to it somehow.

I'm a computer consultant and technical support specialist, and the Jars Of Clay Interactive CD-ROM is one of the smoothest multimedia packages I've seen. However, I am also a Macintosh system administrator. Will it be available for Macintosh?
It was about a month ago when I had heard about that whole predicament, and they said they weren't going to release it for Macintosh, but I don't know for sure.

Speaking of the CD-ROM, there's a video clip of "Like A Child" at the 1994 GMA Spotlight Competition Finals, and I didn't recognize everyone. Was that Matt Bronlewee playing guitar? [ed. note: Bronlewee was one of the original guitar players in Jars Of Clay who was later replaced by Matt Odmark.]
And he's from Kansas?
Yeah. He says like if this is Kansas [holds up hand, and points to center] they were like exactly in the middle.
So what's our Kansas connection to Jars Of Clay up to? Do you see him anymore?
Yeah. He's actually playing with another friend of ours from Greenville College named Sara Jahn. She's kinda new.
Oh, I just read about her; something about that you helped with her album?
Nope! (laughter) We've been her friend since college, and ... maybe an inspiration, who knows. Well, Charlie co-wrote one her songs.

I would like to close with a few personal questions.

Matt, how's your mom doing? [ed. note: Mat Odmark found out last fall that his mother, Laurie, had cancer. It's been on many prayer lists since.]
She's doing well. Thanks for asking. She's doing really well, she's about half way through her chemotherapy. Good news is she's gonna be fine, she's gotta wait it out for the rest of this therapy.

How's your voice holding up, Dan?
It's holding up. Last week was really difficult. We canceled a couple shows on the tour because of it, but it's back and hopefully strong.

I asked one of my cyber-acquaintances, what question she would ask you, and she wondered, "What do your mom's think of this success?"
She cried.
It was really because of my long hair. (laughter)

Closing Comments

I expect great things from Jars Of Clay. As we visited, the one thing that kept coming back to me was the genuine warmth I felt. These young men love the Lord, and are not ashamed to speak their faith and tell others about Him in their music. Contrary to what a recent mainstream entertainment industry magazine implied (which shall remain nameless), Jars Of Clay is clear in their message. It has been said that you won't take any hits if you're not on the front line. They will most likely start taking more hits (as in the mentioned magazine article), for they are certainly on the front lines. God's Word says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." I challenge those who hear the words of "Liquid", especially those who would call their message watered down.

Blood-stained brow,
He wasn't broken for nothing.
Arms nailed down,
He didn't die for nothing.

This is the one thing,
The one thing that I know.
Sound Clip"Liquid" .wav file (935K)

Is the cross a transforming power in your life, or the symbol of a failed and defeated hero? Thanks Dan, Charlie, Matt, and Stephen for great music, the message of the transforming power, and for the courage to carry it to the all the world, not just believers.


Official Jars Of Clay Web Page | Blackwood Music History Scrapbook
Jars & Blackwood

left to right: Aaron Sands (bass player and newest tour member),
Danl Blackwood, Charlie Lowell, and Dan Haseltine