Interview: Singapore - 8 Days Feature, January 1998
They're the college band whose brand of Christian music has moved into the mainstream in a big way. Angela Lee gets on the phone with them.
Jars of Clay
by Angela Lee
Somewhere backstage at an open-air theatre in Houston, Texas, Sting waits to perform songs from his latest album, Mercury Falling. First on stage, though, is opening act Jars of Clay -- a young, Christian folk-rock band whose first single 'Flood' is creating a buzz around college campuses and alternative radio.
The jeans 'n' jersey-clad guys may lack the veteran singer's finesse but their emotive songs strike a resonant chord with a standing ovation at the end of the gig.
Locals say they haven't seen an opening act elicit this kind of response in a long, long time.
It's a reaction Jars lead singer Dan Haseltine and keyboardist Charlie Lowell, both 24 -- along with guitarist Matt Odmark, 23, and guitarist/bassist Steve Mason, 22, have had to get used to since they first formed the band out of Greenville College five years ago.
8 DAYS: Jars of Clay went from playing showcases in Nashville to being the biggest-selling Christian band of all time. What's your take on your meteoric rise?
Charlie Lowell: We have to claim God's providence in that because we really don't have any idea (laughs). We were just college kids writing songs that expressed our perspective on life and the struggles we faced with things like relationships and faith. When things started to catch on we were like, wow, other people can relate to this!
8 DAYS: Unlike Amy Grant who had to sing 'Baby Baby' before she was accepted by mainstream radio, this generation of crossover artists hasn't had to couch its faith in vague lyrics. When did things start to change?
Dan Haseltine: Our generation is searching for something more than just the cynical, angst-ridden music we've had in the past. People are getting sick and tired of just wandering around not knowing where to go or what to believe in. So music in and of itself has taken on a more spiritual form in just the past few years. It's becoming more acceptable to have songs about faith and to deal with issues about God. Even artists like PM Dawn, Sting and Sarah McLachlan have dealt with spirituality.
8 DAYS: One of the criticisms of early Christian pop music was that it always seemed to lag five years behind regular music. What about today?
Lowell: [It's] come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. One of the problems is the idea that there should be two separate industries -- one Christian, the other secular or mainstream. But a lot of the newer bands are making an effort not to be 'cookie cutter' cut-outs of mainstream groups. They're saying 'We should be original. We should do our own thing. And we should be excellent at it.'
8 DAYS: What are some of the stereotypes about Christian artists you're hoping to break?
Haseltine: That we come into this with an agenda to convert. That's not necessarily what Jars of Clay are all about. We're here to perform music. We have a hope that we hope people will want to know about, but ultimately that decision is theirs, not ours.
8 DAYS: As a Christian artist, you can't separate the music from the lifestyle. So how do you handle the temptations that come with fame?
Lowell: It may seem kind of ludicrous, but we have a kind of buddy system when we're on the road. We stick together and hold each other accountable. We talk about things that frustrate us or tempt us so that we know where our weaknesses lie and help each other out.
8 DAYS: I hear you invite your church pastor out on the road with you.
Lowell: Yeah. He encourages us and gives us advice. Like when we had to decide last summer if we should play bars and clubs because of all the mainstream attention we were getting. We approached him and asked what he thought would be a wise thing to d o.
8 DAYS: So what did he have to say?
Lowell: He encouraged us to play the bars and for different kinds of audiences. If you look at the life of Jesus, that's very much what he did in his ministry. People criticized him for it, but he wasn't afraid to hang around all sorts of people.
8 DAYS: You've gotten flak for canceling church dates to play the club circuit. People believed you did it for the money and feared you'd water down the content of your concerts.
Lowell: We sat down and decided we wanted to play where those people who had heard our song on the radio would be comfortable seeing us. We would have made much more money playing churches! (Laughs)*
Article transcribed from 8 Days Magazine, Singapore, pages 21 and 22.