BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Jars of Clay: The Long Fall Back to Earth
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
NASHVILLE -- With more than six million albums sold, three Grammy Awards, countless sold out shows, and the successful launch of Blood:Water Mission, a non-profit charity, it would be easy for Jars of Clay to simply sit back and enjoy the fruits of their musical and humanitarian endeavors.
But the Nashville based quartet has chosen instead to constantly challenge themselves to grow as musical artists, devoting themselves to their mission as well as their craft.
April 21st marked the release of their tenth studio album, The Long Fall Back to Earth (Provident Label Group), a record designed to pick up where their critically acclaimed 2006 release Good Monsters left off. The end result is a collection 14 songs that explore what it means to live in community rather than isolation.
CBN.com program director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with lead vocalist Dan Haseltine, guitarists Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark, and keyboardist Charlie Lowell, to discuss the importance of being vulnerable before God, the connection between relationship, social justice, and service, and why it has been three years since their last studio album.
Your new album, “The Long Fall Back to Earth” just released. Congratulations. What can you tell me about it?
Steve Mason: It is maybe jumping off from where “Good Monsters” left off. That is what we have been saying. “Good Monsters” had very declarative ideas about community and what it looked like to move from isolation into being known authentically. And that looked different in different contexts. There was some social justice aspect to it. There were all sorts of places of context for that to go. This record, “The Long Fall Back to Earth”, is really a continuation of that – it is not 30,000 feet – it is zoomed in to the nitty-gritty or the dirt and dust of interacting in close quarters. We are talking about the specific human relationship where it is fleshing itself out. You know, two people trying to know love and to extend grace to each other.
The first single that is doing very well on the charts is called “Two Hands”, a great song. What was the inspiration for it and how did it come into being?
Dan Haseltine: It was one of the last songs we wrote for the record. The album took so long to do because we recorded a batch of songs and then we would take a little break. Then we would ask ourselves if the record was done. The answer was no. So, we went back in and did another writing and recording session. We kind of kept doing that throughout the year (2008). It just felt like right before we wrote “Two Hands” and “Weapons” we just didn’t feel like we had gotten the record yet. We weren’t really saying everything we needed to say. So, that song came, and in a way it was kind of a relief because sometimes you just wonder are we really going to get to it and become who we are? This gave us long enough to get something worth saying. The whole record is about relationships, so with that song what I think we were trying to do was connect it with “Good Monsters” in a way, in terms of the connection between relationship, social justice, and service. It is a good part of the process to be able to say if you are comfortable with your own flaws and weaknesses you are more apt to be able to love and serve somebody with humility. At the same time, it is those flaws that are the biggest barrier. They are the thing that speaks in our heads – I’m not good enough – I can’t do this – I don’t have what it takes – I’m going to fail. So, for many people it becomes too much of a door to walk through and they can’t do it. So, it keeps us isolated. It keeps us from serving other people well. I think we wanted to make that connection in that song that there is this longing to sort of silence that voice in our heads that says we can’t do it. The only way to silence it is to actually prove it wrong.
If you don’t prove people wrong you can sort of shut down as an individual. You mention the song “Weapons”. Take me through that song if you don’t mind?
Mason: That one sets the tone for the record. It sets the tone for the rest of the album’s experience because if we can’t let go of bitterness, if we can’t knock down some of those walls, the work of a relationship really cannot begin. We need to make ourselves vulnerable. We say sometimes in relationship and in true, authentic friendship, we take off our armor one piece at a time and we give it to people who can hurt us. Their relationship and their friendship begin because it really is about vulnerability. “Weapons” sets forth the idea that if we want to be on this journey, if I want to be on this journey of authentic, genuine relationship and experiencing love as God has designed in the good news of the Gospel, I must be vulnerable and I must be available for the sorrow and the pain as well as the good stuff.
Charlie Lowell: On a quick listen it could easily be sort of taken as a political statement but I think the image of these sort of things like resentment, bitterness, defensiveness, I think the image plays well as a weapon. The song is sort of asking the listener to disarm themselves. Now is an appropriate place to start.
I remember talking to Bebo Norman one time and he said, ‘Every record I do is basically a snapshot of my life for the last year.’ Would you say “The Long Fall Back to Earth” is sort of a snapshot of what you guys are living or have been going through recently?
Haseltine: Maybe more so than other projects. This record is more like that because it does not have a lot of high and lofty ideas. It is about experiences or moments within a conversation or a specific emotion.
Matt Odmark: (serious) I would refer to it to like a full on installation oil painting as opposed to a snapshot photograph. It would be like a Monet’s “Water Lilies”. (laughter)
Haseltine: It is sort of a Byzantine era painting. (laughter)
One thing I have always appreciated about Jars of Clay is that you have always had the ability to consistently re-invent yourselves from record to record. How do you keep it fresh after all these years? You have been at it for 15 years now.
Mason: Ziploc bags.
Haseltine: There are a number of different things that go on in the process. One is that we are not willing to kind of look at what we have done in the past and say, ‘Ok, we have created our greatest work.’ We care about the innovation of making music and communicating it. We are also fans of music and music is about discovery and is about innovation and communicating things in ways that people haven’t communicated before. There is so much of that involved in it. We are a part of that culture. I don’t think we could ever just default and just phone one in. So, there is so much of the creative process that is just where we get a great amount of joy. We love to just figure things out. It is a puzzle in some regard.
Odmark: I agree with Dan. There are probably lots of different reasons people stumble into this kind of business or job of being an artist. For some people, maybe they make records because they like to be on stage or maybe performing is who they really are. Everything for them revolves around that. For us, the creative part of sort of going on a journey to find new music, discover it, and then bring it to life is the most important. Everything else is kind of secondary to that for us. In terms of what we love about music, everything else around it is only necessary, to keep us working in that creative process.
Your music has always had a guitar driven, acoustic sound with Matt and Stephen. But, I understand the new album features a fair amount of 1980s synthesizer on it, some drum loops, and even some digital sampling. Why did you choose to go in that direction on this record?
Haseltine: I think we wanted to draw from those influences without parodying those things or creating a novelty record. I think there is a way to use those musical textures authentically. I was trying to describe this to someone else recently. One of the great qualities of being a band that is really made up of four producers in the sense that each one of us could create and conjure up a project is that we draw from such a vast range of musical influences. We can do so many of them and not have it be like we are trying to be something else. It is still a part of our DNA and our make up so it is still authentic. This is why I feel like Jars could do a southern Gospel record, alt country, acoustic pop, a straight on rock record, or an 1980s infused synth pop record. I feel like we are not parodying ourselves or just trying to put on a different skin. It is a part of our influence and our make up. So, far we have been able to consistently pull that off. It is genuine and I think we did it again on this record.
Lowell: It was fun doing it. It was fun to sort of reference that stuff and just experiment with it. They were really different textures for us.
Please give a quick update on Blood:Water Mission. I know that is something near and dear to your hearts.
Haseltine: Blood:Water Mission is growing fast. Our biggest campaign is the 1,000 wells project which we started in 2004. We are currently at just under 700 projects and we think we are going to reach the 1,000 wells goal by January or February of next year. We have a lot more work on the AIDS side of things that we are developing. We are supporting more and helping to fund more medical clinics in Africa. We are part of a campaign called Jijue 1,000,000, which is a campaign that was started by Kenyan college students to get one million youth tested for HIV in Kenya. So, we went over and did some kick off shows for them and we are going to do some work to show some solidarity here in the U.S. as well with that campaign. There are a lot of really amazing things going on, the story keeps becoming more incredible every day.
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* Some material used courtesy of Provident Label Group
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