BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Jars of Clay Heralds Peace on Earth
By Hannah Goodwyn
With twinkling lights and a decorated Christmas tree, Jars of Clay recorded their first Christmas album in the dead of May. They cranked the air conditioner all the way up and taped Christmas Songs.
Not only is this their first attempt at making holiday music, but it’s their first album on their new label, Gray Matters. This latest endeavor is an exciting one for the band, but they also jokingly don’t want to claim it either.
“Nobody’s going to take credit for that because we’re not sure it’s going to work,” guitarist Matt Odmark says.
In all seriousness, the guys see this new label as a chance to take ownership of their projects and it gives them a bit more freedom in what they create.
“The good is that when we have an idea and inspiration we can do it,” lead singer Dan Haseltine says. “I feel like it really does give us the opportunity to use all available channels to our fans.”
“It’s as big as our imaginations right now,” says lead guitarist Steve Mason.
Reflections of Christmas
Their thirst for new ways to create a memorable musical experience reaches into Christmas Songs. Along with the CD, fans also will get a reflections book written by Jars of Clay. It’s a small picture into the band’s feelings about Christmas and some childhood memories.
“The folks at management helped put it together and worked on the details. But, it’s coming right from us. It’s not a label-sculpted agenda. It’s a little more raw. So that’s exciting,” says Charlie Lowell, the band’s resident keyboard player.
The idea of writing these thoughts on Christmas was welcomed by each of the band members.
“It’s a whole arm of what we want to do that could develop into another creative avenue,” Charlie says.
Not Another Christmas CD
Music sections at Wal-Mart are stock full of Christmas CDs, most of which aren’t any different from the rest. That’s why Jars of Clay cautiously pursued the idea of producing yet another holiday record to add to the shelf.
“We really felt like, if we’re going to make one, we want to be able to maybe speak about it in a way that puts it in context in today’s world,” Dan says. “And what we kept coming back to is that this idea of ‘Peace on Earth’ is either a very naïve, ignorant notion or it’s actually true. We wanted to bring that out, and we felt like we had a little bit of opportunity to do that on a Christmas record.”
None of the guys wanted their new album to become the white noise that’s so prevalent during the season either. The goal was to record a beautiful record that would add to the beauty of Christmas, not just fade into the background.
By putting their own twist to familiar songs and providing a few originals, Jars of Clay has produced a truly unique Christmas album.
“It has a sort of balanced nostalgia to it. We really tried to pull from some of the elements of Christmas for us growing up and the records that we would listen to without really creating a parody of those or just repeating what was done. So the record is very unique I think in a way that is incorporates strings and synthesizers and things like that together. Some of the choral elements nod to old Christmas records that we grew up with without overplaying that,” Dan says.
The guys reverted back to childhood and brought their own personal feelings to the project. They reflected on the music that captured Christmas for them growing up – songs by Vince Guaraldi, John Denver and the Muppets, Paul McCartney, and the Chipmunks. They had fun with it. And it ended up being a different sort of record than fans may expect from Jars of Clay.
“Knowing us for who we are, I would have much more expected us to lean towards melancholy, and there are definitely some moments for that,” Matt says. “But, in general, the record comes across very upbeat with little weighty moments interspersed.”
“It’s a happier album, maybe the happiest album we’ve ever made,” Dan says.
Christmas Songs: Old vs. New
Picking which songs to put on the album was something the guys thought a lot about. They didn’t want to simply pick the obvious ones like “Joy to the World” or “Come All Ye Faithful.” They wanted to do songs that are real and honest.
“It’s quite a mix. There are a few familiar tunes that certainly embody Christmas. There are a couple of instrumentals that have a real longing in them,” Charlie says.
“I think there was a desire to do some of the forgotten Christmas songs. Even if you follow the history of Jars of Clay, we’re always sort of looking for those hip gems people have forgotten along the way. The song selection represents that,” Matt says.
Familiar tunes, such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” are highlights on Christmas Songs because the band wanted to honor some of the more traditional hymns.
“It was a chance to change it enough to where the words would come back, and people would actually reflect on what it was truly saying,” Dan says.
Though they were excited to creatively add to these greats, there was some hesitancy, because they desperately wanted to avoid messing up these well-known melodies.
“It’s a real razor’s edge balance, because part of why you put Christmas music on every year is to be reminded and to have some familiarity,” Matt says. “So it’s this real balance between how do you make the old things feel new again without robbing them of their integrity.”
On the Road Again
In an effort to ring in the holiday season right, Jars of Clay is taking these songs and more on the road this fall as part of their Christmas Tour with Third Day.
“When we started talking to [Third Day] about touring this Christmas season, one of the earliest conversations we had with them was just they really wanted the tour to be about bringing the message of Blood:Water Mission to all the audiences. They’re very committed to and passionate about that,” Matt says.
As a way of raising awareness and money for Blood:Water Mission, Jars of Clay and Third Day will play 12 shows together starting late November. A portion of all the ticket proceeds from their joint Christmas tour will go to the mission work in Africa.
No matter what project may be in front of Jars of Clay, they want to remain focused on bettering the lives of others and having "Peace on Earth". Evidence of that can be admired not only in their music, but also in their work overseas.
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