Their first album sold more than a million copies.
The first single from that album, “Flood,” crashed through barriers rarely penetrated by folks in their music genre.
And their sophomore album was the most highly anticipated of this fall’s Christian releases.
So what does a quartet of musicians with a spiritual bent have to be afraid of?
The title of the latest Jars of Clay album, “Much Afraid,” certainly indicates these devout minstrels have their share of demons.
But what the album also shows is that Jars of Clay is clearly not afraid to continue combining the word of God with the sound of rock.
After peaking at No. 8 on Billboard magazine’s list of Top 200 albums, “Much Afraid” currently sits at No. 31 - right behind Amy Grant’s latest release and in front of albums from the likes of Oasis, Smash Mouth and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Certainly the last few years have been, if not frightening, then at least a bit overwhelming for the band that formed on the campus of Greenville College in Illinois. Their 1995 self-titled debut album, with its subtle holy references and alt-rock hooks, was embraced in grand style by religious and secular audiences alike, whisking the band to into the music-industry spotlight.
” ‘Much Afraid’ is definitely a picture of our experiences from the last few years,” says Stephen Mason, the band’s bassist. “When we wrote the first record, we were in college and we were in some pretty safe surroundings. ‘Much Afraid’ we wrote a lot on the road in different situations and experiences.
“We definitely consider what’s happened to be a bit of a journey. We didn’t arrive at any one place expectedly. Everything was just a continual surprise.”
Following in the steps of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, Jars of Clay is currently running at the front of a growing pack of Christian musicians who set the Almighty’s message to pop wranglings and still manage to make it palatable to those who don’t attend Sunday services.
“Much Afraid,” produced by Stephen Lipson (who has worked with Sting, Annie Lennox and Simple Minds), finds the soaring, and at times plaintive, vocals of Dan Haseltine set amid lush guitar arrangements and fluid melodies. This is catchy stuff with greater depths to plumb than the first time around.
“One of our goals was to make the highs higher and the lows lower and really concentrate on dynamic,” Mason says. “We wanted to stretch ourselves more dynamically and from a songwriting standpoint we wanted to hopefully reflect a little more maturing.”
Although the crossover success of their first album has left them under some pressure to continue appealing to both crowds, Mason says it has not come at the expense of their message.
“There was some pressure, but I don’t think it was anything from a hide-the-gospel kind of thing,” Mason says. “We just wanted to be honest with where we’re at, at this point. The four of us have grown up in the church and have a foundation in the Christian faith, and so it was just natural for us to write about that because that has been our experience and what we know to be the truth.”
Still, Jars of Clay remains more subtle than some when it comes to the religious aspect of their music. For many who heard last year’s hit “Flood” on the radio, it came as a surprise that the boys singing the song were the religious type.
And the same holds true this time.
The song “Overjoyed” - with ambiguous lines like “Love is the thing this time I’m sure/And I couldn’t need you more now/The way that you saw things were so pure” - could just as easily be about the love of a woman as the love of God.
And outside of the capitalized “Yous” and “Hes,” listeners not in the know might be hard-pressed to catch the pious references.
Mason says band members understand that so-called Christian music can be off-putting on its surface because of a preconceived notion that it must somehow be preachy.
“I don’t think we ever come out with the intent to be condemning or condescending. And that’s what a lot of people’s impression of what the gospel and Christianity are,” Mason says. “For us, it means building relationships with people and dealing with real life issues and holding that up in the scope of grace and, what we know to be true.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: Jars of Clay performs tonight at the Spokane Opera House. Plumb opens the show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $18 to $25 and are available at area Christian bookstores, G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT. Store appearance: Jars of Clay will give a concert from 4 to 5:30 p.m. today at the Shadle Hastings, 1704 W. Wellesley. Band members will also sign CDs. The in-store appearance is free.