Featured Artist: Jars of Clay

Aug 06 2014

In 2014, Jars of Clay celebrate their 20th year together. They've written over 100 songs, made 11 studio records, toured internationally and created the Blood:Water Mission, an organization dedicated to providing clean blood and water for African nations suffering from the HIV/AIDS crises. The band has had its share of successes too, including three Grammys for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album (Much Afraid, 1997; If I Left the Zoo, 1999; The Eleventh Hour, 2002).

"When you join a band at 20 years old, you don't think about what it might mean to remain together for another 20 years," says Matt Odmark, Jars of Clay's rhythm guitarist, banjo player and harmony vocalist.

"At 40, you're more aware of life’s limits than when you’re younger," Odmark continues. "Part of the spiritual journey is facing the grief and frustration of every day life. Songs are a great way to look at the questions we don't have the answers to, with an open heart. By writing about our lives at this moment, we can wrestle with these problems in a redemptive way and offer the results to other people."

The band, which also includes lead singer Dan Haseltine, keyboard wizard Charlie Lowell and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Mason, writes collectively, letting the songs guide their journey. "We sit in a circle and play," Haseltine says. "The sessions were more like therapy than songwriting at times. We were vulnerable with each other and, out of that, came the themes of the album. We drew on everything we've ever done and experimented to see how far beyond that we could go. The record became about moving out of the familiar and into the unknown."

Jars of Clay gained recognition as one of the top Christian Rock bands in 1995 with the release of their self-titled debut, but they've never confined their musical or lyrical vision to a single genre. Haseltine says they don't write songs about faith, but because of their faith. "The words 'Christian Band' are almost non-descriptive," he explains. "It can mean everything from Bono to a Televangelist. They have so much baggage that you can't really be open to the music. We used 'Christian' to describe the world because of the way we grew up, but it's not a useful description anymore. If people connect with our humanity, that's what matters to me."

20Another part of the band's vision is the Blood:Water Mission, founded in 2002 to help combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. "LIVE AID showed us it was possible for artists to come together and raise awareness. Blood:Water Mission is our opportunity to do the same. Our goal is to get African nations clean blood and clean water by building sustainable relationships. We partner with Africans on the ground, who become heroes in their own communities. We tell the story and raise funds. With our partners, we’ve dug 1,300 wells in over 11 countries providing 800,000 people with clean water, started four clinics that give about 25,000 people access to HIV testing and antiviral drugs. A few of the clinics are building maternity wards so there will be a clean, safe place to have babies. This was all born out of our idea that our fans would join us and make the Mission part of their story. It’s been an incredible experience."

Back to 2014, and to mark this special year in the story of Jars of Clay, the band came up with a novel plan. "We have decided, in our 20th year, to record your 20 favorite Jars songs in that acoustic fashion."

Launching a Pledge Music campaign, the band allowed fans to take control of their latest album's tracklisting. "When you pledge, you will not only get the digital album of these 20 songs, but you will also get a vote on what songs make it on the record... The Top Two songs per album from our 10 studio albums will then make up the 20 songs. And PledgeMusic will also allow us to offer 10% of all money we raise after meeting our production goal to Blood:Water Mission." And so Jars of Clay's new album, '20' was formed!

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