Jars of Clay: We're Music Fans as Well as Musicians

Tennessee-based folk rockers to perform at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Oct. 7.

For any musician, to have even one song become synonymous with your name is a rare feat. The flipside to that is, sometimes, that song becomes all you're ever known for.

For Jars of Clay, that feat came in 1995 when their song "Flood" broke beyond their Christian Rock roots and into the mainstream. Since their debut album that year, the Tennessee-based band has recorded an additional 10 albums, with another anticipated in March 2013.

For "Flood" fans planning on seeing the band when they come to the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Oct. 7, don't fret: the quartet will likely play the track, and guitarist and founding member Stephen Mason is happy to do.

"We're music fans as well as musicians," he said, noting a recent concert he attended by a band from England with a recognized song of their own.

When they came to Nashville to perform at a club, "They didn't play it," he said. "That got me mad. I was waiting to hear the single that had been all over the radio in the States."

When it comes to Jars of Clay's "Flood," "I feel like it's part of honoring the conversation we have with our fans," Mason said. "They like us for a reason and part of that is sometimes a specific work or a specific song. We are absolutely comfortable giving people what they want. That's what has empowered us to continue for 18, 19 years."

Their nearly two-decade career has not always been without its bumps. Mason notes the lifespan of a band is not always "one of sustained longevity.

"At crucial moments in our career and relationship we have had people older and wiser than us come along and challenge us why we do it," he said. "There has been a lot of fight through. ... Sometimes, it seemed much easier to consider stopping the band and doing something else. I think we believe anything worth doing is going to be difficult. We've had to fight through tough stuff. It creates some fantastic product on the other side."

For those only familiar with Jars of Clay as a "Christian Rock" band, Mason contends that the faith of the band's members is only one part of its entire package.

"They don't say Van Gogh was a Christian painter," he said. "They consider his work standalone. [Calling Jars of Clay a Christian Rock band] is something that's easy to get a hold of, I get that."

Making no apologies for faith, Mason admitted the frustration of pigeonholing, as "it closes more doors than it opens in terms of where we want to see the music go and where we think it could connect," he said. "Especially at this point in our career, it's been tough to think of the broader conversation. I think we feel like our music is meant to exist ... between those two conversations, that [Christian] marketplace and just the normal, regular music market. For 18 years, we have developed a conversation with people asking some specific questions about life, spirituality. We believe our music does a good job of articulating that to a lot of folks."

That conversation has gone beyond music and into the world, with the founding by the band of Blood:Water Mission, a name non-profit lead singer Dan Haseltine noted came from "the two things Africa needs most," clean blood and clean water.

"It kind of helped bring further meaning to our process," Mason said.

The tour coming through Morristown also features guest musicians Mariah McManus and Sleeping at Last, who is best recognized for his contributions to the Twilight: Breaking Dawn soundtrack.

With album 12 forthcoming and nearly 20 years of music behind them, Jars of Clay is far from dried up, pun intended.

"We're trying to be creative with how we approach and take constraints we used to operate under and be willing to experiement with some of the songs," Mason said. "What we realized, we didn't want to go into autopilot. So, we continue to pull the best out of us."

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