Ten Questions with Jars of Clay's Steve Mason
- Laura Harris Contributing Writer
- 2005 7 Jul
S4W.com: Can you think of a passage of scripture that recently has spoken to you about worship?
Steve Mason: Lately Dan has been quoting out of Isaiah. In the Old Testament they were presenting sacrifices and doing everything to the letter of the law. And Isaiah talked about the new worship being taking care of the widows and the orphans. That sort of theme has been undermining what we experience worship to be. What is worship? It’s a response to God--coming in contact with the truth and the grace of the gospel and responding to that.
S4W.com: Are there any books that have given you a greater vision of what worship is?
Mason: I really liked The Brothers Kby David James Duncan. I think God has made us for relationship. That’s why society is the way it is, because we’re made for relationship and we’re in a broken place. We want to know and be known – I think God has set in our hearts a desperate need to be connected to others in community. So I resonate with a lot of books that just talk about relationships, that explore character development and stories. I just think that if we look for God in these unexpected places, we’ll find him. Hopefully that will expand our knowledge of Him and our love for Him, and we will be changed.
S4W.com: Of the people who are putting out worship music these days, whose work do you admire?
Mason: I think Martin Smith and the guys in Delirious have a way of communicating the magnificence of God. I appreciate their hearts. As we embarked on Redemption Songs, we chatted [with them] about it.
S4W.com: In one sense Worship seems to be the “hot” thing in Christian music these days. Were you at all concerned that making Redemption Songs might appear to some that you were “jumping on the bandwagon?”
Mason: Completely. In fact, that’s why it’s taken us this long to do [an album] like this. We knew that some people might say, ‘They’re jumping on a bandwagon” or “They’re doing a worship album.” But we also knew that this is completely just an expression of our story at our church community and what has moved us.
S4W.com: Musically, Redemption Songsseems like it’s right on track for where your sound seems to be migrating. But lyrically, it’s quite a shift from your typical studio albums. Are there any challenges in switching formats?
Mason: Well, for all the flak we got in the early days for not having explicitly “Christian” lyrics, now we’re saying “Jesus” quite a bit. We’ve always loved metaphor and allegory, [which means that] we’ve kept certain parts of our story pretty safe and not fully disclosed. The process of going through these songs and picking out what we were doing and how we were going about it, that meant revealing to people the ways that God has met us in our church community. And we haven’t been that honest before. We haven’t spoken about our faith in such a plainspoken manner.
S4W.com: How will that affect your set list when you’re not in a church or ministry setting?
Mason: We’re in New York tonight, and will be playing in a club. This is our “hymn” tour, so at the beginning of the show we’ll start out with the hymn “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love,” and then blast into kind of a broad stroke of some of our favorites from our catalog – songs we feel like people would like to hear. There’s been good synergy between the hymns and some of our catalog. There’s one song called “Hiding Place” that we’re tying in to “Worlds Apart,” which has ended up being a signature moment on this tour. And then towards the end of the set it’s all hymns. It’s really about authenticity. The lyrics that we wanted to re-write music for are so relevant because they reflect the same guttural struggle that people were having 200 years ago. Questions like, “Where is my identity?” “How come this life is so hard?” “I’ve been promised joy in my suffering – when is it coming?” Those are things that people still feel. There’s something about the language of hymns that reorients the heart towards the truth of the gospel.
S4W.com: Describe one of the most compelling, most powerful worship experiences you've had recently.
Mason: I was at a U2 concert during their “All You Can’t Leave Behind” tour. The band was playing the song, “40.” That was pretty significant for me, especially the words, “How long to sing this song?” It gave voice to feeling lost, the displacements we’re going to experience here on this earth. And then they moved in to the song, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” [It was a reminder that] that’s where things are pointing.
S4W.com: What is one thing you couldn’t do without in songwriting?
Mason: The relationships I have with the other three guys in this group. There’s something that happens when the four of us get in a room together. Each of the other three guys are completely qualified to go off and do whatever they would like to with music – and be really successful at it. It’s something that we’re continually blown away by - the truth and the relationships represented in the 10 or 12 years we’ve been together. We’ve chosen to push inward when things got hard instead of running away. It would so much easier sometimes to say, “Well, we’ve had a good run…” Every time we’ve made the decision to move forward together – by God’s grace – we’ve been blown away further by how God shows up and inspires. Our inspiration is largely born out of our friendships.
S4W.com: You guys are on the road a lot. Other than being on stage and being aware of the hundreds of daily altars you come across in a day, are you ever intentional about worshipping together?
Mason: That’s been a theme of ours for the past five years or so. We had a friend press upon us the idea of getting our hearts in a place where we can be reminded of what’s true about us. That may involve singing, or it may be spending a half an hour talking to each other about our hopes and our failures and our successes. That gives us a heart for going out and playing a show.
Mason: I didn’t know, initially, why Africa mattered to me. And then we took a trip and met the people and saw the opportunities there. I was significantly changed. We’ve got our stories at the end of all this, and that’s all we have. That’s what I want to drive home to people, is that we have an opportunity to see God intervene in our story. And the vehicle for us is this opportunity to invest and give resources to the HIV and AIDS pandemic. We want to see God, and we sing songs about it. But there are some REAL ways to participate in that. Our involvement is yet another chance to respond to what God has revealed as true.