A few streets over from the quirky, vintage clothing shops, rows of quaint fixer-uppers and eclectic eateries nestled in Nashville’s Berry Hill neighborhood, Jars of Clay seems right at home at Blackbird Studio this particular Wednesday. The foursome is taking a break this evening from putting its creative spin on a U2 track (“All I Want Is You”) for the upcoming benefit compilation, "In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa" (Sparrow).

While many artists in Nashville’s music community always seem ready for their close-up with a deliberate “rock star” look in place, even during low-key moments like recording, Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark skip the fanfare on the fashion front. When they walk into the studio’s kitchen, they look as comfortable as people lounging in their Saturday-morning attire. Tousled hair. Baggy jeans. Wrinkled tees. Cool gym shoes. And with the exception of Charlie’s clean-shaven face, a few days worth of stubble completes the band’s nearly no-frills appearance.

As the guys crowd around the rectangular wooden table, they amuse themselves by arranging magnetic poetry into clever musings. “There are never enough articles,” Matt points out as he puts his wordsmith skills to the test, while his cohorts chuckle at a recent word pairing they’ve concocted. Meanwhile, Steve is happily typing away on his Mac laptop as Charlie mentions Steve’s hidden talent of creating specialty icons for his computer’s desktop. “Just send him the pictures, and he’ll make you a computer icon of your family,” Charlie offers in a pitch reminiscent of a late-night infomercial. Laughter ensues.

Throughout the course of the evening, it’s the band’s easy rapport, non-stop humor (which often involves quoting popular movies) and the maturity that comes with growing older and raising families that really stand out. After 10 years of making music together and enduring a demanding tour schedule, Jars of Clay hasn’t become the usual band statistic someone might read about in Rolling Stone or watch unravel on a VH1 “Behind the Music” marathon. Instead, they genuinely seem to enjoy and thrive off each other’s company; and this unique camaraderie and a return to musical simplicity are the prominent trademarks that shine through on Jars’ latest studio effort, "Who We Are Instead" (Essential).

“This record, for us, seems to represent something in the way of maturity.” — Dan Haseltine

With 15 No. 1 songs to Jars’ credit (along with three GRAMMY Awards, six Dove Awards and countless other accolades, including more than five million units in career sales), confidence in creating its art would almost seem like a given. But that reality didn’t come to fruition until recently.

“We’ve been a band for 10 years, but it was really strange to walk into the studio this time around, begin the process and actually feel a little different,” Dan says. “I feel like we actually matured and walked into something we knew how to do. We went into the recording and writing process going, ‘We have confidence; we know how to make this work.’”

Cliff Young, front man for Caedmon’s Call (who’s now with Jars of Clay on the second leg of what’s been dubbed “The Thinking Man’s Pop Tour”) was also excited to hear the fruit of the band’s latest artistic labor. “They bring an authenticity to Christian music and raise the bar on quality musicianship. It was amazing to sit and watch them write and sound check each day.”

And with Jars’ new-found clarity, longtime listeners can’t help detecting new confidence in Dan’s vocal delivery on tracks like “Amazing Grace”, “Trouble Is” and “Show You Love” that richly resonate in stark contrast to the songs on its self-titled debut in 1995. “Well, that was a different singer on that first record,” Dan jokes before Steve jumps in with a story.