Jars of Clay: Big Monster on Campus
- Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Monsters. Funerals. Suffering. Unresolved rants. Critiques and confessions. Sound like the feel-good album of the year?
And yet, with "Good Monsters," Jars of Clay has crafted one of the most emotionally uplifting and emancipating albums in recent memory. The fact that its 12 songs so deftly explore intimately personal issues, that any finger-pointing involves a mirror and that the songs are so well constructed, performed and just plain catchy make this a record that bears repeated listening.
“It feels like we wrote this record more for ourselves than our audience,” says Jars of Clay keyboardist Charlie Lowell, “in the hope that, if the song gets me and the band really excited, it’s going to resonate with people around our age that are thinking about similar things or trying to live in similar ways.”
Jars of Clay’s 2005 hymns record, "Redemption Songs," and its subsequent tour saw the emergence of several things that have profoundly affected the band and the resulting new album. Jars brought frequent collaborator Ashley Cleveland on the road with them. Cleveland’s willingness to experiment musically and her assumptions of the band’s creative dynamic challenged them to take risks that had heretofore been omitted from their creative process.
As the band gathers this morning in Nettwerk Management’s Nashville office, Jars of Clay guitarist Steve Mason recalls, “There was this song that she wanted to do. She invited us to play on it. And we kind of fumbled through it once, and she said, ‘Well, why don’t we do it tonight?’ And we were like, ‘Well, uh, we haven’t really played it a lot, you know.’ Ashley helped us understand our abilities. We can lean on that stuff and not be as fearful that we wouldn’t play it perfectly.”
Cleveland remarks on the band’s time-tested abilities: “The organic way they come together as musicians and artists is unique. They can afford to be looser because there’s such a symbiosis about the way they play together – that unspoken way a true band communicates.”
Adds Mason’s fellow guitar player Matt Odmark, “It was interesting having her perspective, which is, ‘Here’s this band that’s played together for 13 years; they should be able to do anything.’ And it was cool to have someone pushing us in that direction.”
That attitude soon produced some of the liveliest concert performances of the band’s history, with Mason stretching his playing more than ever and Dan Haseltine embracing the role of front man with newfound vigor. As the band reeled through songs such as “God Will Lift Up Your Head” and “I’ll Fly Away,” Haseltine stalked every inch of the stage and engaged crowds with authority, all the while stretching his vocal range and dynamics.
That the “Redemption Songs Tour” extended far beyond anyone’s expectations allowed the band to push themselves further and further and bring a less encumbered group to record "Good Monsters" with a dedication to remain unedited, both musically and lyrically, and capture an immediate emotion.
That immediacy is felt throughout "Good Monsters." The self-producing band cut the bulk of the record together in one room, with Haseltine often turning in a song’s definitive vocal on what was intended to be a scratch track. The album is the most assured recording Jars of Clay has ever made. Explains Haseltine, “We really cared more about the urgency and having a performance that was more reflective of a live setting. So we played everything together. There’s something about the power of performing live that we had never captured on an album before.”
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