Classic Christian artists celebrate 20 years

by Jonathan Huang staff writer

“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 of Jars of Clay. This year, Jars of Clay continues its music career after 21 years together as a band.

Since winning the Gospel Music Association’s spotlight competition in 1994, the seasoned multi-platinum music group has released 13 albums and been nominated for and won multiple acknowledgments, including three Grammy Awards, five GMA Dove Awards, and five Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) awards.

In addition, the alternative rock group has toured internationally and launched the Blood: Water Mission, a charitable campaign dedicated to providing clean and vital resources for nations battling the HIV/AIDS crises.

Jars of Clay is comprised of Dan Haseltine, lead vocals; Stephen Mason, guitar and background vocals; Matt Odmark, electric and acoustic guitars and background vocals; and Charlie Lowell, piano and keyboards and background vocals. The four met at Greenville College in Greenville, Ill. in the early 1990s.

Despite having no intention of pursuing a professional music career, the band’s first originals, written for music and recording classes, were submitted as a demo for a talent competition run by the Gospel Music Association. In addition to winning the contest, the self-released demo album, “Frail,” gained mainstream popularity.

Soon, various record labels began showing interest, some even calling the quartet’s dormitory rooms to make offers. With such intense interest, the band decided to drop out of school and move to Nashville, Tenn. indefinitely to pursue this blossoming career opportunity. In the process, they chose to stick with the name, “Jars of Clay,” taken from 2 Corinthians 4:7.

After considering several offers, Jars of Clay signed with Essential Records (under the secular label Silvertone) and began recording its self-titled debut album. Silvertone shifted its gears to full-promotion mode upon the release of the album in spring of 1995.

By early 1996, the runaway hit single “Flood” began receiving extensive radio airplay on contemporary Christian, mainstream alternative rock, and alternative pop stations, resulting in ten #1 singles. “Flood” also pushed the sales of Jars of Clay beyond the double-platinum mark, which set a stunning precursor for other Christian groups to follow.

Many secular listeners and radio stations didn’t realize that Jars of Clay was a Christian group until later, and there was something of a backlash when that fact became more widely publicized. Although described as a “Christian band,” Jars of Clay has never confined their musical or lyrical vision to fit within a specific genre; in an interview,  Haseltine said, “Being labeled a ‘Christian band’ often attaches too much prejudice or personal religious baggage to the music we write and perform. It is a label we would never use to describe the band.”

Regardless of extraneous religious or genre-related labels, their anomalous success has set the stage for similar breakthroughs for other Christian music groups, such as DC Talk, Sixpence None the Richer, and even heavier mainstream alternative Christian-themed Creed and P.O.D. commented that, while “the group’s lyrics may have been exclusively Christian, their acoustic-oriented music fit perfectly into the folky jangle pop wing of alternative rock radio, at the time a rarity on the contemporary Christian music scene.” 


This piece is considered a “standard” article in our print edition.
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