Jars of Clay Seek 'Reintroduction' With First Indie Release (Video)

Jars of Clay - H 2013
David Braud

Jars of Clay - H 2013

The Grammy-winning band, whose 11th studio album, "Inland," was released Aug. 27, played a private industry show at L.A.’s Hotel Cafe Tuesday night.

“Call your local independent radio station,” said Jars of Clay frontman Dan Haseltine after introducing the band’s new single, “Inland,” at a private show for members of the entertainment industry at L.A.’s Hotel Cafe Tuesday night.

“Tell them it’s a new band,” added guitarist Stephen Mason. “That’ll remove some of the bias.”

After its debut single, “Flood,” reached No. 12 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1995, Jars of Clay has, pop culturally speaking, mostly been considered a one-hit wonder from the novelty genre of Christian rock. But the band, which has won three pop/contemporary gospel album Grammy Awards, has outlasted many of its religious and secular peers, steadily producing new music and touring over the last two decades. On Aug. 27 it released Inland, its 11th studio album and first completely independent release since leaving the contemporary Christian label Essential Records (a division of Sony Music) and setting up its own imprint, Gray Matters, in 2007.

“There’s an aspect of reintroduction that we want to happen through this,” Mason tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The questions we’re asking in our music can be identified by all walks of life -- all faiths, no faith. They’re honest questions. While we still very much want to invite the Christian segment of our audience, we also want room at the table for everybody.”

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Despite becoming the poster child for Christian rock both within and outside the genre, Jars of Clay has never felt entirely comfortable within its confines. “Jars of Clay has been called a ‘Christian’ band for a long time,” Haseltine blogged in January. “We have chosen the title and despised it in equal measure.”

“It’s a ghetto, frankly,” Mason says of the category. “Unfortunately, it loops us in politically and socially to a bunch of things that we don’t necessarily buy. It is frustrating, sometimes, because we feel like what we’re doing is good art, and we want what we’re doing to stand up with the stuff that’s out right now.”

Musically, Inland is simultaneously an organic progression for a band that has throughout its career drawn from everything from synth pop to bluegrass, and also the output of a band that has perhaps found its truest voice yet. The album employs lush instrumentation, soaring vocals and the band's signature meditative lyrics. (Stream it on Billboard.com.) “Ultimately, we were really trying to cast everything off and find what lurked beneath and within us,” Mason says, although he cites Canadian producer Daniel Lanois (U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind) as well as Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young as sonic references. “We just love honest, rootsy storytellers.”

Mason also credits Inland producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket) with helping the band reach new ground. “After having self-produced so many records, we needed to submit the creative process to someone else,” he says. “One can only get so far within themselves to find their creativity before someone else has to push them to a place they’re not comfortable. For us to stay creatively engaged, there had to be another element of risk.”

To help shake off familiarity, the Nashville-based band decamped to Portland, Ore., for Inland. The quartet -- which also includes keyboardist Charlie Lowell and guitarist Matt Odmark -- had spent two years writing about 40 songs before arriving at the 12 that made the final cut. They played seven of them, plus a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” in front of the receptive Hotel Cafe crowd. Jars of Clay has developed the tight performance skills expected of a band with 20 years of experience, and Tuesday’s highlights included the driving “Loneliness and Alcohol,” the tender “Fall Asleep” and the deliberate, marching title track, which perhaps sums up the band’s new credo best (see the video below):

“You, you were a sailor who burned your ship and walked on,” Haseltine sang, banging on a floor tom on stage. “Remove the shoes you came on. Feel the earth you’re made from. Pack up all your questions. Just keep heading inland.”