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Artistic Evolution

I have stretched the limits on space between blog posts.  But alas, it is a new year.  That seems reason enough to write something.  I took my Christmas lights off of my house yesterday.  I took part in a Christmas tree burning tradition last night, and I believe I may have seen the last of the stray plush reindeer antlers on the entrance ramp to Interstate 65 as I drove past this morning.  Christmas is over.

The work of making something more of this year than was accomplished in the last has taken center stage.  The inventory of things done and left undone has been considered and now it is time to formulate the plan for achieving our various successes.  

The New Year brings promise of reinvention.  We do not have to be the same people we were mere weeks ago.  We do not have to fall prey to the same trappings that diminished our self worth, or motivation.  We can “rebrand” so to speak. 

We can take the proverbial razor to the bumper stickers that told the world what we cared about last year.  We can burn the old concert t-shirts that represented our tastes before we had matured to the present. 

We can laugh in the moments when our friends would have expected us to frown.  We can cry instead of seeking safety behind our stoicism.   We can seek understanding in the situations we might most often have dug our heels in and wasted valuable resources trying to honorably defend ourselves. 

In other words, we can change.  

The topic of change has been the centerpiece for the on-going conversation in my creative circles.  Artistic expression is, after all, a living process.  It is real time evolution.   “Evolution,” is the important word to consider.

I recently sat down with a collection of well-crafted songs that had made it through the creative crucible that is the recording process.  These songs had pieces of my heart and soul woven into them.  They had fragments of a life story sprinkled throughout.  They had the sweat and the tears and the pains of hard labor giving them weight and worth.  These were the songs that would make up the newest Jars of Clay record. 

These songs matter to me.  But they are part of a connected and historic idea that has spanned nearly twenty years.  They are songs that are poured from a cistern that has been known to hold a certain kind of drink. 

Whether the brand is as it should be, a representation of what we truly are, or whether it is a misconception born out of the need to easily label something in order to embrace or dismiss it, is of little relevance. 

The fact remains, Jars of Clay has been called a “Christian” band for a long time.  It has been truer in some years than others to what people believe that label actually is.  We have chosen the title and despised it in equal measure.

I honestly have never encountered a more vague and misinterpreted label so subjective in its usage to be deemed utterly useless in the public forum as the label, “Christian.”

But I digress..   What is real, is my desire for artistic change.  That is, to put it another way, “artistic evolution.”   It is different from cutting off the past completely and disregarding heritage and tradition for the sake of something new and untainted by familiarity. 

That is not evolution.  Evolution implies a deep connectedness to the past.  It says, that I have learned something from all that I have been through and experienced.  It gives value to the under-formed ideas of young spirituality and zealous faith.  And it gives credence to the nubile artistic expressions that often solidify an artist’s identity to soon in their careers.  Evolution takes that past and draws from it in order to inform the future.   Some artists will cringe at what they created early in their artistic lives.  Yet every song, every wardrobe choice was part of a deeply satisfying conversation they were having.  They may not believe what they once believed and wrote about, and they may not use the same words, or care for the same ideas, but they were no less valid in building a life of honest discourse.  I don’t cringe.  I don’t think the same, or write the same, or care for the same things I did twenty years ago.  (And we can all be thankful for that. )

It remains to be seen whether a band like Jars can carry our history with us into the places we long to go.  It remains to be seen whether we can join the bands at Coachella or Bonnaroo or have our music performed along side of Mumford & Sons and The Decemberists. 

My hopes are strong that it is valuable to listen to artists that have learned something over their years.  Maybe as valuable as listening to young artists that are theorizing about what the life they have yet to have lived will bring.  It is all in the balance. 

When we finally complete the work of these songs, and send them out into the world, we hope people will not find a new line drawn in the sand.  We hope people will find a group of artists willing to sit and have the conversation about what we have done and what we have left undone. 

We have learned a few things.  Lesson one,  do not hide.  

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    looking back on the music i first began composing, i’m not ashamed of a single line or a single note. it might be a bad habit, but i’m proud of every song i’ve written. when you’re in a band and you’re writing songs it’s inevitable that something gets made fun of. ...
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Reader Comments (37)

whether it is on radio or in the public mindset, your music has been at that forefront for me. What has been nice to see is that throughout the years, from hearing you on the modern rock station in '94, falling in love with you again with WWAI, and watching the collaborative efforts of recent years, you have progressed. If we needed another copy of your debut, we would have bought it again. But seeing the progress and being invited to grow with you is so rewarding. Thanks for the effort you put in, and know I (at least) look forward to your new music just as much as any other.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTravis Smith McKee

Dan, I feel like I have evolved almost alongside you and the Jars. I am not quite the same naive college student that I was when my ears thrilled to the first notes of Frail (though I still love those notes). I know that I still have a lot of growing to do -- and I'm thankful that God doesn't try to grow us up all at once; how traumatic that would be! -- but I'm also thankful that God doesn't leave us stagnant. I am glad to have your music as a soundtrack to my lifelong evolution. :-)

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEirewolf

I've been listening since your demo days. I have appreciated your willingness to take artistic risks and explore different styles over the course of your career.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Finley

Dan, I am overwhelmed with appreciation for this blog. It has brought so much confirmation and comfort. I look forward to the new album and expect it to assist me (and many others) in getting through the "evolving" process.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDawna

Dear One,
I have put a link to one of my Blog "rants" from awhile ago from one of my Blogs. Somehow I think that you'll "get it".

I wish that I could put a number to the multitude of people who have/are/and are yet to go where I have been and you are at.


Actually, you are quite SPOT ON for where I see the "underground" headed.

Some call us The Remnant. I just call us....Christians trying to figure out at what growth-stage we're in!



January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatti E.

Thank you for writing this.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

fan for life. where ever that takes me, i'm with you. looking forward to some new tunes and seeing you live again in west michigan.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterthe ol'Chrisser

Dan, I can't even begin to tell you how much you inspire me. Not only as an artist and wannabe musician, but as a person. I started the long process of separating myself from the things I grew up believing and evolving into the person that I've become several years ago.

I was raised in a Southern Baptist church as a child. I rebelled against God/Christianity in my teenage years, and honestly I'm glad I did. I think to truly want to follow Him, you need to come to Him on your own terms, not because your parents forced you to go to church every Sunday morning. You need to step back and say, "Is this really for me?" I've told you before it's because of hearing Jars of Clay (and DC Talk) on the "secular" stations (I hate that word btw) that was the reason that I finally came back to Him. I never stopped believing in Him, I was just an angry youth.

When I came back I went to my brother's church, still a Southern Baptist, but over the course of the next several years I came to the conclusion that there has got to be something different for me, because my beliefs and theirs didn't coincide. Me and my brother do not exactly see eye to eye, and that's fine. But I'd like to think that I've evolved in my way of thinking.

Not to start a political religious discussion and get flamed, but I do believe in equality for EVERYONE, and that God created ALL of us in His image. And I believe that the one thing we're told to do above EVERYTHING else is to love each other. I think that's the biggest problem I have fitting into most "religions". Thank God I believe in Him and not religion. And honestly, I have you guys to thank for that. Because whether people label you as Christian, Indie, Folk, etc etc etc etc, music is music to me. I try not to label it. People get upset because the f-word is in a song, music strikes a chord in our hearts. We can either love it or hate it, but regardless it makes us feel.

I tried to share Mumford & Sons with my brother, who generally only listens to contemporary Christian. I warned him there was an f-word in one of the songs. He nearly had a hissy fit. But honestly, I've read the backstory of that song, and how Marcus Mumford debated on keeping that in the song or not, because he didn't want to upset his parents (his dad's a minister). He went to his mom and asked her what she thought, and she told him exactly how I think every fan of theirs feels, that it wouldn't be the same without it. Little Lion Man is one of my favorite songs of theirs, not because of the language, and I do sing it right along with them, but because of the symbolism of the song. After my divorce, God used that album, f-word and all, to heal my broken heart and start me on the path that I needed to go on.

I never want you to stop your spiritual influence in your music, that's what makes Jars of Clay, Jars of Clay. The fact that you guys mesh spirituality so well without being preachy and worshippy is my biggest draw to you. I told my brother about how much of a following of non-Christians you guys have, and he was shocked. I was trying to explain to him why I don't have a problem at all with you guys sharing the fact that you drink, or sometimes cuss, or whatever. It makes you human, just like the rest of us. You know Southern Baptists... they have issues with that kinda stuff. But I think honestly, out of my own personal experience, in which I wrote about in my blog, is that when you come off as a Christian who isn't full of himself, it sets a better role model than those that come off high and mighty. I pose the question to anybody, if Jesus was around nowadays, where would he hang out at? The cathedrals and worship centers, or down the street you're afraid to drive down at night? I think he WOULD be at the bars, talking to people that so truly desperately want a savior, than be in a church filled with those "with chains on their souls".

I totally understand your wanton of wanting to evolve yourself into the band that you want to be. That you want Jars of Clay to be played alongside bands like Mumford & Sons and others. You truly deserve it. In my mind you're already the best, and that will never change. I think as long as you stay true to yourselves, keep "evolving" and keep doing what God's telling you to do, you will always succeed. People will always try to label you one thing or another. As long as it's still a positive label, then be happy.

Sorry it took me so long to write a response, I wanted to earlier when I first read it, but I was in the tattoo shop getting something done... I already had one tattoo of my 1st ukulele and Mumford & Son's lyrics (Awake My Soul) on one arm. But I was waiting for some inspiration to do one of your songs. The first part came to me after I heard you perform "All My Tears" back in June. That will be part 2 of my 3 part tattoo, but I got the 1st part done tonight. And that inspiration came after Stephen drew the jar on my ukulele. I don't know if you remember what I said "Aww, he's drawing the jar!" But I was really taken with that wonderful memory. So the 1st part of my tattoo is your Jar. The next part will be a music staff (the art piece I gave you called "Life as a Soundtrack") with the lyrics "All My Tears Be Washed Away" and it will have a music note for each time I've met you guys. Then the 3rd part will be the umbrella you guys have in one of your posters to symbolize that I don't need it anymore, my tears are gone. You have done that for me. Your music, your teachings, your love and faith. God uses you and flows through the amazingly awesome music to my ears and I am a much better person for it. So this is my way of showing you just how much I appreciate everything you do...

You have been THE biggest inspiration in my life. Jars of Clay's music has gotten me through some interesting times in my life, and I honestly don't know where I'd be without you. I will forever love you guys. It has been an honor to see you evolve these last 17 years into men after God's own heart. You show love in ways that make us want to evolve right along with you. God bless you Dan, and all the Jars. Keep evolving!

Can hardly wait to hear your latest stuff.

All the best for the new year. Enjoy your journey!!

Bronwyn :)

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbron

Dan-- I already listen to your music beside Decembrists and Mumford and Sons. I'm interested to see where the conversation goes.

As a Christian, the part of your music that has most emboldened my faith is your honesty.
While others will spend hours deciding which side of the sacred canopy the record (and, unfortunately, you and the band) belong, hopefully some will be willing to accept it as art-- not an attempt at doctrine. Some will know that without the lables, musical art deserves the same soul-searching hunt for inner resonance and dischord that I think people already do with other artforms that can't have a denominational bent driven by marketing ploys.

And, for what it's worth, Mumford et al. have managed quite the explosion despite some religious elements that are equally troubling for the orthodox and the atheistic. So there's hope that the conversation can continue.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterewohwerd

Great post...and great ending. Lesson not hide. I'm not sure much has been accomplished by people not living life. It's one thing to show up, but another to open your mouth and speak. Adding life to a situation, giving grace, showing love...these are the elements of humanity that people are drawn to.

Looking forward to the next chapter for JOC.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Wehrle

I appreciate the honesty. The transparency. A lesson taught well in samson. Being in the creative field of media production.. i love the fact that companies and products need to be re-branded all the time... that's how I stay in business. But more so... on a personal level, I need to be able to change. that's starts with honesty, self awareness and security. (Lesson One) Boys and Safe to Land are great examples of how we can start the process of re-branding, changing or growing. I know I can change... my former wife would say that's impossible :)

can't wait to hear the new music, been a fan since the first PFR, w/ Brent Bougois tour.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGabe T

Every time Jars of Clay comes out with a new album, I am both thrilled and terrified. I have never been a big fan of bands that stay in a musical rut, so sonically, you four have always brought me intrigue and joy. So, on that sense, I'm always thrilled. On the other, I'm always terrified because I want you all to tell your story well - and I pray consistently that you all do. (This album is no exception.)

I remember the first time I met you all. Shreveport, LA at "The Strand" theatre. It was a small venue, and I was trying so hard to be noticed by you all and have some avenue to say that you all remembered me. I came in, touting my "If I Left the Zoo" album, signed by Jonathan Noël (who I'd met three months before). I was so excited to meet you all - and equally as scared that I would find you all ornery, as if the bond I had created through my times listening to your songs would not actually represent the people who are truly existent.

I'm glad to say that you four have continued to be a blessing to me - both musically and in the degree that I have a friendship with you all.

Your story has collided with my story in so many ways. I can look at my own story and see how your honest, purpose-filled lyrics and songwriting has shaped my own worldview and challenged me to plunge my own artistic expressions and faith deeper than the surface-filled, bubble-fun, blasé-faith that people are taught to enjoy and expect. It's not that I'm just a fan. (Oh, I'm definitely a fan-boy. I'm like a teenage Bieber girl every time I get a chance to see you guys in concert.) I have found in you all an honesty and character as people and as artists that I've found in few other places. The evolution you've described in this post perfectly describes the story I see as "Jars of Clay," though I'm an outsider - one of the many who've participated in watching what would come of the four members of the first really good Christian "boyband." :-)

As someone who has drank from the brews you've made, I can tell you that they keep on getting better. ...As if the more honest you all are, the better your music becomes.

Your work and honest storytelling has taught me more about what good art is - made by people who have trusted Christ, shared with anyone who will listen - than any book I've read on the matter. I play your music for my son, not only because it's really good listening material - but because I want him to follow a similar path. --For in Jars of Clay, I see the willingness to be honest, forthright, broken, and cracked. Publicly, even though it costs - and even though some people would still wish for you to be that four-member band from the early 90s.

I want my own son to rise above artistic duplicity - as if God wants us to believe one glossy truth and struggle in a grimy, difficult world. And for that reason, my prayer and hope is that you all continue to be brave in your storytelling. Like Joshua of old, be "very strong and courageous." You speak into a world that loves labels, polarities, chords that resolve, and necklaces of crosses as jewelry. But mixed into that crowd are people desperate for lyrics that set them free. I imagine there are a few people out there who are waiting for someone to say what they've never been able to articulate to find redemption in songs spoken out of freedom and hurt. So write on...

And as for me, I continue to be grateful to watch you all do what you do.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Didlake

Lesson three: you're not alone.

Much love to you, Dan, as you all work through this evolution. It's been a joy and a privilege to share the road. I'll keep walking too. :) See you soon (so sorry to have missed you this weekend!)

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Like the recent Daniel Lanois work:
"Here is What Is."

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Thanks for the article, Dan. You're really building the hype up for this new album with these blog posts - I haven't been this excited for an album release in a long time. I still have very fond memories of getting Much Afraid along with my very first CD player back when I was 8 years old. It's been an absolute pleasure being able to grow up with your music.

Here's to another...what are we at now, 20 years? God bless.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Happy New Year back at ya, Dan. You're looking 40 in the eyes (you have a Wikipedia page). So early Happy Birthday to you too. I like what you did with 20, but I'd be disappointed if you'd stuck with that. Who in their right mind wants to be 20 their entire life? You only live the once. You only get to be the artist the one go. Labels be damned, Daniel. Keep moving. Keep growing. Keep doing whatever it is you do. Because, well because. That's why. :)

Can't wait for the new album. I want to hear what's next. And after that too. I'll be wanting to hear that too.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternkf

The term "Christian" is becoming a word that is used to describe many different things as well as people. When put into this category, if I may say, it can be dangerous. I'm sure your faith is strong, and as for me I will listen, with good heart, to anything you have to say, musically and in blog. God Bless!

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Nice - very excited for what Jars has in it's future! :)

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosie

dan, are you abandoning the christian faith or just the christian label?

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentervinnie

Really looking forward to this album - due to living abroad I've never actually met you or seen you live, but your music has been a huge encouragement to my faith since the late 90s. Thank you brother, may the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.

January 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Excited to see Jars move forward on its own path. Yours was the first "christian" album I owned and I was always drawn to your music because it was so real and could be enjoyed by anyone - regardless of their beliefs. I lived in Nashville for a time as my husband was an engineer for many well known "christian" groups. After getting to know so many artists, I was really disenchanted with the labels. The honestly of artists such as you and Tiffany Arbuckle Lee is refreshing. Best wishes to you and your bandmates as you move forward!

January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCristine

Jeez Dan, way to press on a sore spot. Okay fine, I admit, I've been wanting to remake myself this new year. And yes, I do have a box of unsold music that I can no longer associate with because it "isn't me". I definitely don't "care for the same things" as even just five years ago. But you beat me because you are not ashamed, whereas I am utterly mortified and refuse to associate with my past self's ridiculous creations.

At least you offer a silver lining. If you, slightly ahead of me on the road, can look back with understanding and respect, perhaps one day I will too.

If it's any consolation, I don't think Jars have ever fitted within my understanding of a "Gospel" or "Christian" or "Mainstream Rock" or even "Spiritual" genre. You're what I hoped Christian music would become.

Instead, you've been a genre all of your own this whole time, or maybe just a rainbow of them all together. You've certainly kept us fans on our toes, tricked into liking acoustic ballads one year, folky bluegrass roots another, and along the spectrum from electronica to rock. I've yet to hear you try opera or pan pipes or Gregorian chant (no wait, not true: intro to Like a Child), but there's time for that yet :D

Actually, yes. I think it's about time Jars wrote a rock opera. Dare you.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhuggiesgirl


I have spent much of the years since 2001 wanting to relay this.
You and your band are an inspiration.
Im a 27 year old punk rock musician, who also happens to be gay. And Christian. And, with each album, the songs you've written have made me feel like, in some place on this planet, I am and will be okay.

I've always strived to write songs that, I felt, would be at home on If I Left The Zoo. Its the one JOC album that i feel like I identify with the most, if only for the inclusion of Sad Clown and No One Loves Me Like You. However, I've never thought of JOC as a Christian band. In fact, my partner is a devout Atheist and loves your records.

I've always felt your lyrics and records were always open to interpretation, which I'm not sure if you've intended, but there had always been something a bit more vague and open about your lyrics. They're sensitive and heartfelt, and connect with me on a level I've only ever found in bands like Nirvana or Eels... Or Mumford and Sons.

I just want you to know that you are a respected band in ALL communities. And your musi had been integral and important to my growth as an artist, as Ive witnessed your evolution. And this evolution has always made me say "its never to late to change

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersteve

Steve- thanks for commenting! It means a great deal to know you found acceptance woven into the songs of Jars.

January 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Haseltine

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