It’s been two decades since Nashville’s Jars of Clay first hit the mainstream’s radar. To celebrate this impressive jubilee, the band will perform at the State Theatre on Oct. 9.
“We’re playing these great little theater rooms, which is kind of one of our strong spots as far as where we like to play and is definitely something that we enjoy the most,” said Charlie Lowell, the band’s pianist.
In the 20 years that have passed since JoC first played together at Illinois’ Greenville College, they have sold more than one million records, won three Grammy Awards and established a nonprofit organization to combat the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa. Initially a bit hesitant to leave school to become professional musicians, the band knew that a tremendous challenge awaited them, but the support system that they had in place almost guaranteed success.
“Back then, our only plan was to record the music that we were playing. Then we won a music competition and got some label interest, which lead to the discussion of whether we should stay in school and study music or do we walk through these doors of opportunity,” Lowell said. “Then we dropped out of school, signed with the label and put that first record out, which later went double platinum, and anything that we really had planned was just blown out of the water. It was a pretty risky move, but surprisingly, all of our parents were pretty supportive.”
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Dong anything for 20 years can lead to a sort of stagnancy, but JoC defied the dormancy that dooms so many artists. Through sonic experimentation and a maturation process that maintained a solid grip on their roots, the band was able to keep things from eroding.
“We have certainly grown as both musicians and men,” Lowell said. “We’re husbands and fathers and businessmen now, and a lot of things have changed, but not everything. We come together and we get to create and are inspired by different things. We have different palates and textures and sounds, but our vision and our passion hasn’t changed. I think that the idea of expressing honesty and finding a real freedom to talk about the minutiae of life has remained pretty steadfast.”
Despite being categorized as a Christian rock act, Jars of Clay doesn’t let that label define them.
“Once we had that label attached to us, it can feel and can be pretty prohibitive, and it’s hard for the music to have a shot based on quality and merit without slapping all of these cultural impressions and baggage onto it,” Lowell said. “We write about all realms of life, and while our music is certainly influenced by our faith, we write songs about humanity, it’s not just about church-y things. In fact, we rarely write about those kinds of things. We want to explore these humans ideas of relationships, psychological ideas, and certainly faith and doubt, but the music itself is as or more important than the message.”
With solid song craftsmanship and an unparalleled rapport with the audience, the anniversary tour is an encapsulation of everything that Jars of Clay has done to maintain momentum.
“Our setlist will be very representational of our whole catalog, it’s almost like a walk through the band’s entire history,” Lowell said. “It’s been overwhelming and humbling. We’re eager to reflect with the fans and even take requests and hopefully cover as much ground as we can when you’re looking at a career as long as we’ve had.”