Thursday, October 27, 2005

the pantagraph...and my "fate"

Here's an article about the Jars concert in my hometown this weekend (in the local paper). I appreciate the extra attention, but I'm not sure what to think of the word choice they used regarding me: "the fate of rural Towanda native and bass player Aaron Sands".

After huge pop success, Jars of Clay
strips down Christian sound

By Dan Craft

When it rains, it pours, filling those Jars of Clay to overflowing.

That was the metaphor that might have been used nine years ago, when America's then-hottest Christian pop group passed through B-N's two main concert venues twice in nine months.

The first was at ISU's Redbird Arena, opening for Michael W. Smith; the second, at ISU's Braden Auditorium, headlining an oddball split sacred/secular bill with the Samples and the Gufs.

After that: a dry spell (though the group did pass through venues around us, including their last area showing, five years ago, at the Peoria Civic Center).

Now this: a concert Saturday night at Bloomington's Second Presbyterian Church, the band's Illinois connections still intact (save one -- see accompanying story for the fate of rural Towanda native and bass player Aaron Sands).

With two big openers, Chris Rice and Sara Groves, the concert's 600 seats went fast, according to a church spokeswoman. A waiting list is being compiled for those interested in scooping up any returned tickets.

In an interview during a concert sound-check on the road, founding member Charlie Lowell admits that 1996 was then and 2005 is now.

Then was the era of huge Top 40 crossover radio hits like "Flood," and songs on movie soundtracks like "The Long Kiss Goodnight" and "Hard Rain," and tunes on the tube, giving a beat to everything from "One Life to Live" to "Felicity."

"On our last couple of records, I think we've grown more and more comfortable with who we are and what our musical inclinations are," says the keyboardist who met fellow bandmates Dan Haseltine, Steve Mason and Matt Odmark when they were all students at Greenville College in Southern Illinois, circa 1993.

"We're really embracing our organic acoustic side, and worrying less about radio accessibility," Lowell adds, referring to that 1995-98 heyday when it was sometimes difficult to tell which side of the sacred/secular fence the band stood on.

"I think part of the experience of the radio thing was feeling the pressure to follow up the first album (1995's "Jars of Clay") with more of the same. And we spent the next couple records kind of doing that, as far as where the music was going."

In a Pantagraph interview five years ago, Odmark admitted that the result was "a strange situation. And, I think, also a pretty confusing situation to a lot of people and promoters."

He called that situation "a two-headed game we've ended up playing, and it's made for some interesting experiences and caused its share of confusion. Because of our single ('Flood'), which was played on pop and modern rock radio, we recognized that our audience is more than just church youth group kids."

Which led to the not-particularly-successful touring with secular rock bands like the Samples and the Gufs.

Fans of all the groups were a little confused, didn't always know how to react and even split the audience down the middle in some cases.

"That crossover issue was tough," Lowell admits, five years after Odmark's assessment. "Some people were excited about it, and some were offended, and misunderstood us, and made judgments."

He says the experience "forced us to come to grips with who Jars of Clay are and who they are not -- not who the church wants us to be or who mainstream radio wants us to be. We said to heck with trying to keep everyone happy -- that's impossible. We were forced to sort of say, 'at the end of the day, we want to be able to sleep good at night and make good art that challenges listeners, and to be a strong band."

Today, Lowell says, everyone's sleeping good.

The quartet's new album, "Redemption Songs," featuring JOC reworking traditional hymns, taking their original lyrics and adapting them to a new sound.

Basically, says Lowell, "we're taking the words and writing new music -- making them musically relevant. It gives them a fighting a chance, and the lyrics are still unbelievable."

Saturday's concert in Bloomington will reflect that new direction for Jars of Clay, as well as take the audience on a trip back in time through the band's history, with some possible interaction, says Lowell, between them and opening acts Chris Rice and Sara Groves.

One thing is for certain, he adds: a full 10 years into their professional existence, the world has changed for Jars of Clay -- but all four members are still intact, no mean feat for a decade-old band in any musical genre.

In 1995, he says, "we were just a bunch of college guys" who'd gotten together a few years earlier, clicked musically and found themselves on top of their world.

No one was married. No one had kids.

Life was simpler then.

"We were a brand new band," says Lowell. "We didn't even know each other that well, and a lot of things were going on at once -- trying to be friends and then, unexpectedly, business partners.

"But we're still around and we still have a pretty decent fan base. And now the challenge is finding the balance between our careers and our families as different things pull at us."

Jars' bass player helping others through mission

By Dan Craft

TOWANDA -- Jars of Clay's Illinois roots run naturally deep.

The band's core membership -- Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Steve Mason and Matt Odmark -- first crossed paths at Greenville College in Southern Illinois.

Mason himself hails halfway between there and Bloomington-Normal, from Decatur.

But as Pantagraph JOC fans know, there's an even closer connection to the area: bass player Aaron Sands, who grew up in rural Towanda and graduated from Normal Community High School in 1993.

The son of Larry and Anita Sands, Sands joined the band in 1995 and debuted locally when JOC opened for Michael W. Smith in February 1996 at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena, then returned later the same year for a Braden Auditorium show.

For the band's first B-N gig since that show -- a sold-out Second Presbyterian Church concert Saturday night -- Sands won't be part of it at all.

According to Lowell, the current acoustic tour is meant to focus on the core membership and doesn't use the backing band featuring Sands.

However, he's still on call as bass player when needed.

And something more: He helps administrate JOC's Blood Water Mission, an outreach project in Africa dedicated to building clean water wells in areas ravaged by AIDS and poverty.

According to Lowell, the project is a response to a trip the band made to Africa three years ago, where the musicians were instilled with, he says, "a growing urgency and desire to become personally involved."

He estimates the Blood Water Mission has built around 50 wells to date, with "50 or 60" yet to come.

"Aaron was drawn to it when we started getting it off the ground; he's specifically in charge of donor relations and maintaining a relationship with them."

The net result: "We're seeing really powerful changes in these villages and hearing great stories."


At 12:37 PM, Blogger caparoon said...

Hi Aaron,

I love it.. "the fate.." I'm not sure how you should take it, either; it does sit oddly, doesn't it?

Wish they'd given BWM a little more print, but cool that it got what it did.



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