This may come as a surprise to most of you but for two short months in 1994, I was in a band called Jars Of Clay. I actually formed the band with some guys I met in Bible college. At the time, I thought we really had something special. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. I was a bit older than the other guys and I was married. They were still young and single and didn’t have some of the responsibilities that I did. I was fortunate enough to play one show with them. At one point there was a VHS tape in existence that confirmed this performance. We only played one song, an original that I wrote called Not Enough, and the audience consisted mainly of high school students who were there at the college for a weekend recruiting trip. It was a lot of fun but it ended just as quickly as it started.
I did try to start two more bands but neither of them got off the ground. By the summer of 1995 I had dropped out of school and was planning to move back home. My faith was in shambles and my wife had just discovered that she was pregnant. I was totally disillusioned with the church and with Christians in general. I didn’t want to have much to do with them at all. It was during my final days with the third little band I had put together (we never got around to picking out a name) that I stumbled across an album put out by some guys from Illinois. The name on the cover of the cassette immediately grabbed my attention. I was both perplexed and irritated. The cover photo was dark and mysterious and featured the band looking about as disinterested as a band could look. There were only three words printed on the cover and it gnawed at me every time I looked at them. I can remember gritting my teeth as I said them out loud: Jars. Of. Clay.
Some jerks had stolen my perfect band name. I just knew that I was going to hate them. I HAD to hate them. It didn’t matter that my Jars Of Clay only wrote two songs. It didn’t matter that we only played in public once. It didn’t matter that we weren’t even a band at that point. That was MY name. I had found it in the Bible first. How dare they snatch it away from me. I was going to use it when I finally found the right guys to play with. It was mine and they had stolen it. I made up my mind right then and there, while still clutching the unopened cassette tape in my hand, I was going to hate Jars Of Clay. Nothing they could do was going to change that.
That’s when something weird happened. I actually bought the album, took it home, and popped it in the stereo. The feeling that rushed over me was equal parts depression and equal parts elation. I wanted to hate them for taking my perfect band name, but the music was just too good. The opening track, Liquid, began quietly with acoustic guitar and strings before a drum loop kicked in and chanting (sounds Latin…don’t really know) blasted from the speakers. It was unlike anything I had heard at that point. The lyrics were obviously Christian but they weren’t like a lot of the cookie cutter stuff out at the time. They reminded me of Sixpence None The Richer, who I had discovered a year earlier.
I know that a lot has been written about Jars Of Clay over the past twenty years. For better or worse, they helped change the face of Contemporary Christian Music and were instrumental in molding it into what it is today. Sometimes I don’t know whether to thank them or punch them in the mouth. I am kidding (mostly). I haven’t liked everything that they have released but I can honestly say that they have been consistent. They have never followed trends. I would say they helped start a few. For one of the first times in the history of Christian pop music, a Christian band was doing something unique and not just copying what was on the radio. Like I said, I think some secular artists actually followed their lead.