Third Day, Jars of Clay the ‘New Veterans’

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 22:33

Third Day Move

By Andy Argyrakis, senior editor,

A lot has changed since the '90s when Third Day and Jars of Clay were just cutting their teeth on the side stage festival circuit and opening for larger acts. Garnering a host of Dove Awards, hit singles and sold-out shows of their own, there's no denying the bands' influence on a younger generation of artists. But they're still making relevant music rather than merely resting on nostalgia, as evidenced by Third Day’s Move (Essential) and Jars of Clay’s The Shelter (Gray Matters/Essential), a collaborative album featuring members of Third Day, Tenth Avenue North, Brandon Heath and others. sat down for separate chats with Third Day frontman Mac Powell and Jars’ keyboardist Charlie Lowell, to hear about the new projects and their secrets to endurance. How would you trace the group's musical evolution from the 1990s through now?

Mac Powell: Musically we haven't really strayed from very straight-forward American rock music. I think we have retained that through the years and haven't gone far from it. At times we do a little bit more worship or we do a little bit more southern rock. And at other times we do a little bit more modern rock or adult contemporary. But all of those blend together to make a great American rock record.

Charlie Lowell: I think the one consistency is that we enjoy evolving. As we grow as men and musicians, and we learn to trust each other more, we can go to new places musically and take risks lyrically. These things keep us interested in the creative process. So whether we are exploring rootsy acoustic vibes, or thick production and post-modern sounds, it's still the same core. Some of it comes from what we are listening to, and some of it comes as we push ourselves to re-invent. What type of musical direction can we expect from your band’s new project?

Powell: We are back to a four-piece band again, having one guitarist as opposed to two. That really changed the sound and brought us back to the early days of Third Day, and it was something that we were really looking forward to. Also, the desire to return to those early days of this very American rock sound that Third Day is known for. I think we got away from that a little bit, in a good way, just to keep things fresh. Revelation was a much bigger sound than what we had done and now we have returned to an original Third Day sound. But that being said, working with Paul Moak, a new producer, he brought in some new ideas for us. I can't say how it happened, but there is a great balance of the old sounds that you know and love of Third Day and some new stuff that you haven't heard before. We definitely wanted more of an American gospel sound on this record, with different sounds like mandolins, dobros, big gospel choirs and background vocals. We hit that more than ever on this record.

Lowell: The more we imagined this record, we knew there should be a congregational element – many voices together – to embody the ideas we were singing about. It shouldn't just be another Jars record, as we are singing about all of us together. We were inclined to pull in other songwriters that we appreciated as the album took shape, and other artists and voices when it came time to perform the songs.

Next: What are the lyrical threads that run throughout the current material?

Powell: Many songs are taking a view of the church from both outside and inside the walls of the church, so that idea runs through the record. It is not in every song, but a lot of the songs on this record speak about that. We’re not specifically talking about the church, but coming from the viewpoint of someone looking at the church from outside of its walls, and looking at the world from the inside of the church.

Lowell: There are a few threads that pop up again and again on this record. The main one is "you will never walk alone." These words sum up The Shelter concept – that we are a body, belonging and indicted to one another, for better or worse; that we weren't meant to walk through life alone. Even when we feel alone, God the father is closer than a whisper. The other is "the beauty of a life." Too often, we are focused on our little kingdoms and lose the appreciation for God's one kingdom, made up of a myriad of diverse believers. When we step back and get caught up in this, we start noticing the beauty of each life, created uniquely and given different talents and voices. How has reaching veteran status allowed you to have more creative freedom?

Powell: That's a great question. I don't know that we have more musical freedom than anybody else. But perhaps it has given us some trust from our audience from a lyrical, musical and personal standpoint. I think the audience and our label continues to trust us to be able to make good music and go with us on this musical journey, wherever we go. I think they understand what we are trying to say, lyrically and musically. From being around for awhile, you are able to establish that throughout the years and are able to build up that trust in people that when you put out a new record, it is going to be good.

Lowell: We are aware of this equity we have – that people have listened to us for 15 years, and there is a trust there. We never want to abuse that trust, but we love to push and challenge ourselves and our listeners: to go deeper, see things from another angle and reconsider the 'upside down-ness' of the gospel of Jesus. With our label, [we have] always enjoyed a long leash of creative freedom.

Next: What is your take on the current state of the Christian music industry?

Powell: I think there is a lot of great music out there and there always has been. I think it has definitely gotten better; there are some great sounding records and artists. I do feel like we have to be careful not to stick to the certain sound that has become successful. We have to be careful as artists, radio and labels not to squash those things that could be pushing the envelope a little bit. I would love for us to broaden a little bit more musically the landscape of what is accepted, what is given a shot and what is played on Christian radio, from a musical standpoint. I would love for labels to be open to more sounds that are different and new and for radio to be a little bit more open to playing those things.

Lowell: It's changed so much since we started in 1994! I think the growth and change is good for the most part. Great music is still being made and there are more ways to find it and hear it than ever. In some ways, it's becoming more niched out – worship music is a very focused segment of the industry. We're generally most interested in the fringes of what is being created and released. When we look back on the industry, our general sense is one of gratefulness for the privilege of making records and the faithful listeners that have remained with us over a diverse musical career. What are your personal and professional priorities these days?

Powell: Family, faith and friendships. Professionally it would be what we have been doing for years: maintaining what we have done up to this point, continuing to make quality music and quality shows, continue connecting with the audience and trying to grow that audience.

Lowell: It really still revolves around finding a balance between the business and creativity of Jars and the needs of our families. It never gets easy to find the balance and there is always more to do than we ever could. There are occasional side projects that we can give our time to, but for the most part, the travel and business of Jars keeps us pretty occupied and stimulated.


About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, and He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).

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