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Music on the Road

Jars of Clay filling a void

By Joanne Suh
CNN Entertainment Correspondent


LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The Grammy-winning group Jars Of Clay are on tour to support their fourth studio album, "The Eleventh Hour." Some critics are describing it as their best work to date.

Their first release in two-and-a-half years, the band says they had a renewed mission and confidence when making the record -- building their own studio in Nashville, returning to their roots by writing and producing the album on their own, even directing the artwork.

In addition to earning two Grammys, Jars of Clay have also won multiple Dove awards, given to the top Christian music acts. In March, "The Eleventh Hour" debuted at No. 1 on the SoundScan-compiled Top Christian Retail chart -- the group's third consecutive No. 1 debut.

Jars of Clay emerged on the music scene in 1995 with their breakthrough single, "Flood." After topping the Christian charts, it went on to enjoy crossover success in mainstream genres. And while the band sprouted from the Christian music arena, they say their music extends beyond the boundaries of the "Christian" label.

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Jars of Clay perform 'Disappear' off the 'Eleventh Hour' album in Atlanta, Georgia. (June 13)
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CNN caught up with Jars of Clay --lead singer Dan Haseltine, guitarists Matt Odmark and Stephen Mason, and keyboardist Charlie Lowell -- in Los Angeles during a stop on their current 50-city American tour.

CNN: You've said that your latest album was written to inspire people to dig deeper. Can you explain?

HASELTINE: The record was really an exciting process for us. We started out coming off of an album that maybe fit a lot of the rest of the rock and roll world, where it just seemed like everyone was writing songs about nothing. There was just a race to see who could provide the least amount of content or depth in their music. ... But I think we really wanted to take a different approach and write songs that were inspiring, songs that were passionate, songs that were about things that we really cared about.

CNN: Musicians always say each album is a snapshot of where they are, so what kind of snapshot is "The Eleventh Hour" for Jars of Clay?

LOWELL: A lot of the album has to do with longings, whether they're relational longings or spiritual longings, things we're hoping and groaning for but not able to feel just yet. I think we felt a lot of that in different ways through the process of the record, and now that we've made the record, we feel that the songs capture that. And we can listen to the record and say wow, we set out to do this thing that Dan talked about -- to really care about these songs and be intentional about them.

CNN: Is it accurate to say that with this fourth album, you took matters into your own hands -- even building your own studio?

HASELTINE: I think it was a matter of confidence. We recorded our first album and had no idea the kind of success that it would achieve. It was just the four of us college guys making a record and writing music that we enjoyed, and after that album and the success, all of a sudden, there's so many more opinions involved. And it kind of chipped away at our confidence in what we were capable of doing on our own. ... I think over the last two records, it's been a process of us learning how to produce records and make what we feel are good records again, and this was our first shot at jumping back in the studio with a lot more of that confidence and saying, "We can do this."

CNN: What do you think about the term, "crossover"?

HASELTINE: Maybe we hope it didn't really have to exist. Most musicians that feel like their music can be heard by a broader audience would probably say, "We hate the fact that music would get pigeonholed into a specific genre." We feel like we want our music to get played wherever it can be played. We don't have a specific audience in mind necessarily. We're not writing songs that are intentionally geared for a Christian audience versus a regular mainstream audience.

MASON: There's an understanding that when people say "Christian," and some of it's just Western civilization, that there's an agenda that will come along with that and there's a guideline and a standard and people can expect to be served something that they are going to have to digest on some level. As Christians, we see that it makes sense as we believe God to be Creator that one of the best expressions we can make back to God is to be creative ourselves, and there's no real limit to what that looks like.

ODMARK: I think for us, this is music that has inspired us and changed us. And we have no reason to believe that it couldn't be just as inspiring and impactful to others. So that's our desire, that's our hope.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16