Artist Interviews
Jars of Clay - July 11th, 2001

This is from a 30 minute interview that I had with Matt Odmark from Jars of Clay. Charlie Marus, who is the youth director at the church I attend, helped with the interview. The bold text is our questions/comments to Matt, and everything else is his replies.

Some unnecessary text has been removed, and some sentences have been tweaked to make them more readable.

Here's the interview:

Mickey: I haven't really heard anything about a new album any time soon…

Matt: We've been working on a new album for about five or six months. The reason you haven't heard almost anything is because nobody but us has heard very much. We've spent a long time writing songs, and we're just now starting to even play it for Rick and people at our record company and stuff like that. We're just now starting to get an idea of what we're doing. It's been a great process. It'll probably come out early next year - February or so. We're actually producing it yourselves. Maybe that's why the record company hasn't told anybody. "We'll see - if it's really bad then nobody will have to know." (laugh) So we've been working on it ourselves. We built the studio nearby where all of us live. That's really what we've been doing for the last four or five months.

Mickey: Do you have plans for a greatest hits? It's been a popular thing lately.

Matt: No, not really. We haven't talked about any plans. That's the kind of thing that record companies do once an artist finishes their record deal, we have quite a few more records to get to that point.

Charlie: I hope we don't get a greatest hits for a good while, then.

Matt: We don't have much desire to do that any time soon. We have this record coming out, and we have some aspirations to do some other stuff - we're interested in doing a DVD or something like that, that seems interesting to us.

Mickey: The Third Day one - from what I can tell - went over very well.

Matt: Does it look good?

Mickey: Yeah, it was very well done.

Matt: Good. I haven't seen it yet, but I heard that they were doing one too, so I was anxious to hear how people responded to it. Beyond that, we're enjoying making records and touring, so I imagine we'll do that for a little while longer.

Charlie: Any plans to team up with any other movie tracks?

Matt: Yes, in as much as you can plan those things. Those are really opportunities that we kind of stumble into. We would love to see that happen, and even as we've been writing this record, we've had different songs that we're like man "These just seem like, with the right movie, these could be really strong." So, we'll give them to our record company and kind of suggest that, and sometimes we'll pursue them, and sometimes people will just step out of the woodwork and say "You know, we really want to use a song on this." That's just kind of a very organic process. But we'd love to see that happen for sure. We still do get asked regularly for stuff like that. We don't take every opportunity we get, but it is fun to still get offered stuff like that.

Charlie: The first time I ever saw you all. I think it was five years ago at a Youth Specialties convention, you breezed in, you didn't have time to setup, so you were just unplugged for about 20 minutes, and it was one of the neatest things I've ever seen to this day. So my question is, would you ever consider doing a mini-tour of just unplugged Jars of Clay where you could actually play more intimate places, and give testimony, and talk with the audience?

Matt: Yeah, we would definitely consider doing something like that. We love to kinda do stuff like that. It's a little riskier for us, just because it's a little less comfortable, but we really tend to enjoy stuff like that. We've done that a few times at Youth Specialties, and always have been really blessed by it. It's really been a neat opportunity. It's fun for us. We all have such roots with youth work. We all had significant relationships with our youth pastors growing up, so that's just a neat environment for us to be in - to be around a bunch of folks who work with youth, and to just kinda let our hair down and relax. So I bet we would consider doing something like that.

Charlie: We have a few open dates in the spring (at our church)… (laugh)

Mickey: A few people asked about the fact that a lot of your songs crossed over into more secular markets, and just wondering if you think about that at all when you're writing them, or if it effected your ability to witness to others?

Matt: That is something that we do think about a lot, just because that's very exciting for us. That's probably one of the most exciting parts of what we do, is the stories that come back to us about our music being able to be some sort of bridge to a person who doesn't know Christ. The neatest stories we hear are just people that are like "I was able to have a conversation with my friend about Christ because they asked me about this band Jars of Clay that they heard on this radio station." Some sort of opportunity. Those stories are always really cool to us, and they continually kinda blow us away because they really show how God is honored to use our music, at some level, to kinda build the Kingdom. That's very exciting for us. We struggle a lot with the balance of what it means to kind of be wise about knowing who is listening to our music at one angle, but also to be sort of marketing-savvy towards a particular audience. It's a weird kind of tension to live in. In one sense, if you're sharing the Gospel with someone face-to-face, you want to know something about them, so you can understand how the Gospel can be meaningful to them. At the same time, you don't want to leave out parts of the Gospel just so that they'll like it. That's the same thing that we struggle with as we write music. Kind of, what does it mean to really put our hearts into the music, let is be a very natural, organic process. Yet, at the same time, be risky with how we present issues of faith in the sense of, being willing to do it in a way that's not comfortable or contrived, but at the same time in a way that would really challenge someone. Ultimately, we hope to see God honor us by using the music, like I said, to build a bridge to someone that wouldn't know Him.

Charlie: It's almost like giving your testimony through music, and you have to understand the audience you're giving it to, so that you don't push them away before they really have a chance to hear the message.

Matt: Right. So it's a struggle in the songwriting process, that's obviously one of the inherent kind of tensions of it. That's why some songs come out less spiritual sounding then some do. Something you create may be something very real to you, but it may not necessarily be about something overtly spiritual. It could be about a relationship you're having. It could be about a political issue, or something like that. It's very real, and because of the way the Gospel is impressed on your heart, is something that is very alive.

Charlie: Is there any one member of the group that writes more than the other, or do you collaborate a lot?

Matt: We collaborate a lot on music. We collaborate a lot in general. Dan, our singer, really does a lot of the lyric writing, and we all kinda work together on the music. He'll kinda be the point person for lyrics. He's been very verbal with us about wanting input, and wanting help with fleshing some of the ideas out, and to bounce ideas off of, make sure they're as solid as he thinks they are.

Charlie: How do you find time to be alone with God, and to stay spiritual? Do you schedule that?

Matt: Obviously like for you, and for anyone, it's a struggle. It's a struggle to carve that part out of your schedule, where you're gonna allow time to really connect with God. Some phases of life, for me anyway, that's easier than others. It's obviously something that because of the nature of who we are, and how busy we could be, you have to be intentional to make it happen - it has to be a priority. At the same time, I am encouraged by no matter how good I am at making that happen, it doesn't necessarily affect how loved I am by God, how loved I am by Jesus. So ultimately, the true measure of how I'm doing with God is really about how much I'm enjoying Him, how much I connect with Him.

Charlie: I know that's a hard one to answer because your schedule changes so dramatically when you're on the road, off the road, recording, not…

Matt: I mean, it's a struggle. It really is. It's something that you're constantly struggling with, and constantly struggling with how to fit it into your schedule, how to want to fit it into your schedule.

Mickey: Inspirations for you personally - musically. What did you listen to that got you interested in guitar? Who do you listen to now?

Matt: Guitar-wise, I got interested in college in a lot of acoustic guitar players, that really I felt were neat. A lot of them were singer-songwriter type guys, like David Wilcox, or a duo like the Indigo Girls. They weren't necessarily any flashy players. I like some Michael Hedges, and stuff like that. I mainly really liked the kind of guitar players that wrote good songs, and knew how to make the guitar serve the song well. I was never a big fan of the ultra-technical players that could play really well, but was more about their solos and stuff than it was about the song. For me, I was always drawn in by that. That continues to be what draws me to a particular player. Right now, my biggest kind of heroes and biggest kind of inspiration are bands that have been together for a long time. Bands like U2, or even bands like Aerosmith, or the Rolling Stones. Bands that, for one reason or another, have managed to stay together for a long period of time. Because now I've been in a band for seven years, and I have a little bit of an idea how difficult that is to make work. Especially when they're successful. It's fascinating to me to kind of do case-studies on bands that have somehow seemed to make it work, and how they've either dealt with their dysfunction or how they've learned to live with it, and how they've reconciled that. That seems very interesting to me.

Mickey: This almost seems rather obvious, but "Does the Bible have a big influence on your lyrics?", or, to take it further, "Do you try to write Christian songs, or do you write songs about what you all are going through, which then have an inherent Christian meaning to them because of who you all are?"

Matt: I wouldn't say that we try to write Christian songs. That feels like a very uncomfortable place to go for us. In general, we try to write from a place that's moving us at that moment. When I say that, I don't necessarily mean that we try to avoid writing songs that have Christian messages, or try to avoid writing songs that even have Christian themes, or Christian language in them. For us, it's really about what aspect of our life is really coming out of our hearts at that moment, and at the same time, it's about what seems like an important enough question to pose in the song, what seems like an important enough scenario to paint, in the sense that it would connect with people. In the sense that it would connect people to something deeper about themselves. Even if it doesn't directly connect to Christ and the cross and the four scriptural laws, how could it as least use the topic of divorce to connect them to something deeper within themselves, that would maybe make them ask questions of "Why does divorce seem so horrible?", and which would be a window that would open up their heart. So it can be kind like guerilla songwriting sometimes, but it's really seeing music, and seeing songs, as an opportunity to kind of provoke people's hearts back toward the things that are inherently in them in the first place. As those things come alive, we really see that as a prime opportunity for the Gospel to take root. If it's through our music, there's definitely enough of a picture of the Gospel that they would be able to connect it to that, but it may be through some other experience that they actually connect that to the Gospel. For us, that's part of the powerful nature of music and songs, to be able to do that, to be able to connect to something truer and deeper than ourselves, that maybe we weren't aware of at it.

Charlie: How many of you are married?

Matt: All of us.

Charlie: How many children are there?

Matt: There's four children in the fold so far. Everybody has kids but me. One of the other guys has twins, then there's a six-month old and a two year old. All boys.

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