I believe it was winter 1994. I remember having just put the finishing touches on our first record. We sat around a small table in a local coffee shop as if we had just fought a great battle that we weren’t sure we had won. We were tired, angry and a bit shell shocked. Few words were spoken between the four of us—outside the vow to never take on the bitter task again of self-producing a record.
The confidence artists have in their ability to create relevant art is an easy thing to dilute. After making that first record, we had no confidence in our ability to make great artistic decisions, and less confidence in our ability to refrain from attacking each other with blunt objects in the studio. It was clear to us that we had a lot of growing up to do if we were ever going to survive the creative process again.
By the time we went back to the studio to record our second album, we had regained a bit of confidence in our musical abilities, but we were still unsure if we could wade through the critical recording atmosphere on our own. We decided to bring on a mediator outside the band for musical input. We teamed up with producer Stephen Lipson (Simple Minds, Annie Lennox) to help with Much Afraid, and Dennis Herring (Counting Crows, Cracker) for If I Left The Zoo.
Although both records were very different in sound and vision, they carried the similar sense that the pure artistic vision of Jars of Clay had somehow been compromised by the production influences of the different producers. It was obvious to us that we were at our best artistically when we would write, perform and produce our own songs. It was even more obvious the sacrifice we made by leaving our friendships in a place where the creative process would be impossible.
Individually, we all had a desire to self-produce the next record. But not one of us wanted to suggest such a dangerous idea. It took a well-orchestrated sequence of miscommunication and scheduling accidents to push us into a corner. Because of those events, we walked into our basement studio, Sputnik Sound, anxious and excited about the vow we would soon break.
One year after stepping into that studio—nearly eight years after putting Jars of Clay in the can—we found ourselves sitting in another coffee shop in another town a little tired and profoundly impacted by this most recent battle victory: self-producing our fourth record.
“We realized the sum of the whole was greater than its parts,” Stephen Mason said. “I continually saw us bringing the best out of each other, and that works against the selfish nature of humanity. It is a humbling and overwhelming opportunity to be a part of a band like this.”
The full year spent on recording gave us plenty of time to be extremely open-minded and experimental in the writing process. We wrote almost 40 songs, then narrowed the collection down to focus on 15. The creative process never allowed us to be that calculated before. We felt like we needed to keep writing, so we abandoned our timetable and wrote a few more songs. One of those songs was a stand out piece called “These Ordinary Days,” and the other turned out to be the title track of the record, “The Eleventh Hour.”
Charlie Lowell recounted, “It was a 10-month process of Dan, Steve [Mason], Matt [Odmark] and myself struggling through what moves us and brings us life, and how we could best communicate those things on an album of 11 songs.”
Stephen added, “There is a lyric in the title track that says: Let the eleventh hour quickly pass me by/ I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time. This reflects the process of the last year. Our uncertainty in the process gave way to truth, inspiration and ultimately art.”
“At the onset of making this record, Dan invited the band to be more involved with the development of the lyrical concepts and the actual lyric writing,” Charlie sayid. “Dan wrote the majority of the lyrics, but his invitation allowed the rest of us to come to these songs with a new enthusiasm. For the first time, we discussed how to better communicate our ideas, and why certain concepts were important to the record as a whole. This record contains some of my favorite lyrical moments.”
We set out to make a record that would inspire. It felt like the rock ‘n’ roll community was in a race to see who could care the least about everything in the world. Songs became unintelligent and shallow. We tried to write songs that would fit into the thoughtless, whimsical climate of the past few years. We understand more than ever, we don’t fit into that mold. We have seen the climate change drastically toward a need for songs that speak to the deeper issues of the heart. We are good at writing songs that reach into the heart. We are good at writing songs that inspire people to think and feel and act and change. That is why we love making music.
The Eleventh Hour signified a return to what we do best. There was a resurgence of passion felt by everyone while we were writing those songs. We were giddy and restless. We hadn’t felt those feelings since the first record.
Ultimately, it wasn’t up to us to decide if this would be a great record. We knew we had grown musically. We knew our writing had matured. Stephen, Matt and Charlie poured out their souls and played their hearts out on that album. It still inspires me to think about the creative energy that flowed around our crazy little spaceship studio. We had never been more confident in the gifts God had given us to communicate through music than wewere making that record. We took a risk. There were no more excuses. If people thought we sucked, we couldn’t blame it on a producer or an arranger. We had lain open the heart of Jars of Clay, and we knew we’d feel quite foolish if people didn’t resonate with the spirit of that record.
If nothing else, we had reclaimed the pulse of what Jars of Clay set out to be. It felt good to be home.
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