Jars of Clay's last album, Good Monsters, had a tune that made the band nervous. Oh My God was a harsh look at a world of poverty, violence and fear, and it didn't exactly let American Christians off the hook for responsibility, at the very least for their silence.
It's the type of sentiment that is sometimes met with resistance or hostility.
But, to Jars' surprise, Oh My God became the most talked about song on the album, which many critics regard as the band's masterpiece.
Now, the band comes to Lexington Christian Academy's back-to-school bash emboldened for more challenges, not only in the songs it writes, but in the way it conducts its career.
Since 1995, Jars has recorded for Essential Records. But Good Monsters was the last album in the band's seven-disc deal with Essential.
Rather than pursue another label deal, Jars decided to follow in the footsteps of several other well-known contemporary Christian music artists such as Derek Webb and Sara Groves who have gone the independent track.
"These days, it's easier to make a living as an independent artist, and it can be more lucrative," says Jars keyboardist Charlie Lowell.
The move puts more of the decision making and more of the responsibility in the hands of the band. In their deal with Nettwerk Management and INO Records, the band and the label split the costs of recording and the profits, as opposed to the label paying the full freight and exerting a lot of control.
But, Lowell says, "Our label was pretty loose with our reins."
Maybe they'd nudge the band for an upbeat song that would work on the radio, or something like that. But Jars essentially did its own thing, particularly in later albums. That's given the band confidence as it heads into this new phase of its career.
"We have a lot of equity with our fans," Lowell says. "They've been patient with us through some strange seasons."
Jars is working on a new album aimed for next year. It's a record that Lowell says probably will follow up on some of the issues raised in Good Monsters and make them more personal.
After 15 years, with hits such as Flood and I Need You, Lowell says the group has a good sense of what makes it "unique and necessary." He finds uniqueness in the depth of the band's lyrics and necessity in raising awareness of issues it champions. Several years ago, the band launched Blood:Water Mission, an organization to provide clean blood and water in Africa to combat AIDS and poverty.
"Since we're leaving our families and taking the time to go on the road, we think, let's make it worth it," Lowell says.
One thing that makes coming to Lexington well worth it is the room the headlining gig gives the band to try out some new material. Most of the band's current dates are on the Music Builds Tour with Third Day, Switchfoot, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. That affords the group about 30 minutes to play from a catalog of hits.
"We're really excited to be able to play some songs like Heaven, which we hope will be a fall single, and Headphones, which is a song we recorded last week," Lowell says.
If Jars' track record is any indication, the new tunes should be well received.