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on One with Steven Mason from Jars of Clay: Unveils "White Elephant Sessions"
and Pairs with Jennifer Knapp and Luna Halo for tour
By Andy Argyrakis
They've redefined what it means to have crossover success in the mainstream market and they've managed to stay true to their fan base and a Higher Calling. Jars of Clay has maintained one of the most rigorous schedules over the last five years, but the trials and triumphs of travels have also let the group sell over 4 million records, their current disc going gold since its release last year.
The band is on the road this fall for the "3 O'clock Parade Tour" where they are joined by Jennifer Knapp and Luno Halo as supporting acts. The group is also celebrating the release of their rarities collection, The White Elephant Sessions, which is a special bonus disc fans can snatch up for free with the purchase of their latest studio recording If I Left the Zoo. I recently had the chance to catch up with Steven Mason, who switches off from bass to guitar in the group, on the road during the group's stop at Wheaton College. Here's what he had to say about all of the band's current endeavors:
AA: How did the idea of the "Sessions" disc come about?
SM: Purely it just came from us trying out a lot of stuff. We had a bunch of B-sides for Zoo disc that were hanging around that we didn't find a home for. So we put a bunch of those together, as well as demos from Much Afraid that did not make it that we still thought were pretty interesting. Some of our favorite artists have put out collections like that, some might even have been bootlegs. But groups like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Radiohead were just a few that really inspired us to do the rarities collection.
AA: What made you guys want to offer the full length White Elephant Sessions disc for free with the purchase of the Zoo album?
SM: Not that many people knew we had an album out since last year. In certain markets it did really good, but it's kind of been an uphill battle. We don't feel like the weight of the success of past albums have hinged on that. The "Zoo" disc is the freshest thing we've done yet. It's exciting and artistically challenging. We just want to give fans more incentive to pick up the albums and see if we could reach out beyond and some new listeners.
AA: Have you guys been pleased with the outcome of the promotion so far?
SM: It's been more than we could have expected. You wonder if people are going to be interested, if they already have the Zoo disc. In some cases, fans have bought it twice just to get the Sessions disc. They've probably given their old copy of Zoo awayand hopefully new listeners get to hear it.
AA: What is your impression of the "3 O'clock Parade" tour so far?
SM: This tour is very cohesive amongst the bands and there is a real cool spirit about the whole thing.
AA: How did you choose what acts you'd hit the road with?
SM: Jennifer Knapp was on a very short list of artists that we wanted to be on the tour. There weren't many other acts that we were really anxious to fill that spot. We really like Luna Halo's passion they have for their music and their great hearts, great songs and great spirit. This is a tour that we are going to remember because it's exciting each night.
AA: What can fans expect from your set on the tour?
SM: Just a lot of new arrangements of some familiar songs and hopefully an honest evening of fun music, as well as some intimate moments with the acoustic portions.
AA: What happens after the tour?
SM: We start working on a Christmas album for next year's release. We started the process of that to kind of fill in the gap so that the next full-length studio album can have a little more time to marinate.
AA: What do you hope to accomplish with that record?
SM: We'll do some original songs that hopefully capture what Christmas means to us in a fresh way. The instrumentation itself will be unique.
AA: You guys have been going non-stop since you've been a band. How has that affected you?
SM: I think the challenge has been to let it all balance itself out and not to be consumed by the craziness. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Even though we have amazing base of fans, if we show up every few months for a concert, we might wear out our welcome and over saturate the market. We've learned to keep people hungry but still keep a noticeable presence. It's still though tough, because it's unlike many jobs where you can count on a certain block of time when you are working. Stuff comes at all times of the day in this business.
AA: What have been some of your most pleasant experiences from being able to go so many places?
SM: We have built some relationships that have been cool. Being able to move around and go places is awesome. I've been to countries where I don't think my parents have ever gone. This type of lifestyle, although completely ridiculous with scheduling, can bring rich cultural opportunities.