Thursday, November 14, 2013

Interview with Dan Haseltine + Jars of Clay Partner with Philippine Red Cross


“There’s a point when the looking and the observing isn’t enough.” 

This thought from Jars of Clay frontman Dan Haseltine perfectly encapsulates the band's ethos, as well as their proactive response to last week's devastating typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. As of the last official count, almost 2,500 have been confirmed dead and over 22,000 people are still unaccounted for. In response to the immense destruction and the sustained great work that lay ahead, the band is offering their song "Fall Asleep" with 100% of tips going straight to the relief efforts of the Philippine Red Cross

While artists afixing themselves to a cause is certainly not a new thing, it’s still a bit of a refreshing anomaly to see artists actually aligning themselves with the people and places behind a cause. Jars of Clay is no stranger to this approach as they have been maintaining a long-term, long-distance relationship with Africa through Blood:Water Mission for the last 10 years. 

Over the last few months, an interesting relationship has been forming with the band and the Philippines as well. Before a recent show in Manila, video director Luis Daniel Tabuena contacted the band and asked if they wanted to make a music video for "Fall Asleep" with his crew. The gorgeously stunning video was shot entirely in the Philippines and it was given to the band as a gift. The video premiered in September and less than a month later the Philippines was pummeled with 195 mph winds and 20 foot high walls of water. 

But the story doesn't end there. 

I recently spoke with Dan as he shared about the partnership Jars has formed with The Philippines, what the relationship between art and activism looks like, and how “The songs are ours when we write them and they cease to be ours when they enter into somebody else’s story.” 

NoiseTrade: What inspired the writing of “Fall Asleep” in the first place? 
Dan Haseltine: I was actually inspired by the illustrator Carson Ellis. I was flipping through some of her work as we were talking about Inland and what we wanted for the record. I was drawn to these images of trees that were equal parts whimsical and melancholy and I thought it was a great setting for a tragic love story. So the song was first launched from just looking at a piece of scenery and wondering what might happen there. It turned into this guy running away with a girl and her being disillusioned by the whole idea of running away and growing old together. “I wonder what other people are doing right now and what life is like in a different place.” It’s also the first time we’ve ever put a piano ballad on a Jars’ record and it was nice to do something different on this record after so long.


NT: The music video for “Fall Asleep” was shot in the Philippines with an entirely Filipino crew. How did that situation come about? 
Dan: We were scheduled to play a concert in Manila and a couple of months before we were supposed to go we got an email that said, “Hey, my name is Luis and I do production here in the Philippines. Would you be interested in staying an extra day to shoot a music video?” Our initial reaction to that was obviously a bit skeptical. Those situations don’t usually turn out so great (laughs). We started talking and he said, “I want to create, as a gift for you guys, a nice, museum quality video.” When we got there, he had this incredible crew and a great idea for the concept. We shot it all on RED cameras. We were completely floored. It turned out to be a stunning video. Probably the best we’ve ever had as a band. It was really just such a gift. We didn’t have to spend a dime on the video; they did it all. After the storm, that’s what gave us the idea to now use this same song and this video to, in essence, try to return the favor as best we can. 

NT: As a band, you guys have never shied away from fully immersing yourselves in humanitarian efforts: founding Blood:Water Mission, partnering with the One Campaign. What fuels your drive to get involved and stay engaged? 
Dan: For me, it’s really two-fold. A friend of mine gave me the definition of an artist as someone who looks at the world and describes it. We, as a band, have really taken that seriously. You have to look at the world, keep your eyes open, and see what’s going on around you. That’s where the great stories are and were the great songs come from. We’ve found a few of those stories that have really captured our hearts where we knew we could do more. That’s really our connection to Africa with Blood:Water. It’s a story that we felt we could give more of ourselves to than just simply writing a song about it. As artists, I think we have to stay connected to good stories. If we’re not connected to the places where people are overcoming great odds or fighting against strong adversity, I think we tend to lose our perspective. The path of an artist can go a couple of different ways. One of those ways is to use your wealth to pad yourself from the suffering of the world. We try to control our environment and keep those things away. However, those things that we’re keeping away are the people and the places were all the good stories are. 

NT: Do you feel that the relationship between art and activism is inherently integrated or do you think it has to be learned through practice? 
Dan: It really is an immersive thing. It takes being involved in it and it takes practice. Humanitarian efforts and getting involved in causes is really about people and relationships. You can write about something, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily know it. You just know about it. If you really want to write from an honest place, you’ve got to immerse yourself in it and become committed to it. Artists are infamous for jumping from cause to cause. “What’s the hip thing to care about right now?” They’re very nomadic in that regard. The reality is, the stories that we stay invested in, those are the ones that yield the most natural and true relationship between art and social justice. 

NT: What specifically can your fans do to partner with you and join in the relief efforts for the Philippines? 
Dan: We’ve tried to make it really easy. We’re trying to raise $50,000 for the Philippines. We’re offering “Fall Asleep” for free via NoiseTrade and if you download the song, we’re just asking you to offer a tip and all proceeds are going to relief efforts in the Philippines. It’s just a part of the continuing story of them offering us a gift and us collectively trying to give a gift back. We don’t all have to feel overwhelmed that we’re the only ones doing something, but together we can do really great things. We’ve learned that over the years with Blood:Water. $1 can give an African clean water for an entire year and over the last 10 years we’ve been able to serve over 900,000 people from small donations. That’s what matters: everybody feeling like they can do a little bit, because a little bit can help a lot. 

Here are some additional photos from the set of "Fall Asleep" with the band, the director and the crew:

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