For most of the last decade, Josh Garrels has created his intriguing blend of folk and hip-hop in strict isolation — whether holed up at John Dillinger’s former home in central Indiana or sequestered away in a bedroom of his own. The results speak for themselves: a beautiful discography that has cemented Garrels as a truly independent artist.
On his most recent full-length album, Love & War & the Sea In Between, Garrels opened up the creative process to include some friends in a collective known as Mason Jar Music. A group of NYU and Julliard alumni, Mason Jar Music previously backed Garrels on a takeaway show featuring his song “Words Remain.” It was the beginning of a relationship that continued with Mason Jar’s production of a few of the tracks on Love & War and eventually blossomed to include tour dates and a brand new documentary, The Sea In Between.
Garrels and Mason Jar Music are touring throughout the year, debuting The Sea In Between in select cities. The collective came to Nashville this past Sunday night for the last of a string of dates in the Southwest. A few of us from the Rabbit Room were able to check out the show and it was a sight to behold. Not only was the documentary itself compelling, but Garrels’s music took on new life when surrounded by such talented players and thoughtful orchestration.
Yet something else stood out to me that night and remains with me still: the courage that art requires. Josh and his wife Michelle initially released the 18-song Love & War album for free for a full year, a leap of faith response to a spiritual call that both of them felt to give their art away. The end result? Over 125,000 downloads, an “album of the year” declaration from Christianity Today and a greater platform than ever before.
While greater sales or reach are not the guaranteed outcomes of such a step of faith, it was encouraging to chat with Josh before the show on Sunday about the results. We remembered specific conversations from the past where he described the tension of stepping out into the unknown, choosing to follow the internal push to give away these songs. If anything, it was a reminder that we reap what we sow, that moving beyond the fear of failure or the tendency to measure risk will often bear unanticipated fruit. And after being reminded of that before the show, the spectacle of the movie and concert offered further support of that idea.
If you missed out on the first run of The Sea In Between, Josh said a second edition is forthcoming later this year. And if you have the chance to catch the show with Mason Jar Music, you should definitely make every effort to do so.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.