Featured Photo by Taylor Lawson
Story by Taylor Lawson
Daniel Haseltine, 50, was an accidental miracle. He differered from others in the small town of Hampden, Massachusetts.
Haseltine had a deep love for music. Little did he know, his life of music would form a band that would take the Christian faith by storm.
From the age of six, Haseltine began playing melodies that echoed through his home on a Casio MT60 keyboard he got for Christmas.
“I don’t think they knew at the time… there is a history of a certain type of reggae music that was made by the drum sounds in that keyboard!” he explained, laughing about the simple keyboard, “I started playing melodies I heard on the radio… Everywhere I would go, I would play.”
At age 8, Haseltine played with the band at his uncle’s wedding. His family started to fully encourage his ear for music then.
“The band was kind of amazed that I was listening to the other instruments and playing well. I was eight years old,” Haseltine said.
Shortly after that, lessons started. However, instead of a traditional take on music, he started learning rock ‘n’ roll songs.
He learned R&B scales and chord fingering. He described it as a very different experience from normal piano lessons.
Haseltine spent his winters shoveling driveways and summers helping his neighbors clean their show dogs’ kennels and mowing lawns. Eventually, he saved up for a professional keyboard.
“My childhood was pretty difficult… my parents fought a lot,” Haseltine said, “Having a keyboard where I could plug in my headphones and compose pieces was my way of emoting.”
His father behaved very domineering, never letting Haseltine feel any of his emotions. Spending hours in his room writing became the only way he could process anything.
Haseltine’s talent eventually made its way through the small town. He got asked to accompany as a guitar player for Miss Teen USA, who also happened to go to his school.
“It was insane because I was just a freshman. She was completely unattainable, but because of my music, she wanted me. I was so excited,” he laughed.
At 15, Haseltine’s parents divorced. His father moved the family down to Winter Springs, Florida and then returned to Massachusetts. He coped by joining jazz band and making friends.
The Massachusetts native and his friends ended up forming a keyboard band.
“We sat in a small room with four tables with synthesizers and played this geeky, electronic music,” he said. “This eventually turned into a band called ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ which was way before the TV show. We played a prom at another school.”
Haseltine’s yard work eventually upgraded to a job at a record store called Peaches. The job helped him understand the music business. He had access to radio station playlists, record labels and concerts in the area.
On the weekends, Haseltine DJ’d at weddings and sorority parties at the University of Central Florida.
“That was my musical education before college. I got to see more shows than most probably got to at the time… I just wanted to be in that world,” he said.
Studying at Greenville College, Haseltine’s life changed. After being in a school band for a year with two other students, they decided to take a studio recording class together.
“We met this kid, Stephen Mason, and he had a sampling keyboard,” he said. “We kind of befriended him because we wanted to use his keyboard.”
Eventually, Mason moved in with Haseltine in a basement dorm nicknamed “The Underground.”
Together the four men, Stephen Mason, Charlie Lowell, Matt Bronleewe and Dan Haseltine, created music for this class in their band, Jars of Clay.
“Everything on the first Jars of Clay album were essentially class projects,” Haseltine said.
Haseltine’s professors were extremely supportive of the group. They eventually booked a gig at a Six Flags in St. Louis.
“We started gathering crowds, which is something we weren’t used to. We were normally the side act,” he said.
This motivated the group to create a CD of their works.
“I had $2,500 left for college. I didn’t know how I was going to go to college my junior year… I pulled it out and used it to produce the first Jars of Clay album,” Haseltine said.
The first batch of the album sold out and the band went to a battle of the bands event in Nashville.
“There was a sign that said, ‘An industry professional will critique your work.’ There was also a cash prize, but we were more concerned about the professional advice,” Haseltine said.
After performing at a real show for the first time, the band won first place.
“We had never worked with all of that production,” he said. “There were so many lights and people. We were so nervous.”
Soon afterwards, the group started to get phone calls from record labels inquiring about their plans.
They all moved to Antioch, Tennessee, worked night shifts together at an OfficeMax and took meetings from labels during the day.
December 1994, they signed a record label with Essential Records. Jars of Clay finally became official.
“At that point, ‘Flood’ hit radio and we were shot out of a cannon, performing 300 shows a year for two years,” Haseltine said, “That environment still felt kind of foreign to me. Every show was a practice for the next show.”
Jars of Clay, while considered a Christian band, played in primarily bars and clubs.
“We started to get a lot of pressure from the church, y’know? It was frowned upon if we weren’t ministering to these people,” he said.
After about two years of 20 hour days, Haseltine finally had a break. However, it didn’t last long. The second album, “Much Afraid,” was in the mix.
Unfortunately, it was not the hit the label wanted. It sold half as many as the first record. Jars of Clay steadily declined by the third album.
“Noah was born right as we finished touring that album… we took a full year off, Haseltine said about his first-born son. “It was probably one of the best years of my life. It never happened again.”
By that point, the band was settling down and wanted to stay home. Unfortunately, the band fell into debt.
“We had two choices. We could shut down Jars of Clay or say yes to everything,” he said.
For the next two years, the band was on tour.
“When Max was born, I was in town for two weeks, but I had to be back on the road,” Haseltine said. “I hated leaving. I remember just wanting to help people move… I just wanted to be a friend, but I had to keep leaving.”
Eventually the band was able to stop touring and settle down. However, amid the craziness, a non-profit was born.
“We started hearing about this epidemic of HIV in Africa. AIDS was on the rise and people were dying, Haseltine said. “The church said it was the wrath of God, but I wasn’t satisfied with that.”
Haseltine visited several cities across the continent and realized they didn’t have clean water to take any of this new medication with.
“Now they had access to medication, but not clean water. It was problematic, but I figured if nobody in the U.S. wanted to talk about AIDS, I wonder if they’d be willing to talk about water,” he said.
After returning to the rest of the band, the Blood: Water mission came to life. The band played shows and raised money to put wells in Africa. Communities were built around the wells and the first one is still standing 19 years later.
“The cool thing about how Blood: Water mission works… we’d go into communities and ask how to help,” he said. “We didn’t realize how different of an approach that was. They felt very dignified.”
Since starting, the mission raised over $47 million to create access to safe drinking water to almost 1 million people. Blood: Water not only installs the wells into the communities but helps create work by training local individuals how to care for the well and themselves. As of 2023, the mission has trained over 1.1 million people in sanitation and hygiene practices.
Haseltine is still working heavily with the organization, practicing high-level fundraising.
“Many people build this padding against the world, blocking it out. My job is to reconnect them to it,” he said. “The organization is stronger than it ever has been.”
Haseltine also works as a composer for a Christian show called “The Chosen.” Recruited by Matthew Nelson, he originally declined the offer.
“I just didn’t think that the world needed another show about Jesus,” he said.
After a conversation later that week, Haseltine officially joined. After one season, Haseltine fell in love with the show and the work, keeping up his hard work for a total of three seasons so far.
“I’m not a terribly religious person, which is weird, I know,” he said. “I’ve done a lot to kind of distance myself from the church.”
While growing up in the Christian faith, Haseltine always found himself asking questions, specifically after a young girl in his bible study passed away in a car accident.
“The church just couldn’t answer my questions about suffering,” he said. “I wanted it to be true. I wanted God to be the kind of God to care about people’s suffering.”
His outlook on faith changed to an understanding that just because something was loved, did not mean he could not want it to be better. Haseltine felt the pressure more when Jars of Clay began.
“We were kind of the whipping boys for the Christian church,” he said, remembering his biggest scandal.
In 2013, the Jars of Clay front man tweeted in support of LGBTQ+ marriage before getting on a plane, earning a storm of backlash from many fans. This tweet came after Haseltine watched a movie called “12 Years a Slave” on a plane ride and noticed strong similarities from the justification of slavery in the movie to justification of anti-LGBTQ+ marriage and equality.
“The master was using the Bible to justify why they were slaves, and he wasn’t, and a lightbulb went off,” he said.
12 hours later, Haseltine was off the plane and saw the brunt of the storm.
“Christian radio stations pulled our songs off the radio. Stores pulled our records and we were disinvited to the upcoming festival we had that year. There was nothing I could say or do to make it better,” Haseltine said. “I had burned the parachute in mid-air.”
The Jars of Clay lead singer felt betrayed by the church and tried to take a step back.
“When someone tells you that the God of all creation hates you for who you love, it’s painful. It isn’t fair. They are still human and that doesn’t fly with me,” he said.
Haseltine took a break from Christianity to find his own beliefs. He stopped going to church and reading the bible for years.
“I still find myself in the doorway. There are aspects of the community that can speak to value and worth, but the behaviors and culture… I want nothing to do with it,” he said.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.