Shaun Jacobs Band
By Janelle Arnold
Love Can Define Us
The best way to listen to music is in the car, driving to a location at least one album-length away. Surround sound, complementary scenery, open road – it’s the perfect combination.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a car these days (#studentlife), so my craving for a road trip with Shaun Jacobs’ two albums Paper Wings and Love Can is still unsatisfied. The former would mingle perfectly with a sort of twilight-turning-into-sunset late summer drive – ideal for being re-infused with the meaning of life, having your soul uplifted, and feeling the beautiful ache of human existence. His second album would be the right soundtrack for the first burst of an adventure, hitting the highway full of hope and determination.
Shaun Jacobs Band, now including Andrew Sowter on drums and Craig Sparks on bass, is set to release their next album, As Shadows Fall, by early next year. The first two singles, ‘Don’t Let Go’ and ‘Allegiance’, are bold, powerful, and rock solid. When I spoke to Shaun and his bandmates about it, they had fireworks in their eyes for what they’ve recorded so far. This is the first album they’re doing as Shaun Jacobs Band, a complete trio, but they’ve been touring and working together for years. Shaun recorded and mixed his previous two on his own – an impressive feat, considering Love Can went on to win the South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Contemporary Album of the Year in 2014, and got him nominated for Best Engineer and Producer.
But I was telling you about their new album. Alongside nods from his bandmates, Shaun insisted: “It feels about a hundred times better than anything we’ve done before,” showing their growth as a band and infusing elements of their live show into the tracks. Considering how good their earlier material has been, I’m paying attention. So are some big people in the American music industry, which means you should take advantage of the opportunity to see them at your neighbourhood club around South Africa while you still can. Like many South African bands, they know the struggle of living in a small country without zeal for local music, so they wanted to stretch their reach beyond these borders. “People have a mindset of South African music being substandard”, Shaun noted, even with incredible artists appearing on the scene all the time. The only way to grow and compete with the world’s music is to go join it.
I was struck by the courage of the three musicians I spoke to. Stepping into the messy and cut-throat world of rock ‘n’ roll isn’t particularly easy when you’re trying to raise a family and stay sane. But they each understand that they’re not walking on this path alone; God has called them to step into the music industry and impact the people they encounter. That’s part of why SJB’s songs have less of a faith tone than Shaun’s former band, Harbourlight, which thrived in the South African Christian music scene for five years, until 2011. They felt they had reached the peak of what they could accomplish in the country, and the members moved on to other things.
One of the ways SJB stand out from a lot of their counterparts is how they interact with each other, like brothers.
SJB is still writing songs about their life and faith, without Bible-bashing their listeners. For all three of them, their music isn’t the primary way they live the Christian message: “The ministry is to the people that you influence offstage.” Lyrics can only go so far, and sometimes push people away rather than draw them in, they’ve experienced. Andrew brought up the importance of being real in whatever context they’re in. He’s noticed that a lot of people hate Christians because of how inconsistently they live in and out of church, so they try to have integrity in everything they do. The small things do have an impact, like the fact that they’d rather have cake than booze backstage. “Hopefully God will use us in our context,” Craig adds, as they are able to encounter an amazing spectrum of people now that they’ve taken themselves out of mainly Christian surroundings.
One of the ways SJB stand out from a lot of their counterparts is how they interact with each other, like brothers. I got to witness some of the hilarity that occurs when they’re together. (Apparently they get a lot of dirty looks on aeroplanes, because they behave like schoolboys.) Their time as a band has been marked with friendship and accountability, and that sets them apart from many musical acts that can barely work through their differences. Shaun says it “changes the whole atmosphere of the show”, when there is camaraderie between the band members. “When it looks like the band’s having a blast, the chemistry draws the crowd in, because they want to be part of the fun”, which makes their live show into something unforgettable.
Their actions speak the loudest about who they are and what SJB believe. At the time same, the content of their songs isn’t entirely neutral. Their take on love, for instance, struck me as I studied their lyrics. When I put Shaun on the spot to tell me the best lyric he’d ever written, he gave me this one: “Since when does love bow to reason?” It’s the opening line of a song he wrote in high school entitled, Where I Am Yours. That reminded me of the 17th century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (of the Triangle and Wager) who famously said, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know”. That’s some deep stuff for a Matric boy.
More than just profound, though, their lyrics reveal a completely refreshing perspective on the definition of love. The song End of the Road is one of the clearest examples. In case you’ve missed it on the airwaves, the chorus opens with this promise: “If it all falls down I’ll be standing at the end of the road / If it all falls down I’ll be standing there to carry the load”. The song is full of biblical overtones, revealing the band’s stance on marriage and promises and unconditional love. The success of End of the Road and other SJB songs seem to show that our culture is craving a different kind of love than the one we normally hear about on the radio.
Shaun, Craig, and Andrew have a hunger to live out what they’re called to. It’s obvious when you watch them perform, listen to their music, and hang out with them. There’s a purpose behind what they’re doing. Combine that powerful drive with some crazy talent and you have the ultimate soundtrack – it makes me want to steal some car keys and go find my destiny.