Finding Freedom; An Interview with JJ Heller21st April 2010Beauty, Feature, Music2 Comments
~ by Travis and Laura Stewart
~JJ Heller, an independent artist who writes and performs with her husband Dave, experienced a dramatic increase in exposure this past year when their song “Your Hands” was used by dancer Diana Drexler on the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance?” and suddenly found their music at the top of the singer/songwriter charts on iTunes. Along with my daughter 12 year-old daughter Laura, I had the chance to interview JJ for our viaRenovo artist interview series.
Travis & Laura: Wow, a lot has happened to you in the last year. Your song “Your Hands” was featured on “So You Think You Can Dance” and suddenly you had national recognition and #10 slot of the Adult Contemporary Indicator radio chart as well as a top seller in the iTunes Singer/Songwriter category. With this in mind, we are going to pose a question to you that we as a family sometimes ask at the dinner table: High/Low. What has been the High from this type of exposure and what has been the Low?
JJ: The high: receiving such a huge amount of feedback from new listeners telling me how God has used “Your Hands” to speak to them and encourage them as they go through tough times. The low: this is kind-of weird, but here goes. Before, we could show up at a venue or a church and I could help set up our CD table and hang out wherever I wanted, and casually chat with whoever happened to pass by. Now, more and more people are recognizing me, so I need to stay behind the scenes a little more before concerts if I want to have time to focus and rest. It is so odd to be recognized by people I’ve never met!
Laura: Your song, “Your Hands” is featured on K-LOVE (a national Christian radio station). Is it ever weird to hear your song on the radio?
JJ: Yes, but it’s so fun! It’s very surreal.
Travis & Laura: Not only have you experienced big career changes in the past year but you moved to Phoenix and travelled nearly, full-time with a one year old. How has this affected the way you and Dave write songs (not to mention when)?
JJ: Oh man! We do so little songwriting these days. If we’re not on the road, we’re working on our new home. We’re almost done with all of our major house projects, so I’m hoping to have a lot more time to write in the near future. We finally finished one a few days ago, and we’re really excited about it. I can’t wait for you guys to hear it!
Travis: You just moved back from Nashville. How did living there affect your artistry?
JJ: It was wonderful to be able to set up songwriting sessions with artists who we love (Andrew Osenga, Matthew Perryman Jones, Katie Herzig, etc.). We could also go out and hear amazing music basically any night of the week. Nashville is literally a treasure trove of talent (how’s that for alliteration?).
Laura: Who were you writing the song “You Would Love Me Too” about?
JJ: That is actually one of the only songs that isn’t specifically about someone. It’s just a sassy little love song that was fun to write.
Travis & Laura: “True Things” is written for the True Campaign which is a non-profit committed to challenging the cultural ideas of beauty. Can you tell us more about how you wrote this song?
JJ: My husband, Dave, and I wrote this song along with Andrew Osenga. We were all just sitting around our living room, brainstorming about identity. We talked about the ways that we mistakenly define ourselves by the things that we own or the way that we look. If we have a relationship with Christ, we know that we are loved and we have value because we are God’s creation. It’s a truth that we know, but it it’s still hard to believe sometimes. We hope that this song is a good reminder .
Listen to “True Things” here:
Download “True Things” for free from the True Campaign by right-clicking here.
Travis & Laura: One of our favorite songs is “Fly Away” which has the lyrics, “I wanna fly away, far beyond my cage where I hear freedom singin’”. What does freedom mean to you? When you find yourself “trapped” in old thoughts, behaviors and patterns how do you find your way into that freedom?
JJ: Freedom happens when hope hope and truth replace fear. I can get so wrapped up in all the bad things that could possibly happen, that I lose sight of my reason for living. God wants me (and us!) to enjoy the gifts and people he’s given us, and to trust that He’s going to take care of them better than we can. Focusing on the truth is the ticket to REALLY living.
Laura: What inspired the artwork on your album cover for “The Pretty and the Plain”?
JJ: The cover is all about freedom (do you sense a theme?). We love the imagery of the plain birds and the pretty ones flying toward the open sky.
Travis: Other than “Your Hands” which song gets the most reaction from audiences?
JJ: Definitely our song “Love Me.” It touches on different scenarios of people looking for love and being let down. True love is only found in Christ!
Listen to “Love Me” here:
Travis: OK, random question: We sometimes get your songs stuck in our heads. Do you ever get your own songs stuck in your head?
JJ: It mostly happens when we’re trying to work on a song, and that new melody gets stuck in my head. If I catch myself singing or humming a song we’ve already recorded, I try to stop before anyone notices. It just seems kind-of embarrassing to sing my own song.
Laura: Will your next album have any songs about Lucy?
JJ: Most definitely. We have a few, actually, and they’re some of my favorite on the album. We sing them to her all the time.
Travis & Laura: OK, we are going to give you 6 words. Write the first thoughts that come to mind:
1. Parenthood: hard
2. Diana Drexler: thanks!
3. Lucy: sweetheart
4. Your Hands: blessing
5. Nashville: growth
6. iTunes: income (I hope that’s not too weird… it’s what came to mind!)
Thank you JJ!
Update 4/26/10 – JJ Heller’s new song “Control” (released on iTunes on 4/26) was featured tonight on ABC Family’s “One Tree Hill.” Congratulations!