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When I’m With You – JJ Heller

17th November 2010Faith, Feature, Music3 Comments

pathwayWhen I’m With You
JJ Heller • 2010

~ Travis Stewart and Laura Stewart

JJ Heller’s new albumn, “When I’m With You” is quickly adding to a fan base that was built on the success of her song “Your Hands” and the exposure it received on the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.” One critic called it “one of those “gourmet” albums that only comes along every once in awhile” while Stephen Lamb at The Rabbit Room writes, “J’s music has always been notable for her great melodies and the way her vocals seem to float effortlessly above the instrumentation, and this album is no exception.”

Personally we love this music for the lightness and joy it brings to the heart. One of our favorites is the title cut When I’m With You a lullaby/love song to Dave and JJ’s daughter Lucy and sounds as if it could have been sung by Davey Jones and The Monkees. Take a listen here:

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As the title cut suggests, relationships are front and center thematically throughout the album, notably in the love song Boat Song. The delightful lyrics include “If you were a boat, my darling / A boat, my darling I’d be the wind at your back / If you were afraid, my darling / Afraid, my darling I’d be the courage you lack / If you were a bird, then I’d be a tree / And you would come home, my darling, to me.” Listen to “Boat Song”:

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The sunny tone of the these songs serves to highlight the more painful themes of loss and loneliness. The song Control (which has shown up on a couple of TV shows) offers hope to those who cut and self-harm and Olivianna is the story of an infant death. This song in particular speaks to our family’s own experience of losing an infant (recently featured in a viaRenovo post). This balance is achieved by offering hope and redemption in songs such as What Love Really Means (see video below) and Kingdom Come:

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A Few Questions for JJ:

Travis and Laura: How is this album different from others?
JJ: This is the first record that we’ve made since our little girl, Lucy, was born. Several of the songs are clearly influenced by the newfound love that we have for our little girl. We have regularly made one record a year for the past several years, but because of the success of my previous album, “Painted Red,” we were able to accumulate songs over the course of two years. I think this actually made “When I’m With You” a much stronger project.

T&L: You have said that relationships are the theme for this record. What inspired you to focus on this?
JJ: I think it just happened naturally. My records tend to be snapshots of particular seasons of my life. During this season, I became a mother, I moved to a different state, I watched a dear friend endure incredible hardship, and mourned the loss of my brother-in-law, Josh. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotion, and I think “When I’m With You” captures much of that experience.

T&L: You continue to work with amazing musicians and producers. How does that affect the recording experience and your own artistry?
JJ: We’ve worked with the same producer, Mitch Dane, on the past three full-length records. Going into this recording, we had great confidence and trust that he could deliver. We changed things up just a bit this time though, and invited Ben Shive to co-produce the record. Ben has played keys and accordion on my past records.

The partnership and camaraderie in the studio was palpable. Mitch and Ben loved working together, and it shows in this new record. The studio became a place for creativity to thrive. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in your own fear and dwell on minutia rather than enjoying the process of creating and editing. If fear is removed from the equation, there’s great freedom to experiment.

T&L: How did you learn about Olvianna’s story?
JJ: I was running low on inspiration, and I posted a request for songwriting ideas on my facebook page. A friend from college contacted me and told me to check out her friends blog because it was a touching story. I remember being so moved by Amber Grover’s writing that I knew I needed to write a song about it. You can find out more at: http://www.groverstyleblog.com/olivianna/

T&L: Why did you decide to put ‘What Love Really Means’ on another album?
JJ: I need to start with a little backstory. When my record, “Painted Red,” was recorded in 2008, we never dreamed that any song from the album would eventually be a hit radio single. We’d been told by industry insiders that the “average Christian music listener” doesn’t want to take the time to stop and think about the song content. Rather than simplify our songwriting, we resolved that there was an audience who would appreciate our lyric style.

Needless to say, it was a big surprise to find “Your Hands” climbing radio charts a year ago, and as the decision to release a second single drew closer, we knew that the follow-up single had to make the same kind of emotional impact; the song had to be very special. “Love Me” was written back in 2005, nearly every time we played it in a live setting, members of the audience were brought to tears. It’s a song that we knew we would continue to play live for years to come.

The old version wasn’t well suited to fit in the present radio format, so we revisited the song and made a few minor tweaks (and changed the song title) in order to give it a better chance at radio play. As stations continue to add “What Love Really Means” to their rotation, it’s exciting for us to hear from many stations that it’s a song that receives a lot of positive listener feedback.

T&L: Finally, one of our interview traditions is “6 Words”. We will give you six words and you respond with the first thing that comes to mind.

1. Boats – Cruise
2. The Monkees – Lucy’s monkey alarm clock
3. Touring – Missing my little girl
4. Strawberry Pie – Summertime
5. Blue – Sky
6. Relationships – Dave (my husband)

Thanks!

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  • 3 responses to "When I’m With You – JJ Heller"

  • Crystal Pennell
    16:34 on November 18th, 2010

    I have really been touched ever since I first heard this song. I have experienced most of my life the knd of love no one should ever have to go through as of abused, controlled and have never really had anyone to love me for who I was and to teach me what the meaning of love is.
    I am happily married and still having a hard time grasping onto love and knowing what it is.

  • Susan Stewart
    11:05 on November 27th, 2010

    Love the interview and love JJ’s music. Going to share the video on my facebook page.

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