JJ Heller is an active songwriter, blogger, decorator, wife and mother to two amazing little girls. JJ’s career has exploded in 2010, landing her spots on Christian radio networks such as KLOVE, enabling her songs to reach millions of listeners. Her music was received with rave reviews, gaining her single “Your Hands” a spot on the Billboard Magazine’s Christian Songs Chart for twenty-four straight weeks.
She then released her first full-length album “When I’m with You” in October of 2010, an album that touched the lives of millions. One year later, in October of 2011, she released her groundbreaking album “Deeper” and early this year began her Deeper Heart Tour with Audrey Assad. Deeper Heart performed in Santa Rosa, CA in March of 2012 at The Cove Fellowship.
I had the opportunity to talk with JJ Heller over the phone for an exclusive interview for Sonoma Christian Home on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. As an avid fan, I counted the occasion a rare privilege, and am unashamed to admit I may have even lost a few hours of sleep over it. It was very evident from our conversation how grateful JJ is for the ways God has been at work in her life, and is using her music in the lives of her listeners. Hearing her story was a great encouragement to me and I hope it is to you as well.
SCH: Could you tell us a little bit about your latest album “Deeper” and if there was a specific message your were trying to get across in that album?
JJ: “Deeper” is the most stripped down, acoustic project my husband Dave and I have ever released. We’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time. It’s something we did more for ourselves than our listeners because it’s not as, I guess, “commercial”…acoustic isn’t as exciting as something more produced but we thought it would be really true to who we are and similar to what you would experience if you were to come see us live in concert. When we perform it’s typically just me singing and Dave playing guitar and singing backup and I’ll play harmonica as well. So we wanted to convey that feeling on “Deeper.” A lot of the songs have to do with being a parent because Dave and I are kind of new parents. We have a three-year-old and six month old so I found myself writing a lot about love and the kind of love that a parent feels for their child. I think it’s probably one of the main themes of the album.
SCH: Is there a song on that album you’re particularly proud of?
JJ: Oh it’s hard to choose. My favorite two are probably the two songs that we wrote for our two girls – “When I’m with You” and “I Get to be the One.” I think I like them the most because they have the most sentimental value to me. We wrote each of them specifically for each of our two daughters, so it’s really fun to be able to sing them in concert and talk about our girls a little bit as we play. I’m always trying to find the balance between having a career in music and being a mom, and so it’s fun to be able to have these two songs that combine both aspects of who I am.
SCH: Speaking of your family, what is it like to tour with them?
JJ: Oh it’s crazy [laughs], but really great. We took our two girls out on our last tour. Lucy was almost three and Nora was ten weeks old so she was waking up multiple times at night. She and I would sleep in the back lounge on the tour bus and then Lucy had her own bunk on the bus and we brought some toys along. They did amazingly well, I was really pleasantly surprised. Lucy really loved having her own little bunk on the bus and closing the curtains and having her own room basically all to herself. It was tough to be in a confined space with two little ones but we played at a lot of churches on the tour so it was great to roll in to a church in the morning and Lucy could have free reign on all the toys in the children’s classrooms in the church so that was a huge blessing.
JJ Heller with daughters Lucy and Nora, waiting for our show in Corvallis, OR to start.
SCH: One of your hit singles “What Love Really Means” was a song that was re-recorded from your second album. Why did you decide to re-release the song?
JJ: We decided to re-release because of any song we’ve ever written that song has been the one that has connected the most with listeners over the years. We prayed about it a lot and really felt like God was leading us in that direction to revisit the song and release it to radio. I’m so glad we did because we’ve heard so many stories about how God has used it in so many peoples lives in so many different ways. I love hearing those stories because it reminds me how small my part is in all of this and how big God is and how he’s working in ways that I can’t even understand – that when I was writing the song so many years ago he had all of these specific people in mind and he knew how he was going to use it to encourage thousands of people that I’ve never even met before. It’s humbling to hear these stories and it’s also a good faith builder for me to watch the Lord working.
SCH: Your first big single “Your Hands” broke out on major Christian radio in 2010. How did that come about?
JJ: We had recorded “Your Hands” and it was written at a time when I was really struggling with panic attacks and anxiety and that is what the song is really about – where is God in the midst of suffering. I was praying daily that God would take all of my anxiety and pain away. And…he didn’t [laughs]. He didn’t answer my prayers in the way I wanted him to. It was a slow process instead of just an instant healing. About a year and a half after we recorded the song a girl used “Your Hands” on her audition for the show “So You Think You Can Dance?” and a station manager in Texas watched the show, really liked our song and started playing it on his station. And then stations all over the country started to play our song. It was so unexpected but so awesome to sit back and watch the Lord move. Dave and I never thought we would have any songs on the radio because it’s just a bit different than the songs you hear on typical Christian radio and we were fine with that, knowing that we would not have any radio play. It’s really cool to see that God had a different plan and it was so obviously him orchestrating the whole thing and making it possible. i t was like God saying, “I want this song on the radio so I’m going to put it there.” so it was really fun to watch.
SCH: Since then how has your life changed?
JJ: Getting exposure on radio on the level we have has really affected our publicity and the amount of people who have heard our music and who have bought our music. It’s really unbelievable. My prayer from the beginning when Dave and I started playing music together was, “Lord we want to do this as long as you want us to do this and make it obvious if you want us to keep going or if you want us to stop.” So when we started having kids all of a sudden things got really complicated. But, because we’ve had the kind of success we’ve had just out of the blue it’s provided us the means to buy the tour bus so that we can keep our family together when we travel. I don’t think I would still be traveling and touring around if we didn’t have the tour bus, and we couldn’t have the tour bus unless our song had been on the radio and provided more income for us to buy the tour bus. It’s so cool to see how God has been so involved with this process. I always want to put my family first and I believe that if God wants us to continue in our music he’s going to make a way for us to have a healthy family and to provide for the needs of our girls and our marriage and all of that. So far he has totally exceeded my expectation and I am so thankful.
SCH: The upcoming tour is called the Deeper Heart tour. Can you tell me what that means to you and why you chose that title?
JJ: Well, it’s called the Deeper Heart tour because our album is “Deeper” and Audrey Assad just released her album “Heart,” so it’s a combination of our two album names. Hopefully the show will reflect that and be a combination of the two of us as artists. I’m so excited about it because we’ve talked about Audrey coming and playing and singing on a few of our songs and Dave and I playing and singing on a few of her songs during the set. I actually have never seen her in concert but everyone who I’ve talked to says her voice is phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to traveling around the country with her and getting to know her and singing and playing music with her.
SCH: Can you tell me a bit about your blog and other projects you like to work on?
JJ: I do have a blog but I’m feeling very sad about it at the moment because we’ve been so busy with touring and having a new baby that I have not had the time to update it much recently. I love creating, whether its writing a song or baking a new cake or brownies or decorating our house. I’m always finding ways to be creative and I love to post about those things. Actually, one creative thing I’ve done recently that combines music and crafting is my husband and I just finished a new music video that we posted today. It’s to our song “Boat Song” and we recorded it all in the dining room of our house. We found a bunch of props from around town and made our own backdrops. It’s a total DIY music video but we’re really happy with the way it turned out.
SCH: My last question is, will your March 22 concert in Santa Rosa be your most awesome concert ever?
JJ: Oh yes. I’m sure of it. How could it not be if it’s in Santa Rosa? Actually it’s kind of a momentous concert because my grandparents are going to be there and they’ve never seen me in concert before. Apparently I also have some long lost cousins who also live in Santa Rosa who I will also be meeting after the concert.
SCH: For the first time?
JJ: Yes. So it will be a very unique concert for me.
Regular Contributor, Krystle Jeffers is the Director of Worship Arts and Music at Covenant Fellowship Presbyterian and also works as an elementary school music teacher in Petaluma, CA. In her free time she enjoys working in the garden, playing with her cat, and covering JJ’s songs on her guitar. She lives with her husband and aforementioned cat in Santa Rosa, CA