I couldn’t help but have the feeling of deja vu as I punched the number into my cell phone and waited for the voice of Dave Heller on the other end. About a year and a half ago I was doing the same thing, nervous out of my mind. I like to think I kept my cool a little better as I chatted with JJ Heller about her latest album, upcoming west coast tour and life in general.
SCH: Can you tell us a bit about your latest album Loved and speak to its theme and its purpose?
JJ: Sure. When we first started writing songs for Loved one of the first songs we wrote was called “Redemption.” It talks about hope and how powerful it is and how what we believe about our future determines how we live our life today. After we wrote it we realized that it would become a theme for the album. When we were writing it, it was a season in our lives where we were experiencing a lot of loss in the lives of the people that we love, and a lot of the songs were processing through that and trying to find what the Lord was teaching us through those different situations. Just opening our hearts more to learn about who he is and who we are and how we can live our lives more in tune with what he wants for us.
SCH: I have to admit, when I first previewed the album I was a little scared because I couldn’t hear Dave’s guitar. So my question is, what motivated the decision to branch out sonically and how do you feel that has been received?
JJ: Well, we want to keep growing and changing as artists. Partly to stretch ourselves and create music that doesn’t get boring and old for our listeners, and partlyjust to keep it interesting for ourselves. Dave especially was the one who wanted to explore some different sounds and minimize the guitar on the album. What’s funny is we wrote all the songs using an acoustic guitar, so they all kind of have that at the heart of them. When we play it live it translates really well even though it doesn’t sound exactly like the album. I feel it’s still the same spirit behind the songs. I think as far we can tell its been received well. We haven’t had a lot of hate mail or anything [laughs]. I’m trying to think, I don’t think I’ve heard one . . . well, I don’t know because sometimes Dave shields me from that . . . but I think from what I’ve heard people are really connecting to the songs. I think because it’s still the same heart and depth, the same lyrics, even if the production sounds a bit different.
SCH: So when you tour will it be just you and Dave?
SCH:Do you have particular favorite on the album or one you feel especially proud of? Maybe one that you feel is underrated, maybe not the one that becomes the hit but feels like a baby?
JJ: I really like the song “Who You Are.” It’s a song that I tried to write several years ago but it was to an upbeat sort of instrumental part and the rhythm was just off. It’s such a somber theme, it needed a more serious accompaniment I think. So we completely re-wrote it and I’m really happy with the way it came out. It was a lesson that I was learning and still am learning, that as I go through difficult times my tendency is to want to know why God is doing what he’s doing and why he isn’t answering my prayers the way I want him to – why he allows us to struggle and feel pain. So the song talks about how even when we don’t see the reasons why God is doing what he’s doing we can still know his character and trust who he is and that he is still at work – working to redeem all of us.
SCH: You have two young girls and I’m wondering what it looks like for you and Dave to be working on songs but have little rugrats running around. How do you do that?
JJ: Well, we have a nanny who is amazing. Our schedule is so sporadic, but if we have several days in a row at home then our nanny will come by and take care of the girls for a few hours during the day and that’s our chance to get some work done and try to write some songs. It’s funny, before we had kids we had the luxury of writing when we felt inspired. But now it’s like, “We have a spot from 2:00-3:15so let’s be creative!” It’s been a lesson in discipline for me in trying to be a hard worker, which unfortunately doesn’t come naturally to me [laughs]. I kind of need a boss to tell me what to do and in this scenario Dave is kind of my boss because he manages our career. That gets a little tricky sometimes too because you know, sometimes you don’t really want to do something. So we have to figure out when are you being the manager and when are you being my husband and how we do both and not get really upset with each other.
SCH: I follow you on Facebook and I’ve noticed lately that you have been posting that you are working on lullabies. Is there a project in the works or do you guys just have a lot of trouble sleeping?
JJ: [Laughs] Yeah, our next album is going to be lullabies. We’re going to record next month and we aim to release it on Mother’s Day next year. And we decided that since we’re making a lullabies album we could try writing a children’s story to go along with it, so we did that. We’re really excited about it, it’s something we’ve never done before. It’s this little bedtime story called The Golden Feather.
SCH: Where will you be recording?
JJ: In Nashville.
SCH: Do you have a spot you usually go there?
JJ: Well, we worked with the same producer for, I think, five albums. But for Loved we worked with two different producers. So for the lullabies we’re going to work with one of them, his name is Ben Shive. He has a studio and he’s crazy talented. He’s actually played accordion and piano on almost every single one of our albums. He’s really good at coming up with really sweet melodies and so we thought, how perfect would that be for an album of lullabies!
SCH: I was wondering if you could give us a little preview of what we can expect when you’re in Santa Rosa on November 8th.
JJ: Well, we have a lot of fun at our concerts. We usually tend to write songs that have some depth and sometimes tend to be a bit on the heavy side. We try to balance that out with humor. We have a really fun time on stage with each other and laugh a lot and tell stories about our kids and just have a really good time. It’s a pretty casual atmosphere. We like to try to almost pretend like we’re in a living room with, you know, several hundred people. Just trying to make people feel comfortable and relaxed and be able to enjoy themselves. It will be a really good time.
SCH: We had so much fun when you guys were up last year. People were just raving to me about it for weeks afterward. It was such a fun time so we’re really excited that you’re coming back!
JJ Heller performs at the Cove in Santa Rosa on November 8th at 7pm. Tickets are available now at www.itickets.com
Discover a bit of JJ Heller’s new incredible album, watch her music video for Who You Are