Indie music and radio favorite JJ Heller's professional and personal life always seems to be chronicled in her songs. With the release of her eighth studio album Sound of a Living Heart, JJ stays true to her signature style, welcoming her listeners to join her in the pursuit of a whole-hearted life. Produced by Jonny Macintosh (Third Day, Switchfoot), Sound of a Living Heart will hit stores and online outlets August 21, 2015.
Hallels: Congratulations on the release of your new album "Sound of a Living Heart." It's quite a departure from your previous lullaby album. How would describe the tone and style of this new record?
I went into the studio with the goal of making a record that you could belt out in your car with the windows rolled down. It's a new sound for me. There are lots of pop hooks and super fun beats that haven't existed in my earlier work. It's basically the closest to a pop record that I've ever made. Considering that I've recorded 8 other projects, it's been a huge transition for me.
Hallels: What would you say are the major lessons you hope listeners will grasp after they listened to this album?
The songs on this record center around three basic themes for my listeners. You are not alone. You are loved. You can live with a whole heart.
Hallels: You've got to work with producer Jonny Macintosh (Third Day, Switchfoot) on this new record. What do you think he brings to this record that you really appreciate?
Jonny works with some amazing friends (JT and Chad) from the band Paper Route. The three of them work together to create amazing sonic landscapes for lyrics and melodies to live in. These new songs have a rhythmic nature that my material has never had in the past. It was a treat to come to the studio each day and hear what the three of them cooked up, and I'm so grateful to work with such a talented crew.
Hallels: One of the songs I really love at first listen is the story-ballad "Father-Daughter Dance," which you sang as a duet with Sanctus Real's Matt Hammitt. For our readers who may not have herd it yet, tell us what's the song about? And what's the inspiration behind this song?
My husband, Dave, spends a lot of time listening to podcasts. This song was inspired by a story he heard while listening to a podcast called the TED Radio Hour. A woman named Angela Patton described how she puts on dances for fathers to connect with their daughters. A girl in the community wasn't able to attend because her father was in prison. They wrote a letter to the local sherif and asked if a dance could be put on in the correctional facility and amazingly it was allowed!
Her beautiful story moved us so much that we felt compelled to write a song about it. It's even more powerful because it's completely true! You can listen to the story here: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/25/301828303/a-father-daughter-dance-in-prison
Hallels: Can you tell us more about your single "Fully Known"?
A big theme of my record is moving past shame and isolation into a life that is whole-hearted and lived in community. I feel like a lot of us, myself included, live life bracing for impact. We often shy away from opportunities to be vulnerable because we're afraid that if we let our true self be known that we'll be hurt. The problem with doing this, as I've found, is that we can't actually thrive in these conditions but instead merely exist.
The Bible says God knows the number of hairs on our head, and if there is someone who knows each of us that intimately, then regardless of our circumstances, we have a reason to open our arms to a life well lived. It's an idea that brings hope, and people who hope in something true have the potential to change the world.
Hallels: You have been known over the years for being a stellar songwriter-singer. You have crafted so many classics now including "Your Hands" and "What Love Really Means." How would you define a good song? And what advice do you have for the new and wannabe songwriters reading this interview?
I used to think that a good song needed to be impressive, but the longer I've been writing, the more I've found that a good song actually needs to resonate with my audience. It doesn't matter how technical a guitar riff is if it doesn't move the audience to feel something. So too, my lyrics could use big and impressive words, but if they're not reaching the heart of my listener, then I think there's more work left to be done. My challenge to myself when I'm writing is to say something ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Hallels: For our readers who would like to find out more about you and your new album, where can they go?
Vist JJHeller.com for information about me :)