On April 29th, JJ Heller is poised to release her first children's book "The Golden Feather" and its accompanying album "I Dream of You." Heller first made her splash on the Christian music chart with her 2009 single "Your Hands." This is followed by the single "What Love Really Means" which peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Singles chart. In 2011 she released her "Deeper" album, which is a collection of acoustic songs, which were put aside to allow her to release the more pop-oriented "When I'm with You." "When I'm With You" was later covered by Jennifer Love Hewitt's character "Riley Parks" on Season 2 Episode 6 of "The Client List" entitled "Unanswered Prayers". We are honored to be able to catch up with JJ Heller for this exclusive Hallels' interview:
Hallels: Thank you so much for this interview. Congratulations on the release of your children's book "The Golden Feather" and your new lullaby album "I Dream of You." What inspired you to focus on children with these two projects?
"I Dream of You" was actually a response to my listeners. My fans often mentioned they would play my songs for their kids at bedtime. My past six records included a song or two for my children already, and many fans began asking when I'd combine all my lullabies onto one record. I didn't have enough material for an entire album, so last year my husband, Dave, and I began writing more songs for the project.
The idea for The Golden Feather book came to my husband. After we began writing the new lullabies, he suggested that we create a bedtime story to go along with it. We were on and airplane, and didn't have any paper, so I wrote a few lines of the poem on an advertisement on the in-flight magazine. That poem eventually became the book.
The closing lines of The Golden Feather are a mother's words of comfort to her child. She says, "When I'm asleep tonight, my Love, I'll dream of you." Dave and I knew that we needed to turn that idea into a song, and it eventually became the title track for the new record. I love that the record informed the book, and in turn the book informed the record..
Hallels: What's "The Golden Feather" about?
I have two little girls, and I wanted to write a book they would love to read (and that I wouldn't get tired of). The story begins with a girl making her way through her bedtime routine. Every night her mother asks her, "what will you dream?" The rest of the book is the little girl's answer. It's a sweet story about discovery, friendship and love.
After reading children's books for the past five years, Dave and I had a lot of opportunity to discover what resonates with our family, and what doesn't. Sometimes a bedtime story is really satisfying for the parent, but doesn't feed the child's imagination. Other times, the kids really love the book, but the parents are left feeling bored or annoyed. We wanted The Golden Feather to be a combination of all of our favorite children's books, so we kept it short, and gave it a consistent cadence to make it easy to read. Our illustrator, Luke Flowers, did a fantastic job creating a vibrant world for the characters to live in. We even asked Luke to hide cute little bunnies in the environment of every illustration. Kids (and grown ups) love searching for the hidden bunnies, and the hunt creates yet another element of engagement that draws the readers back to the book again and again.
Hallels: What kind of values or morals are you trying to communicate to children (and parents) through these two projects?
Both projects are communicating the value of the parents' love for their children. We live in a very busy world, and with the prevalence of smart phones constantly vying for our attention, it's easy for our kids to get lost in the shuffle. In addition to this, even when we ARE intentional about communicating love and truth to our kids throughout the course of the day, our little ones are often way too fidgety to soak in what we say. Being the resourceful (i.e. sneaky) parents that we are, Dave and I decided to communicate those important messages through song. That way our girls can hear words of wisdom and encouragement when their hearts are quiet, still and open right before falling asleep. This record is our chance to tell our children how much we believe in them. We hope I Dream of You and The Golden Feather give parents another opportunity to make their kids feel special at bedtime.
In addition, I feel like there is a little child in every adult. I love how a song that we wrote intentionally for our children has brought peace to soldiers fighting overseas, or mothers searching for peace in the chaos of their home life. We hope the record is a vehicle for comfort in the lives of listeners of all ages.
Hallels: Of all the lullaby albums out there, what makes "I Dream of You" unique?
Our perspective when we created this project was essentially to write things that felt true to us. While the original intent was to write for our children, many of these songs have been used in other contexts. It warms my heart to know that songs on this record have already been used for bedtimes, weddings, funerals and soundtracks for laboring moms. All the tracks (besides one Tom Waits cover) are original, and we purposefully steered away from the sound of typical nursery rhymes in order to appeal to listeners of all ages.
In addition, we paid special attention to the order of the songs. The opening three tracks are a bit upbeat and lively, but as you work your way closer to the end of the record the songs grow more peaceful, dreamy and lilting.
Hallels: Speaking about children, can you tell us about your own children and family?
We have two little girls. Lucy is five, and she loves to talk and talk (and talk). Nora is two and she loves to eat and eat (and eat). They play very nicely together most of the time, but they definitely have their moments. Motherhood is one of the great joys in my life.
Hallels: If our readers would like to purchase your projects or find out more about you, where can they go?
jjheller.com is the best place to go. In addition to my web store, concert dates, and bio, you can find links to my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube profiles.