TSO: Tell about your background in church and how you got started in music.
Heller: I grew up going to church, and I’m so thankful to have that foundation of truth. I went to a Christian high school where my parents taught, and even though I was selected to be in a vocal ensemble all four years, I didn’t get very many solos. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I learned to play the guitar and began writing songs. I met my future husband, Dave, around that time, and we put a band together. We still had no aspirations to make a career of it, but we kept playing music, and God kept opening doors for us to continue. Here we are ten years later!
TSO: What do you hope people take away from the new album and from your concerts?
Heller: My prayer is that the Lord would use my music to help people feel less loneliness and more freedom. Music has a way of exposing our hearts, so that wounds that we would rather keep buried can find healing.
Heller: LOVED is a collection of songs about redemption, hope and the safety net of God’s love.
One of my favorite songs on the new album is “Who You Are.” The last few years have marked my community with tremendous loss, from divorces, to foreclosed homes, infertility and even the death of family members. When I experience loss, I want God to tell me why … but He doesn’t often answer these questions of mine immediately. Sometimes He answers over time, and sometimes He saves His answer until I see Him face to face. In the song, I explore the idea that whether or not He answers my questions in this lifetime, what I know for sure is who He is.
TSO: What’s typically your inspiration for songwriting?
Heller: Dave and I both keep a running log of quotes, ideas and phrases in the notes program on our phones. Because I have two little girls, it means I don’t have the luxury of writing when I feel inspired. I have to write when it fits into my schedule, and therefore, I need to keep my ideas organized. I’ve found inspiration everywhere — from sermons, children’s books and even in-flight magazines. I mostly write about issues that I’m dealing with in my own life, but if I write about someone else — for one reason or another, I’m usually able to put myself into their shoes and write from their perspective. My goal is to describe everyday concepts in a new and interesting way. It’s always a challenge to avoid being cliché.
TSO: Share some stories about how your music has impacted people.
Heller: A woman in Virginia explained to me just recently that when she heard the song, “Who You Are,” she was finally able to let go of the pain that she had been holding since her daughter passed away in 2007.
It’s been an amazing blessing to hear many stories over the years of people who changed their mind about attempting suicide, because of our song “What Love Really Means.”
I also spoke to a soldier a few weeks ago at a concert who told me that he was stationed in Iraq for over a year and would listen to our music every night before bed. He said how wonderful it was to be at the concert listening to me sing without gunfire in the background. I can’t express what an honor it is to hear these stories and be a part of what God is doing in their lives.
TSO: What’s your favorite part of what you do?
Heller: It’s hard to choose a favorite, but if I had to, I’d say it’s hearing stories from listeners whose lives have been changed because of God moving through our songs. I have the privilege of hearing hundreds of first-hand accounts about how God is working in hearts and lives. It’s inspiring!
TSO: What do you feel like God has been teaching you lately?
Heller: I’m a follower by nature — so I’m always looking for someone to tell what to do or tell me I’m okay. The Lord has been teaching me that I am stronger than I think and I need to depend on Him alone.
TSO: What are your upcoming plans?
Heller: I’m thrilled to finally be singing these new songs in concert and sharing the stories behind the songs. I’m currently touring with Sanctus Real and Unspoken, and taking the summer to write new material and spend time with our family at home. After much demand, we’re working on writing material for an album full of love songs and lullabies. We never know what the future will hold, but no matter what, it’s always an adventure!
** For more info about JJ Heller and her music, please visit www.jjheller.com