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Between The Liner Notes

JJ Heller: The Pen of A Ready Songwriter

By Jennifer E. Jones
CBNmusic Producer

CBN.comTeach me to be humble / Call me from the grave
Show me how to walk with You upon the waves
Breathe into my spirit / Breathe into my veins
Until only love remains

These are the words of indie star JJ Heller. Her album Only Love Remains received high marks from critics including Suite 101 that wrote "[it] sparkles like a luminous gem". So how does this soft-spoken 27-year-old do it? I sat down with her and her partner and husband, Dave, to talk about working and loving together.

Jennifer E. Jones: How do you make a marriage work on top of being a professional team?

JJ Heller: I think it has a lot to do with our personalities and just the way we were born. We’re really compatible. Dave is more of a get-it-done, natural born leader type. I’m more of a follower, I guess. I don’t normally have strong opinions about things.

Jennifer: Easy going?

JJ: Yeah, easy going.

Dave Heller: At the same time, as much as I would like to get things done, JJ is the songwriter. I can try to inspire her to write the song, but I can’t start one myself. She’s the one who has to take the initiative.

JJ: We have a really unique marriage, I think. We’re generally together 24 hours a day. I don’t think there are a lot of couples like that. For us, it’s great. We love it, and it’s hard to imagine life any differently. It works for us. Maybe if we had different personalities, we’d probably drive each other crazy. And we have our moments. But it’s really fun to be able to be on stage together and have the same dream. We can understand each other.

Dave: For the most part, whether we’re in the studio or on stage or just doing chores around our home, hopefully we’re the same people in each of the situations. We might be drawing from different artistic areas, but the stage is an extension of our relationship. It’s not like we have to gear up to fake everybody out that we get along really well. It would quickly fall apart. That’s one of our goals – to be genuine in any situation. We might do that well.

Jennifer: I read that your music is influenced by musical artists Damien Rice and Patty Griffin. What is it about their music that you love so much?

JJ: I first started listening to Patty Griffin two years ago. She totally revolutionized my songwriting. Because of listening to her, I attempted to write my first story songs. One of those is a song called "Make Believe". I wrote that about a girl reuniting with her birth father after not meeting him until she was 17 years old. There’s a little bit of story in the song "Love Me". Just three little snippets of people’s lives. I think I was always intimidated to write about that. I really wanted to use pretty words -- poetic things. [I thought that] if I wrote about a story, then the words would be too mundane to fit well in a song.

Dave: The thing with Damien Rice, Patty Griffin and these other really great artists that we respect is that they’re writing about life in a very undistorted manner. It’s true and simple and plain. It’s raw emotion. That’s something that’s really inspired JJ in that sort of search to find honest lyrics.

JJ: The trick is to write about real issues that can be ordinary and write about them from a new perspective and in an unusual way that will catch people’s attention.

Jennifer: Do you do a lot of editing of your songs or does it just flow right onto the record?

Dave: JJ will write a song. We might rework it a little bit a couple days after it. Then we’ll just let it sit. As a couple more come along, we’ll start preparing them and see if, “OK, have we said this before? Is this any more valid?”

JJ: “Is this generic? Is this us?”

Dave: The good ones tend to rise to the surface. It’s a slow organic process that you can’t really formulate and force to happen. It just needs to happen as a natural progression.

Want to know more? Check JJ's Web site for video blogs and journals.

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