(Photo courtesy of Biscuit Media Group)
Q&A: JJ Heller
By Sarah Komisky
Everyone has a favorite Christmas record. It becomes a classic, a yearly tradition, a collection of songs that is your soundtrack for the season. This year, singer JJ Heller has released her first. “Unto Us,” is a compilation of traditional carols and also some holiday originals delivered in simple, laid back fashion. I caught up with JJ recently and talked about her holiday release. We hope you enjoy it! It might even be your new holiday favorite!
This is your first full-length Christmas album. What was it like making it?
JJ: It is! I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it because usually my husband writes nearly every song on each album we record. Since this Christmas project was going to be mostly covers, I honestly didn’t think I would be as connected to the songs. I was so wrong! Even though I didn’t have a hand in writing each song, every one of them was surprisingly meaningful to me as I tracked the vocal. Because I grew up singing each of them, they all felt like they were a part of me and my story. I’ve found that my voice shines the most on tender, sentimental songs, so making a Christmas album felt like a fantastic fit.
The song, “Christmas is Here” is such a beautiful anthem of what the Christmas message truly is. Reflecting on that message, what has it meant to you?
JJ: In Nashville, winter can be a little drab. The color of the season is often brown or gray because the majority of the plant life dies, and it doesn’t snow very often. Last year a rare winter storm came through Nashville, and I remember sitting up at my desk on the second floor of my house, looking out over the rooftops in my neighborhood as the snow quietly fell. It was an uncommon and beautiful sight in this part of the country and I couldn’t help but think the snow looked like sparkling diamonds. The beginning of the song was born out of that thought, and it reminded me how thankful I am that we have a designated time of the year to pause and reflect on the beauty of the birth of Christ and how Christmas turns the world from gray to white. He has a way of making even dark, drab things beautiful.
There is a wealth of carols and songs to pick from when it comes to song selection for a Christmas record. How did you narrow down the choices for this album and why did you pick these specific songs?
JJ: It was a tricky task! First I made a list of all my favorite Christmas songs and carols, and then I figured out which ones best suited my voice. I love “Oh Holy Night,” for example, but I didn’t end up recording it because a mellow alto voice like mine just wouldn’t be a great fit.
A lot of these songs invite listeners to experience the wonder and awe of Jesus. How do you think we readers can begin to look at the season with fresh eyes?
JJ: Having children has brought a newness to Christmas that I didn’t expect. When I see the wonder in their eyes, it helps me remember how truly wonderful it is that God became a baby to come down and save us. That’s one of my favorite things about Christmas! It calls to the child in all of us and reminds us to experience magic and wonder in a way we don’t get to at any other time of year.
Last year you partnered with Angel Tree for Christmas and more recently, you have been able to donate your “I Dream of You” CDs to hospitals and families who have babies in NICU units across the country. Giving is also a part of the theme of this album so maybe you can share your thoughts on the subject?
JJ: When we hear the word “giving” and only think of financial donations, I think we’re missing out. God has gifted each one of us with a unique set of talents and abilities and I believe He is the most honored when we share those gifts with others. At Christmas I think it would be wonderful if we could all be looking for ways to bless others, whether that’s caring for children in the church nursery, helping a neighbor repair a fence or baking cookies for a friend. In my case, the Lord has given me the gift of music and I’ve heard stories over the years of my lullaby album bringing peace and healing to children and adults. Therefore, I want to do what I can to give that music to people who will hopefully experience that same blessing.
Pick up your copy of “Unto Us” here.