Julie Elias, who released her debut album A Wild Rose in 2012, unveils her sophomore album Love Rains Down next week, full of well known worship songs and original worship material. I had the privilege of interviewing Julie via email, as we discussed the upcoming album, what she hopes listeners will experience when hearing the familiar renditions of well known tracks and newer tracks, as well as any hopes she has of the upcoming year ahead. Check out the interview below.
1. You have released two albums so far, your 2012 debut album A Wild Rose as well as a Christmas album in 2013, Holy Night. I really enjoyed both those albums, especially songs like “In His Plan” and “Breathing Room”. Listening to this new album is no different. With a much more worshipful sound on album No. 3, your sound has changed somewhat, from a 90s style in previous albums to a more CCM/pop/worship sound. What prompted this musical shift for the production of this new album? What has stayed the same and what has changed when comparing both your 2012 and 2014 albums?
Well, first of all thank you – I am glad you have enjoyed both albums! My first album was my first foray into any kind of professional recording…I think it was as much about the experience of making the album as it was hoping for a great final project! Everything a few years ago was brand new. I was curious and wanted to try a lot of different styles, as I think is evident on my first album. In going from never having sang more than a solo song in a church service to doing full-length concerts, naturally there is going to be a lot of exploration both within my music direction and my own relationship with Christ.
Since then, I have been able to really hone in on who I want to be as an artist and really narrow down a style. Any artist – singer, musician, writer, painter, etc. – is always growing and learning and I think it’s a great feeling of success when that is conveyed through the art you are creating. One thing that I know has stayed the same is how I experience God through music. That’s still how I feel the most connected to Him and my goal of this album was to create a compilation that brings others close to Him as well.
2. For those who may not have listened to your style of music before, what can you say to convince them to listen to your music? Who in the music industry do you think you sound like- vocal and music wise (so as to give listeners a better idea of the style of music you are akin to writing, recording and performing)? For me, I reckon your music is similar to artists like Avalon, Jaci Velasquez or Rebecca St. James.
That’s great company to be in for sure, thanks! It’s always tough for me to answer this question; I listen to a LOT of music and I know those influences come through. In the pop world, I think some girls who are just rocking it are Carrie Underwood, Sara Bareilles and Kelly Clarkson…I know their tunes are in my head when I am writing and choosing songs. Jesus Culture and Bethel are phenomenal worship teams and on this album in particular, I know they influenced me a lot. And I definitely hear some glimpses of 80s rock and even some dramatic musical theatre moments, too…
3. What can you hope listeners can hear and experience when they check out your new album? If there is one take home message from listening to Love Rain Down, what would you like listeners to gain from the 12 tracks?
I want the album to be an experience in itself. Even the order of the songs on the album is meant to be a journey…it starts off with “Rooftops” which is that declaration of our faith and not being afraid to share it with the world- I love Matthew 10:27: “What I whisper in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” But as the album progresses, that confidence comes and goes, just like it does in real life. Those feelings of being so close to God then suddenly so alone and confused are real and it’s normal to feel them. But the point is those are just that: feelings. The truth is God is by our side through everything. The last song is a combined song, but ends with “Come Away,” God asking us to rest in Him and surrender, just like Jesus told the disciples “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). For me, the intimate, quiet time with God is critical and I sometimes forget how much I need it!
4. You have had quite a career so far, in both music and other endeavours. You studied musical theatre in college, and ended up in Hollywood, where you were an actress in various guest spots in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: New York, Bones, Flash Forward, Community, Parks and Recreation, Weeds and Dexter. You also appeared in several films as an extra, namely Due Date and Larry Crowne. What has God been teaching you previously during your season in Hollywood, as well as currently within the music industry, about Himself and yourself?
So many of the lessons I learned in Hollywood have been crucial to my music, especially in my ministry with teens. Nowhere do you learn about “rejection” and “beauty” more quickly than trying to be an actress in Hollywood! But both those issues are massive for students (as well as many adults) and I have a really unique perspective on both of them I wouldn’t have had if not for my time acting.
I hope and pray before every concert or session that my experiences can not only inspire young people but maybe save them some tears and heartache I had to learn the hard way. When I started Christian music, I can’t tell you how many times I felt totally unequipped and inadequate compared to other talented singers or worshippers. What is so cool is God has given me a story and testimony so unlike anyone else’s and it has been amazing to see how my so-called “shortcomings” have turned into my some of my greatest strengths!
5. The album is full of both covers and originally written melodies. What was the reasoning behind the song choices for the album? The title track, ‘Love Rain Down’, is one of my favourite songs- and for me it speaks about God reigning down His mercies and showing up in our lives when we may least expect Him to. What has the song meant to you as you were recording it? Has the song (or any other on the new album) been ministering to people on the road, and what are some of the encouraging stories you have heard from the impact of your songs (on either your debut album or your forthcoming one)?
After I recorded the song “Love Rain Down,” there was no doubt that would be the title of the album. I have had so many different seasons in my life but there is nothing better than seeing the “desert” become “forever green.” The song talks about “painting the sky with sunshine” and “washing my spirit clean” both things that are so welcome after a drab or dark period! I want the song to encourage gratitude in those who are feeling blessed but also help those in a trouble spot understand that they will be blessed again by asking for God’s cleansing rain in their lives. I cannot WAIT to get this song out there…I still get comments or emails about how “A Wild Rose” and “Breathing Room” (from my debut album) have ministered to people.
I hope the other original on this album called “I’ll Depend On You” has a huge impact as well. That song is not about the good or bad times, but the in between, that waiting period which I know for me is often the hardest. It takes a lot of faith to say, “God I don’t know what is coming, but no matter what, I will depend on you.” Truly having that attitude in your heart would take away so much fear and anxiety.
6. What has been the overall highlight of the whole process of making Love Rain Down? Were there any difficult songs to write, sing or even record, either because they were based on personal experiences of yourself or others? What has God used to speak to you more- the songs that were easiest to write or the hardest?
Overall, it felt amazing to go into this project with the new direction and style we talked about earlier. I actually produced this album, which was AMAZING because I got to put so much of me into it. I was overwhelmingly blessed to have great musicians, co-writers, engineers and a team that wanted this album to be a win for me- I still can’t really believe it and couldn’t have done it without them. Honestly the biggest challenge was writing and choosing the worship songs. I wanted this album to be more of a worship CD with an artist feel, something contemporary that would connect with teens and really inspire them to worship. You’ll notice there are some well-known worship songs on this album and originally that was not my plan at all. I know there was a little pride involved, of wanting to do a lot of my own original songs, but ultimately I prayed that this album would be effective and whatever it needed to be to really reach these students. God opened my eyes to some songs I’d never heard of- really cool answer to my prayers.
Writing a song like “I’ll Depend on You” comes a lot more naturally to me because it’s so deeply vested on a specific experience, like so many on my last album. I’ve already started writing and developing some of those ideas for a future project. Sometimes tapping into those memories or emotions is tough, but I always feel so much better after writing about them and seeing how God used them to make me stronger. I sincerely hope I can help other people to have comfort and inspiration through my music.
7. Who do you look up to in the music industry, either as a spiritual mentor, or someone you ask advice from? If anyone reading this interview is wanting to move into the music industry, what would you say to them as advice- how would you succeed in the industry with your values intact?
There are a few behind-the-scenes people who have been really instrumental (no pun intended) in mentoring me. I honestly thought “Christian” music would be void of some of the ugliness I saw in Hollywood- and it wasn’t. Amidst professional highs and successes, I have had some frustrating setbacks and difficult betrayals. I am so sad I couldn’t be a little stronger at times, I let others take away some of the joy from otherwise amazing memories. Advice from mentors has encouraged me to work hard to focus on what GOD wants for me and not be so easily swayed by others or let them determine my happiness.
I have been fortunate to meet some GREAT people and so many people have stepped up to the plate when I need specific help or a favor- loyalty is SO underrated and I am so grateful for it in my friends and mentors. I always like to mention the City Harmonic. I just think they’re great. So down to earth, really unique tunes and great musicians- they were SO nice to my band and I when I first started and their friendship over the years is something I hope I can someday emulate for a young artist!
For a new artist I would say this: know your goals, long term and short term. I spent a lot of time and energy figuring out where I wanted to focus my music on – I don’t regret it but if I had really just jumped in earlier I think I would have saved a lot of confusion and stress! Don’t try to be everything to everyone…you may be good at a lot but you won’t ever be “great” if you don’t focus on one thing. Also learn to spot the difference between “advice” and “distraction.” Everyone has an opinion but ultimately the direction of your career needs to be between you and God, and if other people seem like they are pulling you away from that, RUN!
8. Which artist in the music industry (Christian or mainstream) do you most admire currently? Which artist has influenced your music the most?
I mentioned her earlier but I think Sara Bareilles is one of the best songwriters and pop singers alive. She may not have the fame or prestige of other artists but she is critically respected and has a great fan following. She writes some depressing love songs for sure (but really, who can’t relate to that at time?) but her musicianship is insane… Her melodies are so unexpected and she always has interesting metaphors and descriptions in her lyrics. There’s a lot of cookie-cutter stuff out there and I have a lot of respect for people that take some risks. I like how you can just hear a song and know it’s her. That’s the kind of music I aspire to create, something that people hear and they just know, “Oh that’s Julie Elias!” I hope that is a little evident on this album and continues to develop in the future!!
9. Any artist that you haven’t toured with yet that you would love to tour with in the near future? Any other touring plans for the remainder of 2014?
As an indie artist, I am always busy- you have to plan sometimes 6 months out, sometimes more and that’s tough sometimes when really you just want to execute the great events you have at the time. But I’m working on a few things…I would love to get connected with a tour, especially a all-guy rock band like the City Harmonic or Big Daddy Weave for example because I think it’s awesome to have both men and women sharing from the stage. I’ve actually been developing a few projects on my own, including a teen girl’s conference. It will include a TON of music and I think some creative things that help young women connect with their faith- and stay connected!
10. Which song on Love Rain Down are you the most excited for in terms of playing it live at concerts? For me, I reckon songs like “Rooftops”, “Burning in My Soul”, “Great I Am” and “Oceans” will be great live, as well as the title track!
That is ALWAYS a factor in choosing songs for me! Since I’m not a big fish on the radio, most people are going to hear my songs LIVE for the first time, so they need to deliver! All the ones you mentioned- I have to laugh because those four are the set list I did a few weeks ago. “Burning in My Soul” is so fun live because even if people don’t know it, they catch on quickly and really get into it! “Your Love Never Fails” and “You Won’t Relent” have also gone over really well so far.
11. Has there ever been a song that you have sung in concerts that you didn’t think would have the impact that it currently does? Or has there been a song where you thought should’ve had the impact that it currently doesn’t? What has God shown you through both/either circumstance?
Okay I will be honest with you – on my first album, “Peace I Leave With You” is about losing someone you love; the imagery is literally of a funeral. That was one of the first songs I ever wrote after a really good friend of mine died young and so suddenly. It was my first time really using a scripture in a song as a specific remedy and I thought it would have caught on more. I’ve sang it often in concerts and I get great feedback and stories, but I don’t know – I think I had envisioned it having more impact than it did.
On the flip side, “I Am Yours,” which is a really pretty melody, like a music box lullaby has been a favourite. For a long time, it was my top seller iTunes and it became the one I had the most feedback on when I did it live. When we wrote it I just thought it was sweet but simple; I didn’t think it would be the favourite. At all. All these experiences have shown me that even when we think we are making wise choices, God often has different plans for us!
12. You have been in the music industry for a few years. What keeps you grounded and places things in perspective as you travel and create music? Is there any song, or Bible verse, or even famous quote that reminds you about why you do what you do and the motivation behind it all?
What keeps me the most grounded is my calling, to be honest; if I didn’t feel that this is where God wants me I probably would have quit. Every time I feel discouraged, something happens that reminds me why I am doing this. Even the other day, I was really frustrated about something and out of the blue got an email from a complete stranger talking about my music video for “Breathing Room” and how that helped her with some unresolved anger. Little things like that MATTER and I am SO appreciative when people take the time to share them. I read those comments and treasure them, because I also know God is using them to help me and they have no clue.
13. For anyone who is reading this interview and is feeling discouraged or down, either because of something in their life currently or something spoken over them, what can you say to them?
My favourite verse is Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. Don’t you see I am doing a new thing? Watch it spring up, don’t you see it? I am making a way in the wilderness, and streams in the wasteland.” God wants us to look to the future. Look back at what He’s done but don’t dwell on it- live in the present and plan for the future, always seeking to close the gap between you and God. So if you feel lost or purposeless, let God fill that space and ask Him to reveal His awesome plans for you but also to give you strength and wisdom in the meantime.
14. Is there anything else that you would like to add that hasn’t been covered in this interview yet? Any parting words, encouragements or even confronting pearls of wisdom you are willing to part with and hopefully impact the readers of this interview with?
You know those movies where the structure is all messed up? Like they will show you a random scene at the beginning of the movie and it jumps around a lot…it makes no sense until finally BAM! It all comes together. Suddenly what was confusing and borderline annoying becomes fascinating and you can’t wait to watch the movie again now that you know the ending. That is so how life is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been going through stuff that I had NO clue what the point of it was. At the time, I felt like I was wasting time. But suddenly it all makes sense and I have my answers and I see how God was orchestrating it the whole time.
If you feel like you’re in a random chapter of your life right now, it’s okay; God is writing the book of your life and He will make it all come together. But you have to trust Him; then those random chapters won’t feel like wasted time because you know in your heart that something amazing is going to come through it. No movie ends without a resolution. Remember: you are EXACTLY where He wants you and headed on a direct course for the future He has planned exclusively, lovingly and purposefully for you.
Be sure to check out Julie Elias’s new album Love Rain Down releasing August 26th. Til then, check out the music video of “Breathing Room” below, which is from Julie’s first album A Wild Rose.