Pop superstar Jaci Velasquez, in her own words, has lived her entire life in a fishbowl. Touring and singing with her parents since the age of nine and going solo by the time she turned sixteen (1996) Velasquez has been under the spotlight continuously. It is a double edged sword however as I discovered in my recent conversation with her. Despite the challenges of living under a microscope Velasquez couldn't imagine herself doing anything other than her number one passion, music.
"The challenge of growing up in the music industry is I have lived in a fishbowl. I am 26 years old and I have a 'best of' record. That's really weird. I hope you gave it a good review because I gave up my childhood for it," she says with a smile.
Velasquez learned what many childhood prodigies have discovered that once you are a performer you do not get to be just a kid growing up. "(I had) to be extremely responsible at sixteen years old. I never could make the mistakes other kids got to make. Whenever I did make a mistake (she laughs) it was a big deal," she says placing special emphasis on the word big.
On the flip side the Latino beauty says, "I have a 'best of record'. I have gotten to do everything and anything every little girl ever dreams of. I have felt like Cinderella many times." She rhymes off the movie premiere and the participation in a Billy Graham crusade while still in her teens. "When I look back I feel that I have led a very charmed life," she says.
Her charmed existence however would not spare her from personal heartache and difficult times in her extended family a few years ago. At times her own health suffered significantly and she went through an Elijah like meltdown questioning where God was despite the fact she had been faithful in serving Him. It was during this time that two songs in her repertoire became very special to her, "Supernatural" and "Lay It Down". Both songs appeared on the Beauty Has Grace CD.
"Lay It Down" is a song that describes my life and everything that makes me. For so long I have been the kind of person who goes with the flow and everything is great. When I hit bumpy roads I have to learn how to totally rely on God which I am not good at. With my personality I have a need to be controlling. To just lay everything down and put it at God's feet is the hardest thing I have ever had to do," Velasquez says.
Valasquez refers to "Supernatural" as her favorite song. She vulnerably offers up that she wrote the song when she emerged from the shadows of "questioning everything". She says, "I wrote this song when I stopped questioning who God was in my life. It took me about a year to get there. Supernatural is about seeing God's face."
Beauty Has Grace marked a change in direction for Velasquez's career. She came out with a more aggressive sounding pop sound and it also represented her first major foray into songwriting. With her strong songwriting skills she once again appears to be following in the footsteps of her father David Velasquez who was acknowledged in 1970 as the recipient of a Dove Award for Most Promising Gospel Talent (now known as New Artist of the Year). The older Velasquez is critically acclaimed for his compositions.
"I have come to a point in my life (when looking back) I have done everything that everybody wanted me to do. I am twenty-six years old and my music and my success does not define me anymore. It took me a long time to get there. It's the best feeling. I write songs that I love and if nobody likes them I am fine with that. If people love (my songs) that's fine," Velasquez says.
"I love the new record (Beauty Has Grace). What's a real bummer is I don't feel enough people got to hear it. It was the best experience making it," Velasquez says. The album was produced in the UK with Martin Terefe (Coldplay, Ron Sexsmith) and Velasquez lived there while writing some of the songs and working in the studio.
You hear her come to life when she says, "Writing in England with all the Swedes, Brits and Norwegians was surreal." Not willing to let her get away with her statement, "Don't get me started on European music", I dig a little deeper. She laughs and then replies, "I love underground British bands. My favorite band right now is The Heart Strings. They are on an indie label from London. I love Swedish bands. I love K T Tunstall (a Scot). My producer (Terefe) worked on her (Tunstall's) record. She is awesome. I love the Cardigans."
Velasquez told me that The Cardigans CD Super Extra Gravity is spinning in her player at the moment. "Have you heard the new record? Oh my gosh it's the best ever," she says repeating the word ever two more times more effect. She says of the Cardigans, "The record before this (Super Extra Gravity) was amazing. I like the vulnerability in her (Nina Persson's) voice. She gets me if that makes sense. I love her songwriting, her lyrics and her melodies. Her lyrics ring true to my soul."
European influences were at the forefront of the CD Beauty Has Grace. Claes Bjorklund (A-Ha's 2005 Analogue CD) and fellow Swede Andreas Olsson doubled up on synthesizer and guitar. Crister Jansson played percussion and drums while Abel Orta was the bassist. Bjorklund and Olsson also worked on the production side of the album. Bjorklund and producer Terefe combined efforts to play on (and Terefe produced) A-ha's 2005 CD Analogue. In the past Valesquez described Beauty Has Grace as a hybrid sound that contains elements common to the music of Flaming Lips, Radiohead and Coldplay.
In describing the songs she is writing now Velasquez says, "They are getting a little more edgy now. They are getting a little more progressive production wise. They are what you call aggressive pop." She continues, "I listen to this kind of music and I love it. I like making music that I listen to.
Velasquez the singer/songwriter has also been for the past two years the owner of Apostrophe Records. The label signed Canadian Michael Cook as its first artist and then added Grande Prize. In May Apostrophe Records signed a distribution deal with LZ-7 covering the United States and Canada. The British Hip Hop artist whose music features a lot of DJ scratching and level 10 rhymes represents more of Velasquez expanding her musical horizons. Fans may remember LZ-7 as the lead vocalist for The Tribe. Throughout Europe he has a distribution deal with Survivor Records which represents DJ Kenny Mitchell and Tree63.
Velasquez says she started her own label because, "I have met so many stinking artists that are just amazing and that deserve the chance to be heard. I want to help them because they deserve it."
Fans often only get a chance to catch a glimpse of an artist who lives in the spotlight as Jaci Velasquez does. They often remain something of a mystique. As my conversation with Velasquez revealed however she is just to paraphrase Cyndi Lauper 'A girl who wants to have fun'. She hopes she doesn't come off sounding cheesy when she talks about caring about the young women who come out to her concerts. She speaks enthusiastically about reading historical biographies. She gets super excited when talking about blazing new musical trails for her career. Most of all she loves to laugh and giggle. She is a tremendously gifted young woman who has learned to enjoy life.
For more information on Jaci Velasquez please visit www.jacivelasquez.com.
Writer: Joe Montague