Inspiring Artist Of The Week: Jon Foreman


If there’s one person on this earth whose songs have changed my life, it’s Jon Foreman. I, like many people, was first introduced to his songs through the movie, A Walk to Remember (I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy a good, sad romance flick). I was about fourteen at the time, and I developed a slight obsession with film’s feature song, Only Hope. I learned how to play it (to an effect) on the piano, and sang it at least seven times a day for a good while. I remember seeing the name “Jonathan Foreman” on the sheet music I was reading from and thinking, “This guy knows how to write a song”.



Although Only Hope made an impression on me, I never fully grasped what it was about until a few years later. I had initially assumed that it was just another boy-girl love song (albeit a really, really good one). I knew that the song was originally by a band named Switchfoot – I’d even listened to their version a few times. I’d also heard that they were a “Christian Band”, whatever that meant.

In 2007, I met my husband, Cuan. When we began dating, he mentioned Switchfoot often. By then, I’d heard a few more of their songs, but not really paid them a great deal of attention. It soon became apparent Switchfoot were Cuan’s favourite band. As such, I started checking out some more of their songs, and listening more closely.

From the very beginning of our relationship, Cuan and I had lots of intense discussions about God, faith and the Bible. I believed in God, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that Jesus died for me (or anyone else). I listened to Only Hope a LOT at that time. I let it play on repeat every chance I got, and let each word penetrate my very soul (which is fitting, considering the opening line is, “There’s a song that’s inside of my soul…”). The more I listened to it, the more I became convinced that the God this man was singing to is real, alive, present and loving. The words, “I pray to be only Yours; I know now, You’re my only hope…” resonated in the empty space in my heart, and I realised that I was not created to live this life on my own.


Of course, Cuan’s prayers and testimony were instrumental in my conversion. God used him, along with this amazing song, to lift the scales from my eyes. I am forever grateful!

When I finally accepted Jesus as my saviour, I knew I wanted to write songs like Only Hope, that could move people and communicate the love and grace of God in a real and tangible way.

Eventually I discovered that Only Hope was not the only inspired (and inspiring) song that Jon Foreman had ever written. It turns out that he has a song for pretty much every profound or difficult thing I’ve experienced. Let That Be Enough is another song that holds particular significance to me. It’s my go-to song. When I’m struggling with something, when I lose sight of the hope that I have, I listen to that song.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing Switchfoot live on two occasions – once in London, and once in Cape Town. After the Cape Town show, I was lucky enough to experience a Jon Foreman After-Show. Every few shows, Jon will meet fans in the parking lot or lobby after the gig, to share a few more songs with those who want to hear (NB: NEVER go home from a Switchfoot gig without checking Twitter first!). At the Cape Town after-show, one of my dreams came true – I got to hear Only Hope, sung straight from the mouth of it’s author.

Mali & Jon

Unable to conceal my joy at experiencing a Jon Foreman After-Show

I’ve thought long and hard about the best way to thank Jon Foreman for all that his songs have meant to me over the years. How could I possibly make him understand the extent to which his words have affected my life? Even this post seems inadequate in truly conveying the extent to which his songs have changed me, both as a person and as a songwriter. I suppose the greatest way we can thank those who have made our lives better through their art is to pray for them. In addition, let me publicly say:


Yep, that's my hand.

Yep, that’s my hand.

Top 10 Jon Foreman/Switchfoot Songs (choosing 5 was just too hard):

1. Only Hope (New Way To Be Human – Switchfoot)
2. Let That Be Enough (New Way To Be Human – Switchfoot)
3. Revenge (Oh! EP – Switchfoot; Spring EP – Jon Foreman)
4. Let Your Love Be Strong (Oh! Gravity. – Switchfoot)
5. Happy Is A Yuppie Word (Nothing Is Sound – Switchfoot)
6. The Blues (Nothing Is Sound – Switchfoot)
7. The Shadow Proves The Sunshine (Nothing Is Sound – Switchfoot)
8. Twenty-Four (The Beautiful Letdown – Switchfoot)
9. Up Against The Wall (Fiction Family Reunion; Holiday EP – Fiction Family)
10. Love Isn’t Made (Spring EP – Jon Foreman)

Has Jon Foreman’s music influenced or inspired you in some way? Have you experienced a Jon Foreman After-Show? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!


Photos courtesy of Cuan Korsten

Be Slow To Take Offence


When you choose to make a living from regularly baring your soul to complete strangers (as well as family and friends), it can be extremely difficult to swallow “constructive” criticism regarding your art. But being easily offended cannot only damage important relationships (both professional and personal), it also hurts you. If you’re one of those people who is quick to take offence, and don’t work at becoming a bit more resilient, you risk spending your life feeling worthless, victimised, unloved and misunderstood. The good news is that you control your emotions – they don’t control you.

The first thing you have to realise is that not everyone is going to love what you do. That’s just life. Don’t let it steal your joy. If you write folk music and your classic-rock-loving friend isn’t in love with your latest song, don’t let it rock your boat.

Secondly, some people really are just trying to help. When your uncle tells you that you “should” do XYZ to become more successful, appreciate the fact that he’s trying to help, even if his advice is misguided. You may even find that it’s not as misguided as you think, if you take the time to properly listen.

I don’t speak from a place of ignorance. My producer, recording engineer and band-mate also happens to be my husband. He is very honest, and has no trouble saying what he thinks, if he feels it will benefit the overall product. In the past I would routinely storm off or cry if I felt that I was being criticised as a songwriter, singer or musician. Then I would get over myself and realise that he’s not being mean – he’s trying to help me make the best album possible. The opinions of others (particularly those who have a vested interest in you for one reason or another) can be very important and helpful.

Of course, non-constructive, “I-hate-you-and-your-music-and-everything-you-stand-for”-typed comments should be dismissed without a second thought – they’re not worth your time or energy. But next time a friend, family member, creative partner or fan offers some advice – or an opinion – that you don’t immediately love, don’t let it anger you. Know who you are as a person and as an artist, and don’t let the opinions of others shake your identity. You may well find you learn something really valuable when you don’t let your emotions interfere with your ability to hear.


Photo courtesy of Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Video: Caught In The Wire

Today I thought I’d share this video of Caught In The Wire (from Atlases & Astronauts) that I recorded a couple of years ago in our old house.

If you enjoy the song/video, please share it!


Time won’t stop for anyone
It doesn’t stand and wait
For the ones who run so fast
Yet always get in late

I wanted to be an astronaut
So I could learn to fly
And dance in the moonlight
And watch the world go by, from up high

Now I’m caught in the wire
That stretches between all I am and all I could have been
And I stand in the fire
This taster of hell that says heaven was just a dream, not for me

The air is warm tonight
But somehow I feel so cold
The night is young
But I’ve never felt so old

I wish my faith was strong
Didn’t fail at times like these
When Hallelujahs
Don’t come so easily

And I’m caught in the wire
That stretches between all I am and all I could have been
And I stand in the fire
This taster of hell that says heaven was just a dream, not for me

I always try to be quick to listen and slow to speak
But I open my mouth and words come falling out
But I’ll try tomorrow, on the time I’ve borrowed
To get it right, before I lose the light

I know that You’re still here
It’s only me who walks
When the sound of my own fear
Is the loudest voice that talks

But there’s power in me yet
I’ll get up and take a stand
Against this old enemy
And I’ll wait for your hand…

To pull me out of the wire
That stretches between all I am and all I could have been
Get me out of this fire
This taster of hell that keeps heaven away from me
Away from me.

Atlases & Astronauts








Download the song from iTunes or CD Baby.

Songwriting Saturday: What’s The Story?


As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe that all songs should tell a story. One of the easiest ways to tell a beginner from a more seasoned songwriter is by looking at how much attention they’ve paid to maintaining continuity of narrative. Beginners will often spend an entire song describing scenery, rather than setting the scene as a foundation upon which to build their central story.

Fellow songwriters: don’t fall into this trap! While it can be a good way of getting into songwriting and discovering your creative voice, I encourage you to not get stuck in that stage of your creative development. If you’re not already incorporating the art of storytelling into your songs, then aim to start today!

So what do I mean by storytelling? Well, I don’t mean that all songs must be written in a past-tense, third person, once-upon-a-time kind of style. What I mean is that each song should have a central theme or message, and that everything in your song should help support and convey that message.

The kinds of songs that don’t tell a story are those that spend an entire three-and-a-half minutes (or more) talking about how the sun is shining and the sky is so blue and the sand is warm, etc. Descriptive language and scene-setting should enhance your story, not replace it. So go ahead and talk about the sky, but not to the exclusion of a central story. Imagine reading a book that was all description and no plot! You probably wouldn’t even make it through the first chapter before getting bored and giving up.

Great examples of storytelling songs:

1. YesterdayThe Beatles
2. Make BelieveJJ Heller
3. Devils and DustBruce Springsteen
4. DirtThe Collection
5. Driving with the Brakes OnDel Amitri (in fact, just about every song by Del Amitri)
6. Fountain of SorrowJackson Browne
7. A Case of YouJoni Mitchell
8. Ain’t My HomeMarc Scibilia
9. The Lighthouse’s TaleNickel Creek
10. Let That Be EnoughSwitchfoot

Each of these songs is written in such a way as to grab your attention from the very first line and hold it for the remainder of the song. Their subject is clear, and every adjective and descriptive phrase is used as a tool to drive the central story or message home.

Start listening to story-telling songs like the ones listed above, and take note of the ways in which the writers weave together a complete and cohesive narrative, all the space of a few short minutes. Next time you write a song, be clear on the story you’re trying to tell, and let everything else support that.

Do you think story-telling is an important aspect of songwriting? Is this something you’ve struggled with or would like to learn more about? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!


Photo courtesy of The Bees on Flickr

Inspiring Artist of the Week: JJ Heller


I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been told I need to write “happier” or more upbeat and commercially viable songs if I hope to be a success. I decided early on in my career that I wasn’t going to compromise my art in the hope of becoming a mainstream success – I want my songs to mean something, even if that means that they have less mass appeal. Imagine my joy when I first discovered an artist who is doing the exact same thing, and making a great success of it. That artist is JJ Heller.

I’m a firm believer that songs should tell a story. Sadly, the mainstream music industry doesn’t seem to agree with me. JJ Heller is one of a few contemporary artists I’ve discovered who understands (and has mastered) the art of story-telling through song. Listening to her music is like reading lots of little books – each story is detailed and complete, despite being an average of just three-to-four minutes long!

Credit must also go to her husband, Dave Heller, who co-writes the songs and plays guitar, as well as singing backing vocals.

An addition to their story-telling, another thing I love about the way the Hellers write is that they have an aptitude for crafting great melodies. A lot of current music is monotonous in comparison with the melodic songs of the past. JJ and Dave do not neglect this important aspect of songwriting, and seem to have a clear understanding of the concept that a great melody will enhance and support the central story of a song.

To date, JJ has released six studio albums and one EP. Her latest record, Loved was released last week, and has already been making a huge impact on its listeners (myself included). Produced by Cason Cooley and Ben Shive, the sound is quite a radical departure from her past records. This was a very brave move, and it really paid off. I love it when artists continually grow and take risks, rather than just sticking with what they know works. Loved is less “stripped” than previous albums – heavier on the drums, bass, keys and effects. Production-wise, it’s reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan‘s Afterglow album, but with a unique identity of its own. The production is tasteful and a wonderful enhancement to the songs, which are so good that they stand up all on their own, even when all the extras are stripped away (as is proven by the acoustic bonus tracks on the deluxe version of the record).

This post would not be complete if I didn’t mentioned JJ’s voice. The first time I heard her sing was in 2008, when my husband, Cuan played me her album, Only Love Remains. In this age of X-Factor and American Idol, where “power” and volume seem to be the only things that impress, it was so refreshing to hear someone singing straight from the heart. JJ’s delivery is honest, unpretentious and, quite simply, beautiful. She doesn’t give in to the temptation to use her vocal ability un-tastefully, for the sake of being “flashy”. She sings in the way which best services each song, delivering each story with beautiful sincerity. Tonally, there is something about her voice that brings a lump to my throat whenever I hear it. I would even go so far as to say that JJ’s is my favourite of all the female voices I’ve heard.

Watching JJ Heller’s career soar has given me hope – hope that there really are plenty of people out there who like music that deals with real issues, that isn’t superficial or shallow. Hope that it really is possible to be a successful independent artist, without the backing of a major label. I encourage you all to support JJ, so that she and Dave can continue doing what they do so beautifully. Now, more than ever, we need to be celebrating and investing in the artists who are creating something authentic and heartfelt.

My Top 5 JJ Heller Songs:
1. Kingdom Come
2. Loved
3. Control
4. What Love Really Means (Love Me)
5. Who You Are

Has JJ’s music inspired you in some way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Purchase Loved and other JJ Heller albums here

Visit JJ’s Official Website

Follow JJ on Twitter

Like JJ on Facebook