Meet Jaci Velasquez
“This is the real me. Am I the girl that you want me to be … with flaws and fears of intimacy?” (“The Real Me”). It’s a question that Word Records artist Jaci Velasquez is asking for the first time in a nine-year career span, eight top-selling records and 23 years of life.
On Unspoken, her first English language studio album in nearly two years, (March 25 release), the platinum-selling artist knowingly took a risk and laid herself and her soul bare, offering in each song candid pictures of lessons learned through heartbreak. Over the last five years, Velasquez has weathered her parents’ separation and divorce, her own failed relationships and the daily scrutiny of living under the public’s magnifying glass.
This time around, the artist with three RIAA-certified platinum albums, six Dove Awards, a Latin Billboard Music Award, a Premio Le Nuestro Award, three Grammy nods, five Billboard Music Award nominations, 16 #1 radio hits and more than 50 magazine covers, examined her life and her faith and spoke honestly about both. Unspoken marks Velasquez’s first effort as principal songwriter for an album. She co-wrote seven of the project’s 12 songs (“The Real Me,” ”The Glass House,” “Where I Belong,” “You’re My God,” “Jesus Is,” “I’m Alive” and “You’re My Friend”).
“On this record, I’m basically taking a chance on the fact that hopefully people will accept me even if I’m not little girl Jaci anymore,” says Velasquez who stepped on stage before she was 10 and signed her first record deal at age 14.
“So many lessons that I’ve learned I’ve left unspoken, never told anybody,” Velasquez says, explaining the album’s title song written by Sen. Oran Hatch, Madeline Stone and Toby Gad. Originally crafted as a pop song, Velasquez approached the three writers for a different bent. “I asked them to make it about all the things we leave unspoken in our lives that we should’ve just told God, even though He knows our hearts already.”Lessons Learned Unspoken represents an across-the-board maturation process for Jaci Velasquez who, in addition to taking a lead songwriting role, also produced a cut (“Your Friend”). The end result was a pop record framed by the sounds of today’s Top 40 hits.
For Velasquez, the process of writing the bulk of the lyrics and melodies on Unspoken came with its fair share of challenges. Working with writers, most of whom brought no faith perspective, forced her to throw out any Christianese crutches of the past.
“I loved working with these writers because I really had to articulate what faith is and how it applies to our lives,” Velasquez says. “So you’re pretty much getting it from a normal 20-something’s perspective. I’m not a pastor or a poet. I’m just a person who knows what God means to me.”
During the songwriting process, Velasquez collaborated primarily with pop songwriter Bridget Benenate and one of Unspoken’s producers, Matthew Gerrard (Nick Carter, Bebe Mack, Plus One), who shares co-writing credits on six cuts. She also teamed up with Cindy Morgan to create the cinematic ballad "I'm Alive." Other songwriters include Madeline Stone, Sen. Oran Hatch, Toby Gad, Tom McWilliams, Freddy Pinero Jr., Javier Solis, Abel Orta, Jamba, Chris Faulk, Hunter Davis, and Dillon O'Brian.
Unspoken boasts a high-profile lineup of producers including Gerrard, Tommy Sims (Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, India Arie, Amy Grant) and Emilio Estefan (Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Ricky Martin), who brought the music track for “The Glass House” to her.
Unspoken also marks Velasquez’s foray into producing. She wrote and recorded the song “My Friend” with her band of six years.
“I really wanted to do a song with my band for this record,” Velasquez says, adding that this is the first time the band she’s toured with since age 17 has played on her record. “These guys are my best friends, so it was great to write with them, especially when the song is about us.”
But when it came time to produce the song, Velasquez took the production reins. “I really knew what sounds I wanted,” she says. “I’m never controlling about my live shows, but in my head I could hear the way I wanted this song to turn out.” Recorded primarily in Los Angeles (all but three songs), Unspoken is the fruition of months of work in the studio on weekends in between filming her first movie for 20 th Century Fox. In July 2002, she left her Nashville home and moved to LA to work on “Chasing Papi,” premiering nationwide in movie theaters in April 2003.
“I’ve always wanted to give acting a shot, so doing this movie was really a dream come true,” says Velasquez, who portrays Patricia, one of the film’s starring roles.
“With my music and now this movie, I feel like I’ve been given a platform,” she says. “More than ever, I want to use that platform to be authentic about my faith to people who may not know God and in the same way relate to and comfort people whose hearts are breaking. It goes back to these life lessons we’re all learning as we walk and hopefully grow closer to each other and our Creator.”Refinement While some expected Jaci Velasquez to take the next logical career step and record a pure pop project for her eighth album, Unspoken is rooted in her faith in God.
“I was born to sing songs about God,” Velasquez says, admitting that she did wrestle with the decision. “For some reason, my heart was never really there to do that. Everything I was writing was not about love. It was things about God.”
Her transparent exploration of life issues—mourning a relationship on “Something,” decrying the judgment of the public eye in “The Glass House” or the decision to peel off the layers in “The Real Me”—unveils mature insights into how God uses our personal heartbreaks.
“These songs wrap up into, ‘Here is what I’ve learned about my faith,’” she says. “I know it’s really easy to look toward guys, money and our families to define who we are. But walking wounded with God through these hurts has taught me that I’m a whole person on my own through Christ. He breathes life into me every day.”
On Unspoken, Velasquez gives intimate looks into a refined faith and a God who “heals us when we’re broken.”
“When my mom and dad split up, I was 19. When I was 20, they divorced. Mixed up in that, I was dealing with the loss of relationships and friendships—with a forced smile on my face because that’s what everyone expected. They were really tough times emotionally,” Velasquez says. Songs like “Jesus Is,” “Where I Belong,” “Lost Without You” and “I’m Alive” reveal a young woman who has emerged from heartbreak knowing herself better and the faith that sustains her.
To write the anthem “Jesus Is,” she took the time to list out who Christ is to her: best friend, my rock, comforter, love of my soul, the only one I can always count on.
“One day, I sat there listening to ‘Jesus Is’ and I realized I had goose bumps,” Velasquez recalls. “I actually felt God, felt His presence.”
In the laid-back-smooth ballad, “Where I Belong,” Velasquez writes about unwavering grace: “You’re always there to guide me through my mistakes/You’ve never once left my side/The way you pick me up each time my heart breaks ….”
“I feel like I know myself more, and if I know myself more, I know more about who I am in God,” she says. “If you don’t have faith, you have nothing. I think that’s why we’re all here—to serve God. Yeah, we learn lessons, but in the end the lessons we learn bring us closer to who God is and who He designed us to be.”