Battistelli's third album, Hundred More Years, is once again filled with honest songs about what it means to be a Christian girl in an increasingly complicated modern world.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I was listening to "Free To Be," and the line "perfection is my enemy" really stuck out to me. And I wonder, are you a perfectionist?
Francesca Battistelli: I always have been, and that's something I'm working hard not to be, because it's not a very healthful trait. I mean, there's pros and cons to it. But that's the idea in that line of the song; that I'm trying to overcome this idea of perfectionism and trying to do things with excellence but not hold myself to impossible standards. You tend to not get anything done when you have do it perfectly, because we're not perfect.
Songfacts: And since you're the Artist of the Year, does that put extra pressure on you? Being that now you are - at least in the eyes of the Christian Music community - at the top.
Francesca: You know, it could. It's an incredible honor, but I try not to think about it too much or put too much pressure on myself. But you can't get away from a little bit of added, "Oh, gosh, now they're all watching, I can't mess up now." But I try not to live in that place.
Songfacts: When I think of the Dove - the Female Vocalist of the Year - I think of a diva, I think of Sandi Patty, or somebody that's like this big-voiced kind of knock-your-socks-off vocalist. I'm not saying you're not a great vocalist, but you're definitely a different kind of a singer. More of a singer/songwriter, and a different type. Is it fun for you to sort of change the perception of what it means to be the vocalist of the year?
Songfacts: The song "Free To Be" is such a great song about individuality. What stories have you heard from your fans about that song?
Francesca: You know, I've heard so many stories, and I'm trying to think of one in particular at the moment, but mostly it's just "thank you for writing a song that reminds me that I'm uniquely made. I'm free to be the person I am and not trying to be someone else." Especially young girls struggle with comparing themselves with their friends or the people they see on TV, or even artists that they look up to. And I'm grateful that I can give some sort of reminder to them that nobody's perfect, including me, including the singer that you're listening to, and just be an inspiration in that way that celebrates the person that you are, and the person that God made you to be. Because He had the unique plan for your life that's different than anyone else. So the stories are really just people responding to that idea.
Songfacts: Let's move onto the song "This is The Stuff," which, if I'm not mistaken, has a ukulele.
Francesca: It does, yeah.
Songfacts: Do you play the ukulele on it?
Francesca: Not on the record. I play it live with two of my band guys. We kind of do a ukulele trio.
Songfacts: And whose idea was that to use that? Was that Ian's (producer Ian Eskelin) idea?
Francesca: It was, yeah. And I thought it was so fun and the song kind of took a different direction when we introduced the ukulele, but we love how it turned out, and it's such a fun song.
Songfacts: I remember when REM did the song "Losing My Religion," and Peter Buck said, "When was the last time you heard a mandolin on the radio?" And I think, when was the last time you heard ukulele on a hit song on the radio? It's gotta be fun.
Francesca: It is. I think it makes the song stand out and really be recognizable, which is fun.
Songfacts: And so have you gotten pretty good at the ukulele?
Francesca: I wouldn't say I'm precision. I can sort of play that song - I haven't fiddled around much. But it's a lot like the guitar; it's just learning different voicings, because the strings, obviously, are different. But it's fun, it's just a happy little instrument.
Songfacts: When I saw you perform for the first time, it was on a tour you did with MercyMe and David Crowder in Long Beach, California. You mainly played piano. But then when I was looking on YouTube and I saw that you do some acoustic versions of your songs, I noticed that you mainly play guitar. Is there an instrument that you're more comfortable with? Is it guitar?
Francesca: It is, actually. Piano I love and I wish I was better. I try to play it just to stretch myself. But definitely the guitar is my main instrument.
Songfacts: So you would say guitar one, piano two, and ukulele a distant third?
Francesca: Yes, definitely. (laughing)
Songfacts: The other song that I really like is "It's Your Life." And I think about the line, "the world is watching you." Is that something that you try to remind yourself of, that no matter what circumstance you're in, there are people that are going to be watching to see if your behavior matches up with who you say you are?
Francesca: Definitely. It's something that I've learned sometimes the hard way. It's something that you have to consciously be aware of, and I think as someone in the limelight, it's more pronounced. But it's a good lesson for believers everywhere that we're not supposed to be one person in that church and another person ticked off behind the counter at the airport or in traffic. We're supposed to live life to honor and glorify God. And I'm no expert at it, but it's something that He's constantly reminding me of and teaching me, and I think it's something that you have to keep learning.
Songfacts: I want to go back to the song "This is The Stuff." My favorite line is the opening line, "I lost my keys to the Great Unknown." I want to ask you since you co-wrote that song with a couple of other folks, did you come up with that line?
Francesca: I can't remember. "This is The Stuff," the stuff that drives me crazy, that was our idea. And I came up with like 20 different frustrating things, and we just picked our favorites. So I honestly can't remember. But the idea of me losing my keys and my phone is very true to my life. I'm constantly having my husband call my phone because I can't find it, and then it happens to be in my purse or in my pocket - it's a very true line. Whether I actually came up with it or not, I can't remember.
Songfacts: I think that's fairly interesting. It's almost like you were coming up with a David Letterman Top Ten list to try to come up with the best ones, and then you fit those into the song.
Francesca: That's right, we did. We don't always do that, but with something like that where you're sort of listing things, it was fun to narrow it down and pick ones that made the most sense.
Songfacts: You mention how it's true to life that you lose your keys and your phone. I wonder if it's hereditary, because my wife is like that. She loses shoes, particularly. We'll be just about ready to walk out the door and she'll have no shoes on. And my daughter is the same way. So I don't know, do you come from a line of stuff losers?
Francesca: (laughing) I don't know, I think my mom is a little bit the same way. I think I probably get that from her.
Songfacts: The title track to the new album is "Hundred More Years." Was that going through your head when you were getting married, or did you try to put yourself in the place of somebody else?
Francesca: Well, it definitely is a good picture of when we got married, for sure. But I wrote the song with Diane Glover when my husband and I were pregnant and we weren't telling people yet. So the second verse about having a little girl - we had a little boy, now he's 10 months. But that was definitely in my head, too. I wanted the song to go through someone's life and talk about having your child, and so when it actually went there I was really excited. Because I didn't tell them yet that we were pregnant, I told them after. But I just wanted to see if we would go there naturally in the writing session. And we did.
I love that song. I picked it as the album title because I thought it was a unique title, and also because it was such a great picture of my life right now of learning to cherish the little moments and realize how fast life goes by. Because having a child, as you know, makes time speed up. It's like, how did six months go by so fast?
Songfacts: Wait till you graduate one from high school, like I have. (laughs)
Francesca: Oh my gosh, I can't imagine.
Songfacts: And I was where you are. I always laughed at people that said, "Oh, yeah, it goes so fast." I thought, "Right, right, right." And now with all these years behind me, I realize they were absolutely right. So believe people when they tell you that - they're telling you the truth.
Francesca: I will. Oh yeah, that's crazy.
Songfacts: There's a song on there called "Emily (It's Love)" that you wrote with Dave Barnes. Is it about a particular person, or is it sort of a composite of people you know?
Francesca: It's definitely more a composite. We wanted to write a song to girls and young women, encouraging them to know how much they're loved by God. We picked the name Emily because it had a nice ring to it. We hear about it on Twitter and Facebook, but if I'm singing the song live, I always ask if there are any Emilys in the crowd, and there's always one girl who raises her hand, and I sing it to her, and she usually freaks out. But I love the idea that it's a song that Emilys can, in particular, feel connected to, but that girls can take a hold of and say, "You know what, you're right. I am loved and I am important, and it doesn't really matter what the world does, because God says that I'm special." And it's really fun for me to know that I'm encouraging girls when I sing that song. So it's one of my favorites and it's really fun to sing it with Dave - he's on the record. And it's really fun to sing live, too.
Songfacts: You mentioned Twitter and Facebook. I noticed that there was a posting where you met Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, and you seemed a little starstruck, which kind of surprises me because usually I would think that people would have the opposite reaction, because you would be the star and they would the starstruck ones. But you still get starstruck.
Francesca: I do. I really, really do. And only with certain people. You get used to the artists that you really get to know and are your friends, and you're just like, oh yeah, they're just normal people. And I know that Jon Foreman's a normal person, but I was so starstruck. I didn't know what to say. I was like, "I got your autograph when I was in high school and blah…" I just couldn't come up with the words because he was a huge inspiration for me in Switchfoot. But it was cool, he was so gracious and so nice. But I felt like a teenager.
Songfacts: That's cool. It kind of leads me to my next question - can you think of some of the songwriters that really inspired you to do your best and really set the bar for what kind of songs you wanted to write?
Francesca: Well, Jon Foreman, for sure. Nichole Nordeman, she's still inspiring me. She's ridiculously talented with lyrics; she's always just gotten to me with her lyrics. John Mayer was a big inspiration to me as a songwriter. I think he's brilliant. Stevie Wonder. I had a vocal coach when I was 16, he was a spitting image vocally for Stevie, so he introduced me to a lot of his music and I just ate it up. And then also I have a theatre background. My parents are both Broadway musical theatre people; my dad was a conductor and mom was an actress/singer. So there was so much great musical theatre growing up that I think those composers and that music had a big impact on me - the way that I write and wanting to tell stories. I was inspired a lot by that music.
Songfacts: What's on your plate now that you've completed this album? Are you just planning to tour?
Francesca: Yeah. Summer's starting to wind down and I'm going out on tour with Jeremy Camp this fall. But I'm excited to have a week of writing in August. I'm going up to Nashville and I'm going to meet with some writers and have a real relaxed writing week. The last record, I was so busy it was hard to enjoy the process as much as I wanted to. So I'm excited for that, and we'll see what comes of it.
We spoke with Francesca on July 26, 2011. Get more at francescamusic.com.
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