Interview: Francesca Battistelli on If We’re Honest

by Sam Robinson

Christian pop megastar Francesca Battistelli has just released her third studio album If We’re Honest (read my review of it here). On Good Friday, just days before this album was released, I spoke at length with Francesca about the album, hashtags, appearing on Pepsi cans and much more.

SAM: Where in the world are you today, Francesca?

FRANCESCA: We are in Waco, Texas. At Baylor University. We’re playing a youth conference later tonight.

SAM: And you’ve been touring around in support of the Son of God film. Has that been a great tour to be part of?

FRANCESCA: It was! It just ended on Sunday and it was a really fun tour. Every time I do a multi-artist tour like that it’s really fun. As artists we don’t get to see our friends very often because we’re all on different tours. It was a great and relationship-building tour, but also to see how God was using it and and how people’s lives are being touched every night, it was very cool.

SAM: We’re talking today about If We’re Honest, your third studio album, and your first in three years as well. Are you pleased with how the album has come together?

FRANCESCA: I really am! Y’know, it was a different experience to the last record and even the Christmas record. I was pregnant for both of those recording processes and we didn’t live in Nashville for either of those. We lived in Atlanta. So there was a lot of travelling, back and forth. And a little more stressful. But this record – we had just moved back to Nashville and I had the summer off since last May and I just got to go the studio three or four times a week and write, and be creative, and feel that peace and load off through that process. It was so fun. I think you can tell on the record that it’s very joyful, there’s a lot of energy and a lot of joy on the record. I’m so proud of it, so grateful for the way it turned out. It’s my favourite one yet!

SAM: That’s great. So then, did you feel like you could take more time to put this album together?

FRANCESCA: Definitely. I definitely had more time, and I took the pressure off myself. I wasn’t as worried about it. Because second records – there’s always this fear of the sophomore slump! But with this one I just thought – who cares? I’m just gonna write the songs that God gives me and then see what happens and that load was definitely off which was good.

SAM: The lead single on the album, and the first track, is Write Your Story. Do you feel like that’s what you’re doing on this record – writing your story?

FRANCESCA: Y’know, to some extent, yeah. I’m writing the songs that God has given me, and the story that he’s written for me. It’s incredible to see how God has written my story in the last six or seven years. Getting married, and having two children, and travelling all over. I really with this record wanted to say: ‘God, I want you to continue to write this story. Whatever that means. Whatever that looks like. It’s yours. You show me and I’ll go.’

SAM: This album – the deluxe edition – it’s fifteen tracks long which is quite generous in length for an album these days! Did you end up with a whole bunch of extra songs that you didn’t want to part ways with?

FRANCESCA: Pretty much! We always record a few more than we can […] So these tracks here and there. It got to the point where I couldn’t give any of them up. So my label said that we’ll release a standard edition and a deluxe edition at the same time, and we’ll just see what happens! So I was very grateful that people will be able to get all the music right away. I’m definitely telling people to buy the deluxe because it feels more of a complete set for me, because all those songs mean so much and it was really hard to choose which to put on that edition and which to leave off. There’s just some great collaborations with some great writers and we came up with more songs than we needed! Hey – that’s a good problem to have so I’ll take it!

SAM: And I’m sure your fans will take that as well! You know, you’ve had a lot of success, awards, and even some of your songs have been in movies and TV shows. I’m keen to know what keeps you grounded and keeps you going as a Christian?

FRANCESCA: My family. We have a toddler and a pre-schooler. My son Eli is three-and-a-half and our daughter Audrey is one-and-a-half. And they don’t know that I’m supposed to be a big deal. They just know that I’m Mommy! They need their diaper changed or breakfast made over. I’m so grateful for them. Honestly, I’m an introvert and a homebody and I’m so content to be at home cooking and hanging out with my kids, and going to the park. It’s almost like I have to remember that I have this other job, and it’s a great blessing and a wonderful thing to get to do, but my husband loves that I’m not enamoured with the job because he knows that I’m doing because the Lord has called me to it. And it’s so true. I feel like I’m at a better place with this than I’ve been in a long time, but having kids made me just want to stay home and say, ‘This is hard. This is too much,’ but The Lord has surrounded us with incredible people on our team and brought about the right partners to help God do his job and do it with our family. That’s an incredible blessing because – if I had to leave them at home every time I went out I don’t think I could do it! I get to take them with us and that’s been a big blessing.

SAM: With this album, If We’re Honest, is there a big idea or a key message running across the whole record?

FRANCESCA: Y’know I think honesty and vulnerability. There’s a lot in this record that came from my life, and I think there’s just a deeper spiritual sense to this record. I think I’m talking about some things that I haven’t talked about before. If We’re Honest is the title track, and the theme of that song which ties in with the record is that God has called us to live lives of authenticity. I think that means that in a culture that says: ‘Crop the perfect picture of yourself, put a nice filter on it, send it out to the world and let people think that’s who you are,’ God has called us to be raw and be real. We should be able to come to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and say: ‘This is what I’m going through. This is what I’m struggling with. This is what I need prayer for, or help with.’ It’s so hard for us to do that in this culture, and I think God is really calling us to go back to that basic… He created us to live in community with each other. He created us to need each other. To be his hands and feet on this earth. So I really wrote it as a challenge to myself, to get outside of myself. To challenge me to know that the things I was saying and the things I was talking about on stage and singing, and who I was when I was offstage, it’s all the same. There wasn’t a facade being put up. I think the vulnerability on these songs shows up. So I would say honesty is the theme of the record.

SAM: Yeah, that definitely comes across as I listen to it, and I’m sure that your fans as they listen will be encouraged to be honest as well in their lives too.

FRANCESCA: I hope so! That’s the goal.

SAM: I was going to ask too – If We’re Honest is a great name, but in this day and age of Twitter where you can’t use punctuation in hashtags… You’ve probably noticed that the hashtag reads #IfWereHonest / ‘If Were Honest’. Have you been disappointed by that?

FRANCESCA: Oh it drives me crazy. I was an English major, so I can’t even tell you! [Laughs] But I just have to look away…

SAM: You’ll probably find the hashtag #IfWe once the album drops, just because Twitter users put the apostrophe in!

FRANCESCA: Exactly! So funny.

SAM: Now I’m in Australia and I received a press release about you saying that in 2013 there were three million Diet Pepsi cans made with your face on it. Now we didn’t get any of those here in Australia, so what can you tell me about that?

FRANCESCA: [Laughs] That was really neat! We have dear friends who run a Pepsi distribution/bottling centre – whatever you call it – in Illinois. They love Christian music, they love The Lord, and they wanted to use their platform which is Pepsi to get the message out there and to do something. And honestly, it was an uphill battle for them fighting with even people within their own company and the main Pepsi company. What they felt so strongly is that it was just something they wanted to do. So I was on a Diet Pepsi can, TobyMac was on Mountain Dew, Matt Maher was on Dr. Pepper, and Matthew West was on Pepsi. It was really cool and so surreal. We still have a tonne of them in our garage, and so my husband who loves Dr. Pepper will say ‘I’m gonna go get a Matt Maher!’ [Laughs] It’s just so funny everytime I see it. That’s my face on a Pepsi can! So surreal but really neat. Something I never thought I’d be able to say.

SAM: Yeah, something to tick off the bucket list! Now back to the album, one of the highlights for me is the song Run to Jesus. How important is it to you that you’re boldly sharing the hope of Jesus in your music?

FRANCESCA: So important. Y’know I think the way I’ve written songs in the last six or seven years has grown and changed. My roots as a worship leader and wanting to just write worship music is showing and peeking through on this record which I love, because that’s my heart. Run to Jesus in particular is the song of hope. It’s the song of: no matter where you’re at in your life, good or bad, you might feel like at the end of yourself but always run to Jesus! Always run to him first. The world will tell us to run to everywhere but him. But he is our only hope. I love that song. And it spoke to you, so that’s great!

SAM: Yeah. And are you considering that message perhaps going to a secular audience – because there is a Christian and secular audience crossover with your fans… Do you see there’s a way of reaching out to them?

FRANCESCA: I hope so. I thought a lot with the first record that there were a couple of songs on that album that seemed to be… they were on a lot of movies and TV shows and were very friendly for that world. I heard several stories of people who said ‘I wasn’t a Christian… I didn’t know who you were but I heard your song on a TV show and it prompted me to find out who you were and buy your record and it helped me meet Christ!’ I think knowing that’s happened before I think with this record it could happen even more. So I would love to see that happen and who knows how God is going to use these songs? But I hope that does happen!

SAM: Now another wonderful track is Giants Fall. It’s very upbeat and poppy, but what’s the story behind it?

FRANCESCA: Yeah well there’s actually a great story. Last Summer I got an email from a girl named Mallory who is fourteen now but when she was eleven she started an organisation called Project Yesu, after she took a trip to Uganda. Her heart was just broken for the children there, and she started this organisation. Over the last two-and-a-half years they’ve raised over $20,000 for kids in Uganda and they’ve started a sponsorship programme to send kids to school. She’s doing amazing things and she’s not even in high school yet. Her email to me – I’ll never forget the opening line that it said: ‘People have told me that I’m crazy for writing to you, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years it’s that God is able to do more than I could ever imagine if I were just to step out in faith.’

That spoke to me and convicted my heart. This fourteen year-old girl has more faith in her pinky finger than I do. I was so moved by it. Her email was asking me to come sing at an event she was doing to benefit Project Yesu and I think she was pretty shocked when we wrote back right away and said we’d be there. But a couple of days later after I got the email, I was writing with two friends of mine for the album who asked ‘What do you want to write today, Franny? What’s on your heart?’ And I said ‘This girl Mallory is on my heart. She so encouraged me and challenged me, and I want to write a song for her.’ So we started talking about the heroes of the Bible, were not heroes that you would think of today. So many of them were young, so many were underdogs, and it’s so easy to look at our situation in life, our time or our talents or resources, even our faith, seeing what we’re holding in our hand and say ‘God this is small, what can we possibly do with something so small?’ But God was able to take one tiny little stone in the hand of David who was submitted to him and believed that he could do anything, and God used it to defeat a whole nation! That song really was inspired by Mallory, I wrote it for her, but I wrote it for anyone who needs to be reminded that God can do so much with a heart that is just offered to him. The cool part of the story is that we got to sing the song – she had no idea I wrote a song for her – and when we finally went to that benefit and sang for her, the last thing we did was sing that song. She was crying, and I was crying…

SAM: That would have been such a moment – to think that song’s written about you!

FRANCESCA: Yeah! It was cool. We’ve stayed in touch and got to see her a bunch and I’m excited to see what God’s gonna do with her.

SAM: Now with the album, were there any funny moments that happened in the recording process?

FRANCESCA: Oh that’s a great question! Oh man… always! My producer Ian Eskelin, he’s done all my records, so for the past seven years we’ve been working together. He’s just so ridiculous, so funny, he’s so goofy but has such a heart. He’s so good at what he does that there’s times when you think: ‘Is he even paying attention?’ and then he comes out with something brilliant. He’s a hoot. I can’t think of on particular funny thing but pretty much – it’s a laughfest in studio. The way I like it. I can’t take myself too seriously so we have a really good time.

SAM: That would make for a very relaxed studio space.

FRANCESCA: Definitely, yeah.

SAM: I want to ask about one more track on the deluxe record, Keeping Score, it’s a song of comfort with a great arrangement. What can you tell me about it?

FRANCESCA: Man, I wrote Keeping Score about three years ago with my friend Ben Glover who I’ve written a lot with. And I wrote that… I love the way that track turned out too, it’s so fun and so different. But I wrote that song for a friend of mine who doesn’t even know that I wrote it! She was going through a hard time in her marriage three years ago and I wrote it for the husband in the relationship because he had said some things to her that were very hard to confess and very broken about it. I knew that she could see in his eyes that he felt like a failure and.. ‘How could God love him? How could my wife love me? How could anything good come from this?’ I told Ben that I just wanted to write a song to encourage him. God doesn’t keep score the way we do. We think: you did this wrong, you did that wrong… God doesn’t do that. And he doesn’t want us to do that. I just wanted to write a song to encourage him. What’s neat is that three years later their marriage is strong, everything is restored, and God has done incredible things through them. I want that to be a song of encouragement, that no matter how far you’ve run from Jesus he doesn’t keep a tally. He loves you and wants you to come back home.

SAM: Now last question for you, the album is here, what’s the plan for the rest of the year?

FRANCESCA: Well it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks. Doing promo for the record. Summer is always a little bit different for us because we don’t do a lot of touring in the summer. But we will do a few festivals and stuff like that. We’re gearing up for our big fall headline tour, the If We’re Honest tour. Still finalising what it will look like but I’m really excited about that. Getting to share this music with the amazing folk that come out for the shows. We started a Christmas tour last year that we’re going to continue this year and I’m excited about that as well. Then next spring I’m sure there’ll be much going on. I’m looking forward to a fun year and keeping busy!

SAM: Well congratulations on this new album – it’s so good that people will get to hear it soon. And happy Easter to you as well!

FRANCESCA: Oh thank you – you too! 

If We’re Honest by Francesca Battistelli is out now on iTunes. For more interviews, follow Reel Gospel on Facebook and Twitter.

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