Growing up in a musical home is a common story for many would-be artists. For Julianna Zobrist, her house was filled with such playlists from the late Michael Jackson to classic symphonic favorites. As diverse as her family’s tastes in music, so was her upbringing—as young Julianna enjoyed a wide range of interests from reading through her father’s pre-med text books (he later went to on seminary and became a preacher), to writing poetry, and diving into the worlds of fashion.
Ultimately, it was music that won-out, and as she made the trek from Midwest farm girl to big-city college co-ed, little did she know that living diversified would end up paying huge dividends. Since 2006, in what most would deem a whirlwind-kind-of-world, she launched her solo singing-songwriting career, married Major League Baseball star Ben Zobrist (2015 World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals, now playing for the Chicago Cubs), and has become a mother to three children.
Juggling isn’t a talent Zobrist claims on her one-sheet, rather, she welcomes life’s challenges while simultaneously looking to the Savior as the source—her sole need in a life complete with repetitions of diapers, airports, rehearsals, baseball games, and hotels. In fact, as she was planning to release her first LP Shatterproof (buy) last spring, God was preparing baby Zobrist #3—but, “rolling with it” is the norm for this family on the move, as the album’s birth was moved to July 1, 2016 while the first two singles saw Billboard chart exposure.
Adding “album release” to the list of ongoing events in her life (remember, we’re in the throes of baseball season!), we jumped at the first chance to chat with Zobrist and learn more on how this up-and-coming singer-songwriter-wife-and-mother-of-three relies on her heavenly source, and why she translates her experiences into her indestructible message aimed for young women.
CCM Magazine: What was the experience of moving to Nashville, TN—“Music City, U.S.A.”—like for you?
Julianna Zobrist: I remember very well the little-fish-in-a-big-pond feeling. Attending Belmont University, it really took no time at all for me to realize I was NOT the best singer or songwriter that had ever lived. In fact, there were many others who were much more naturally gifted than me. But one of two choices comes along with that awareness—give up, or work harder. I spent hours in the practice rooms because I enjoyed the work and the challenge.
My husband and I have always told people, “You can’t control your opportunities, but you do control what you do with them.” For me, as a mom of three, this means taking the little moments to continue to work on my craft. This is a daily decision to sit down at my piano and practice during nap-time instead of taking a nap myself, or turning on the television. I want to be prepared for the opportunities that God may put in my path.
CCM: How would you encourage inspiring artists who are thinking about a similar move, or leap?
JZ: I would advise anyone to know why they want to do what they do, and to consider their end goal. There are endless ways that music is used in this world for income and for ministry. There’s not one “right” or “wrong” goal as an artist…don’t get caught up in the lie that if you’re not on tour with a radio single, you’re not successful. For me, my idea of a successful life is having a husband that I’m still crazy about, kids and family that are unified, and working hard at my job that I love in whatever capacity I am still able to do with my family.
CCM: Tell us more about the juxtaposition of having a heart for music, but also growing up in the shadow and influence of a father who worked in medicine.
JZ: The struggle wasn’t what I desired to do, as much as it was what I had built up in my head that I “should” do. Writing music and performing were always my first love, but I battled with all of the what-if’s that come along with pursuing a creative degree. Being a musician means that your livelihood is dependent upon the opinions of other people and whether or not they connect to your music. It was a risk. And honestly, I think that was part of the draw for me.
CCM: Obviously, your current theme is “shatterproof,” and more specifically, how that applies to the qualities of women. Unpack that a little more for us.
JZ: A shatterproof woman finds her identity, her security, and her authority in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We often live in fear of what others think of us (or as moms, in fear of what other moms will think of our parenting), and we allow their approval or disapproval of us to weigh into who we are. But being shatterproof is resting in God’s approval because of what Christ did on our behalf!
A shatterproof woman is comfortable in her own skin, not incessantly comparing. A shatterproof woman is freed from expectations—the expectations other people may have of you, and the expectations you put on yourself. A shatterproof woman is liberated by LOVE to “do.” Fear and obtaining approval of others is no longer the motivator behind serving our family or sacrificing for our kids or doing good…A shatterproof woman is set free to love because she is known and loved by God.
CCM: You’ve been described as a “straight shooter” and “transparent”—are these intrinsic or learned personality traits?
JZ: Most definitely learned. I grew up very shy and, quite honestly, lived a good portion of my younger years afraid of what other people thought of me. This is why the concept of being shatterproof—knowing my security, identity, and authority are found in Christ as opposed to the approval of man—was so liberating to me. Part of my journey to becoming a “straight shooter,” as you said, is due to becoming a mom. The more kids I’ve had, the less time and energy I’ve had to be worried about what other women think of me. To live a life of fear, tiptoeing around other people—being consumed with being understood—takes a lot of energy. And I don’t have that capacity. But more importantly, I am accepted by God because of the work of His Son! What else is worth living for?!
CCM: Other than the likes of Michael Jackson, what kind of music did you grow up on and what influenced you?
JZ: Both of my parents were musicians in college, so my exposure to music was vast. We listened to everything from Mendelssohn, the Beatles, Beach Boys, Gloria Estefan, and Brooks & Dunn. In college, as I began writing my own music, I listened to and was influenced by Portishead, Imogen Heap, Suzanne Vega, and Radiohead. I was very inspired by artists that were unconventional and unique, and still am today.
CCM: Your husband Ben—total jock, or does he possess some creativity?
JZ: Total jock. He does possess some rhythm, but the look he gives me when I talk about songwriting is similar to the look I give him when he talks baseball kinetics.
CCM: We could ask a hundred questions about being “married to Major League Baseball,” please give us a little insight into your unique life!
JZ: Being an MLB wife, in a nutshell, is basically like being a secretary, travel agent, hotel manager, personal assistant, physical therapist, realtor, foundation representative, and fan liaison…on top of being a wife and mom and having your own career. We live in Nashville from November until February, and then move down to Phoenix for spring training. I find a place for us to rent for the six weeks we are in spring training, and then we pack up again to move back up to Chicago. In years past, I have always had to find a place to rent for the season as well, but we got to buy a house in Chicago—that was a game-changer, for sure!
We live in our home in Chicago during the season, and the kids and I travel with Ben throughout the season. So at least once a week, I am packing our suitcases and hopping on a Southwest flight to meet Ben in what ever city he is playing. We all get to stay in the hotel room together as a family, which is a blessing. We basically have two hours together in the morning before Ben leaves for the field, and then I try and find something fun for the kids and I to do before we go back to the hotel to take naps and then head out to the game. My kids have taken more plane and Uber rides in their childhood than most people do in a lifetime! But it’s all part of what I call our “adventure!”
The travel can be tiring, but I try and make it fun. When we get back home, we usually have people staying with us, so my assistant helps me prep the guest rooms and stock our fridge for their arrival. Zion and Kruse are homeschooled so we can keep up with our nutty schedule, but it works. It’s important for us to keep it all in perspective…we do the planes and taxis and travel to keep the family together.
CCM: What was the one thing you learned the most about recording Shatterproof?
JZ: I learned so much about God’s love for me during this project. I strive and fail and try again—and get prideful and fail and repent, and around and around I go on my hamster wheel of performance. But I have learned that, just as inevitable and just as consistent, is my Savior’s pursuit. He tells me He loves me over and over, and that I am His child over and over—and that He has saved me over and over. I am learning that His love for me, and His acceptance of me, is all I need.