Meet: Jon & Valerie Guerra
Jon & Valerie Guerra exude depth & authenticity unmatched.
Unequivocally creative, true vessels of grace, we simply adore this couple.
What you see is what you get, and it is good. Real good. Meet our good friends Jon & Valerie.
- Tell us about your journey and the evolution of Praytell.
Jon has had a musical solo project for years (inventively titled "Jon Guerra"), but we wrote a handful of songs that didn't really fit his solo project. Jon's solo stuff is a bit more reflective, internal, and the Praytell material started to feel a little lighter - storytelling, singing about breakups, places, and love. We met playing music together, and we've been playing & singing together for over 10 years, so when we thought about finding a home for these songs, it made sense to start a duo project. Jon is still doing his solo project, and now we can tour, record, & play together under Praytell as well.
- What is it like creating music & songwriting as a married couple? How has God refined you in this process?
Partnering with your spouse in anything can both be incredible and present challenges. We first started writing songs together as newlyweds years ago. It was November, and we wanted to write a Christmas song. It was easy, it was fun, it was light - we weren't taking it too seriously, and we could just explore. When it gets more difficult, it's because we're putting too much pressure on a particular project. We also sometimes have different tastes and, almost always, strong opinions, so we try to let the tension work FOR us, not against us, and the songs usually land in a really good place.
Working with your spouse is a very good exercise, and we honestly wish every couple had the opportunity to do so. While you do struggle together, you also succeed together, and those experiences draw you so close. As cheesy as it is to quote one of our own songs, we truly feel like it's "better together."
- You've been living and "creating" in Chicago in a long time. Have you experienced seasons of "plentiful drought" and "bountiful harvest?"
Yes, every career has seasons, and arts careers are no different. Take cues from the weather seasons - you can't exist in bountiful harvest year-round. Even in a season that may feel more dry or wintery, if you are mindful and disciplined, those seasons can be incredibly rich. One of our favorite poets, George Herbert, has a poem about fruitfulness and seasons. He says in winter, life goes underground. It doesn't mean there is no life, it just means it's working in a hidden way. We love to point to what can be seen and measured, but often, the real success happens where and when no one can see it.
- What would you say to a creative desiring to plant roots physically/spiritually in community, or a creative who struggles with feelings of complacency remaining where they are?
Big cities have huge positives and huge negatives. Huge positives: the culture is very focused. Whether it's music, art, food, business -- people are in the city to work hard and go after something hard. That's a very inspiring energy, and you can feel it living in those cities. Huge negative: that kind of ambition can be exhausting, and you really have to work for friendship. People are also very transient. You may get close to someone and then they leave or move. That certainly happens anywhere, but it feels especially pertinent to city life, since few people see the city as a place to stay or raise a family.
With that said, the friendships you do make are very real and deep. Everyone is in a fox-hole, and as they say, fox-hole friends are forever friends...or something like that :)
We love being in Chicago, in particular. Being in a more affordable big city allows us to take creative risks we wouldn't be able to take if we were living somewhere more expensive.
Finally, the grass-is-always-greener mirage will tempt you no matter where you live, so we'd advise someone to be very skeptical when that mirage tempts them to move to seek out other opportunities. Don't always ignore that temptation, but just filter it with an extra grain of salt.
- Both of you are not only musical, but effective communicators and storytellers. Tell us about the Creative Muscle podcast and your involvement. How does this inspire both of you in your own creativity and daily life?
Speaking of friendship made in the city -- our podcast is a really fun collaboration between friends. It was a conversation over brunch a couple years ago that eventually led to The Creative Muscle. There was a period of about 2 months where we were going out to lunch with Nathan Michael almost every Sunday after church. The conversations were so helpful and rich, and we thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to collaborate on something?" It seemed like there wasn't a podcast for people focusing on creativity and all the disparate aspects. We've only been going for about a year, but we have found some good traction and interviewed some pretty inspiring folks.
It's been helpful for both of us to feel validated in some of the things we've struggled with in the creative field - kind of an "Oh, we're not alone feeling that way?" when we hear people who have been in the field longer than us talk about the tensions they experience. And also, it's so enriching to remember that ALL of us are creative, we use creativity every day - whether it's our job or not - and we can celebrate the myriad ways creativity is being used in the lives around us - in Chicago and beyond.