7th August, 2012
Roma Waterman has toured with some heavy hitters - newsboys, Jars Of Clay, Michael W Smith, dc Talk and Rebecca St James. Over the years, her songs More Than Ice Cream, I Was Carried, Wings Of Love, People Change, and Lifting Me Up have garnered extensive airplay on Christian radio in this country. But now it’s time for reinvention - a new era with Henry Seeley producing a fresh new sound for Roma. Her seventh album, Release The Sound, transitions her from a story telling singer/songwriter to a creator of artistic songs of contemporary worship. She recently spoke with broadcaster and Christian music historian WES JAY...
"(T)he new sound is more about revelation. It’s about writing songs out of a revelation that you’ve received. I think what we can be in danger of doing is writing songs that we think people want to hear, or writing songs that we think the church would sing, instead of writing out of our own personal encounters with God."
How would you describe your music?
I’ve worked as a Christian singer-songwriter for many years and I’ve loved that season of my life. But the more that I’ve developed my relationship with God, the more my heart has been drawn towards more intimate songs – songs that are about His presence and songs about being in His presence. One of the things I’ve often pondered is what songs are being sung in Heaven? What would it be like if I could be in the Throne Room and hear the songs being sung? And what would it be like to hear that and portray it on the Earth? So in some ways my new record attempts to reflect that. I’m hoping it’s the beginning of a new sound in my life."
A lot of people say they’re looking for the new sound. Some even say they’ve found one. But what do you mean when you say ‘new sound’?
" A couple of years ago, I got quite frustrated. I was bored with my own sound and I was trying to find this ethereal new sound. I met this amazing guy called Dan McCollam from the US who’s since become a mentor to me. He teaches on worship and he’s been instrumental in helping me to release this record. I asked him to explain what this new sound is. He said something really profound. He said everybody thinks the new sound is about music, a musical sound, a musical style. But actually the new sound is more about revelation. It’s about writing songs out of a revelation that you’ve received. I think what we can be in danger of doing is writing songs that we think people want to hear, or writing songs that we think the church would sing, instead of writing out of our own personal encounters with God."
To some extent, there’s hints of this throughout all your music.
"This isn’t the beginning of my journey. I Was Carried is a perfect example of that. I wrote that out of a personal revelation of knowing that I will be carried through difficult times. It’s a very simple truth, but I had a personal revelation of that. I think the reason that song worked so well and got so much attention was because of the personal revelation, rather than the artistry of the song. So, a new sound emerges out of a personal revelation.
"When Dan said that to me, I was so inspired but I also felt really released because I didn’t feel like I had to reinvent a wheel or create something no one had ever heard before. Instead, I started to ask myself, what personal revelations have I had about the Lord that I could portray in music?
"So instead of going into a studio and structuring a song around a hook, I waited until I got something spontaneous, then I’d sing that in the studio or even in a corporate setting. The song Footsteps of My Father came from that. I got the chorus for the song during a worship time in church. The revelation was that I could see God walking through the doors and the hallways of my heart, looking for the rooms he could enter into.
"So I went into my studio and worked a song around that. That’s been really special to me, but I think that it grabs my ear and it grabs other people’s ears because it’s about a personal revelation, rather than an ‘instrumentational’ change in the atmosphere."
One of the highlights on your album for me is a song you co-wrote with Dave Fitzgerald from the US. How do you write songs out of personal revelation when you’re co-writing?
"It’s really interesting to write out of the overflow of your heart when you are doing a co-write. I think it’s really important that the person you are writing with has a similar heart to you, and I certainly found that in Dave who wrote the song Hallelujah He’s Alive with me. It’s an amazing story because we had never met before. We accidentally found each other on Facebook. And it was because he posted a really silly little video of himself using his iPad as a phone. I thought it was really funny and did - as you do - a bit of a Google and found out that he was a worship leader. So I got his album and was blown away by his worship record – Hope Of Heaven. We became friends and he ended up in Australia.
"The first time we met was when we actually wrote that song. He walked into my house. I was six weeks pregnant. I’d been throwing up all morning and really didn’t want to do a song writing session. Dave and I spent about an hour chatting about our houses, and then we spent about two hours writing a song I can’t even remember. Ten minutes before he was about to leave, he said to me that he had this idea for another song. He said: 'I’ll just show it to you and when we meet again maybe we could have a go at writing it', And in 10 minutes, we had Hallelujah He’s Alive. It shocked both of us.
"It’s funny because the overflow of your heart is just natural. It’s there. There are just a lot of things that get in the way and it was like we needed all that stuff - two hours to kind of filter through, and once we’d relaxed and thought, 'great, we’ve written a song', there was this song waiting to be sung. I can just imagine Jesus standing in the room and thinking ‘can you just hurry up and get past this bit so we can write the song I really want you to write’! I can remember Dave walking away and me thinking to myself, 'how did that that happen'?"
This album has really been seven years in the making. How did it come about?
"We released No Ordinary Life more than seven years ago and I was hungering to release another album, but it just wasn’t financially viable. I actually got to the point where I felt quite lost because there were no financial means to record the next album and apart from that I had five years of desert. We’d been trying for five years to have another baby to no avail with doctors telling me that even with fertility treatment, I had a one percent chance of falling pregnant. Through all of that and trying to find a way to record an album, I got very discouraged and I did some things I never expected like yelling at God. Having to minister in that season was incredibly hard. I remember moments when I had to lead worship for large conferences and five minutes before I going on stage, finding out I’m not pregnant as I’d believed ‘in faith’ for a month. So leading worship and knowing that my prayers had not been answered, yet still give my all - that’s hard to do when you are in dark times. There were seasons when I felt I had nothing to give. Those times are amazing because God has this way of just meeting you where you are at. He has so much grace in seasons of our lives that aren’t really coming together. So this album was several years of basically me going, 'God I don’t understand'.
"We got to the beginning of 2011 with no way to record an album and very little hope of falling pregnant. It was my 40th birthday and I was getting ready for a party that I didn’t really want to have because I just don’t feel like celebrating. It’s such a terrible place to be because in reality there are lots of things you can celebrate if you focus on the right things. But I was getting ready in my bathroom and I felt like God said ‘Happy Birthday - what would you like for your birthday?’ And I said, 'do you really have to ask me that'? That’s all I said. Within a week, we had found a means to record an album. We had some very generous people help us and not only that, I fell pregnant straight after we went to book into the studio. If I’d only received one of those gifts in my life I would have been very grateful. But to have two of them happen at the same time was pretty amazing. I know that not everyone has that kind of story. I’m just glad that my story is like that. But all the songs were written before I saw my miracles. I started writing songs believing that one day I’d record them. I started to write songs knowing that God was good regardless of what was happening in my life. I think that’s the greatest revelation I had during that season. I can’t make everything right. I can’t fix things and make everything look perfect in my world.
"But at the end of the day, God is still holy. God is good. He always loves me. He always wants the best for me. I remember writing With The Angels of Heaven. I wanted to write something from the overflow of my heart, so I started to just sing at home, worshipping God and thanking Him for what He has done. I was in a dry place, and then all of a sudden ‘holy, holy, holy, worthy is the lamb that was slain’ came out. It’s one of the few songs where the whole chunk of the song came out at once, and I wanted to sing something that gave Him glory. It didn’t talk about solving my problems or giving me anything. I just wanted to sing something that would give Him the praise. It was so special that I was able to share that moment with Him in a desert time. I thank God for that now. It’s not a nice place to be, but there are some good things that come out of it."
Wes Jay is the director of Woodlands Media. He has interviewed hundreds of artists for the nationally syndicated daily radio program Behind The Music. At one time or another over the past 12 years has worked as a publicist or consultant for many of the artists, their record companies or their distributors.