What was life like for you in Manila, Philippines?
Life was…a roller coaster. I spent most of my teen years and early 20s in this scary but thrilling city where a lot of opportunity, not necessarily always good opportunity, came around. I studied writing at university, started working when I was 18 and just hustled my way through.
The kind of lifestyle though that came with my jobs from doing back-end production to eventually getting to do music as a career was turbulent. It really led me down a pretty dark path, but Manila was also the place where God led me to amazing people who later on became instrumental in surrendering my life to Him after having really fallen into depression and anxiety.
How did you feel when you heard you had won the best new worship song throughout all of the Philippines?
Shocked. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that you never actually feel “ready” or “qualified” for something, you just do it, pray over it, and then take a step back. I got so excited to submit, I submitted like 5 songs, hoping one would catch Luke and the team’s ear. But the competition was highly talked about in the worship and Christian circles of Manila so I knew hundreds or thousands must have been submitting and maybe it was highly unlikely my song would be chosen.
Again though, I just try to be excellent with what I give, because ultimately, it’s about doing it unto the Lord not man, and I do it absolutely afraid. So when I got the call and learned that I had won, I just broke down, humbled by what happened, and really tried to stifle a bad cough (so sorry about that, again guys.)
How did you write ‘I Can Live Again’ and why?
Aw man, “I Can Live Again” was like the first “Christian” song that I wrote. I think the bridge came to me first after maybe two months of walking with Jesus. Trust me, when you’ve seen what I’ve seen, freedom just tastes so good.
So I started crafting the lyrics, trying not to sound too Scripture-heavy but alluding to the Gospel and the verse that was my (well, I think this is the same for every new follower) life verse, 2 Corinthians 5:17.
You probably know it. It’s about being a new creation and just feeling like it’s too good to be true to actually be given a second shot at life. But that’s the Truth. It’s like the slate is wiped clean and you get to start all over again. So that would make me...two now. I’m basically still a baby Christian.
The story of you coming to Christ is pretty mind blowing, can you tell us more about the journey you’ve been on?
What I remember most significantly is talking to my first spiritual mentor, whatever you want to call it, and her saying: “I prayed for someone who had a Road to Damascus experience.” I put it in caps because that’s literally what it is, an experience. For the people who knew me in the past, I still think they’re scratching their heads because I was the last person you would think would come to Christ. I mocked Christians, I was mean and selfish, I did all the “bad” things so to say, but deep down I was just broken and crying out for real love.
I tried so many different things, new ageism, agnosticism, just things way out in left field but as the days, months, years went by, I could feel the hole in my heart getting bigger and bigger. I did NOT want to talk about Jesus probably because I knew I would have to face a lot of my bad decisions. But one day, after a night of attempting to take my life (heavy depression at this point) I just gave up. I felt the atmosphere in my apartment change and over the next 12 hours, it was like God kept showing up and pointing things out, until that night, I got on my knees by myself in the living room and just said: “I haven’t talked to you in eight years, but I really need your help.”
Afterwards, in true fashion, I found an old Hillsong UNITED song, “All I Need Is You” and wept for hours.
Then I messaged an old pastor I knew and told him my story. He started my daily journey by texting me devotions and making me do spiritual reflections every morning and night. I quit everything for a while, and just held onto one freelance job I was doing, and committed one year to God to just get to know Him. I lost friends, I lost people, I lost opportunities but none of it mattered compared to getting to know Jesus. It was like an incubation period and it was great.
The Philippines is known for some of it’s awesome food. What is your favorite food and why?
- Is it really? Haha. Okay, yeah I mean most of the artists that come to the PH always say they love the mangos. I would say my favourite Philippine dish is sinigang, it’s like this pork in sour-y broth with veggies and you pair some patis or fish sauce with it, and it’s the most amazing thing. Have you tried Jolibee? If not you must - it’s famous Filipino fast food.
You’re a very talented young lass, does singing/songwriting just come naturally to you, or is it something you’ve had to develop/work on?
I think writing is something that comes naturally to me. Ever since I was little, I was an avid reader, I could finish like 3-4 books in one week. I’ve always loved stories and just knew one day I’d grow up and be a writer, like a writer in New York type of thing. So whether it was poems, or stories, or essays, or blogs, I just loved writing. Music only came around in my teens after my parent’s divorce as sort of an outlet. I only sung in choir but it was my instructor who told me I should really think about improving my singing so I actually took lessons with him after class.
Since I knew how to play the piano, I would just tinker around with melodies in my head but I never really finished anything. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I started taking it seriously and shortly after I joined a band, so I was writing for our albums and co-writing with my band mates. I think it’s something I had to develop, but at the end of the day, I’m all about the story and songs do a really good job of expressing those.
What has been the most challenging thing for you on your journey, and how have you overcome it?
Gosh, just really trusting God. I’m a control freak, you know? And I put the worse kind of pressure on myself. I go through so many thoughts of “this isn’t good enough” “what am I even doing?” “Am I getting too old to be doing this?” So when it comes to when and how things in my life unfold or transpire, I am always constantly having to un-clench my fists and let it go. I am still overcoming it, I don’t think you ever stop, I mean you’re in this process and God’s constantly having to rework and rewire things in your soul and mind, so it’s like this see-saw of control, surrender, control, surrender. But when I look back in hindsight at when and how things transpired, I’m just so thankful God did it in His timing and His way, because boy, I would have burned it all down on my own, if you know what I mean.
What was working on your song ‘I Can Live Again’ with Luke Munns as a Music Producer like?
Awesome. I think the minute you say, “Hillsong” or “UNITED” people just automatically look up to you and think you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Luke Munns is definitely sliced bread and jam, but what I loved was how down to earth he was, and how he really encouraged me to be open to the journey of the song, which I was on board for. I thought I would be intimidated but from the get-go, he was friendly and funny and welcoming and so it just took a load of worry off my back. I can’t even believe that was just this past January, I feel like I’ve known Luke for ages. So going through different ideas on the direction of the song and even recording vocals, I just felt at home and comfortable, I could give input and it really was a fun collaboration.
Did you learn anything significant in the breakfast mentoring session?
I wish I could have eaten more at that beautiful breakfast buffet that’s for sure, but the words I received were more than enough to get me filled. (wow, I went there) I can be very objective-oriented and I like to know I guess, what the plan is. What’s the next part of the production plan going to be, what’s the marketing plan, what’s maybe an artist plan potentially for me but during that breakfast mentoring session, I really just felt a molding of character.
Luke reminded me of why we even write and make music in the first place, it’s such a privilege to have this gift but to know as much as we want to reach people, it’s really about the one. And it’s really about worship. Not just in song, but in our lives, and how we work and how we act and speak, it’s all worship. So I was encouraged to really keep pursuing music and songwriting with a good and very necessary heartcheck. I think that breakfast aligned me again with my purpose and calling.
What was your favorite part about the recording process and why?
Luke was prank calling the hotel a bunch of times to try and get an upgraded room because his room was…dirty or smelly? I completely forgot but it was hilarious... The funniest part about it is that it worked and they did get a free upgrade with a beautiful view of the harbor and city skyline.
Jokes aside, although I was still serious about that, it was a fun moment, but my favorite part was actually getting to work with him on the song again in Australia, which completely gives away the next question, I’m so sorry. It was just one of those surreal moments of Luke and his team coming to the Phils to work on the song, and then literally a month after, I up and leave to go to Hillsong in Sydney and get to work on it more at his home in his studio.
After winning the competition, you decided to move to Australia to study at Hillsong College. What was that process like, and how has it been for you in Australia?
Just to drive the point across, I did it afraid. I don’t want to sound like one of those risk takers who just does things without thinking but I hadn’t really planned on going to Hillsong College, I actually was planning to move to the States (I’m half-American). Two things kind of really set my feet on a different path and it was one, a prophecy I had been given, and two, winning the worship song contest!
I thought to myself, maybe this really is God’s calling for me, like He actually wants me to pursue this with everything and by doing so, I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I love Manila, but I had been there for a while and didn’t feel I growing as much so a push in a totally different direction to learn more about this gift and pour myself into building and honing it was just a big move of faith.
Although it wasn’t super smooth, I struggled financially in the beginning and ended up having to work three part-time jobs for a while... to say I grew is an understatement. I have really witnessed God’s grace and favor in being able to do things I honestly would have tapped out of before if it hadn’t been for His promise. I now have coined this motto of mine to summarize my move to the ‘land down under’ and to Hillsong which I now call home and family: I came here to learn about my craft, I ended up learning more about my character.
Btw, I love Aussies, and I haven’t picked up the accent, but I use words like “chuck” and “reckon” and “keen” and “no worries” now and it’s great. I feel so cultured.
What do you dream of doing with the gifts God has given you in the future?
Honestly, I want to sound really spiritual and I will for a second and say that I’d like to write music that will glorify Him, and I want to craft beautiful songs that will just have people wrecked in hearing the truth about God and about themselves. But I think that’s a given if you really love Jesus, and I’m crazy about Him. I used to shun having a Type A personality until someone told me, you know God can use every kind of personality, even the ones that seem stubborn. I agree now, because if that stubbornness is to make Him known, and to spread His love like wildfire and to lead people home then by all means, my dream is to have a big platform where so many can hear about this Jesus.
Tangibly, it could look like a record deal with a CCM label, that could look like preaching and writing books one day and speaking across the globe, that could look like starting and building my own label or ministry. There’s no shame in dreaming of bigger, “ridiculous” things, I mean come on if anything, I think God is sometimes saying, “That’s it? Challenge me some more.” So that would be my encouragement to anyone who has the audacious dream of doing big things in a broken world for the One and for the one. Challenge God. Put your cards out in front of Him, and watch Him raise you. Pour all your heart and your soul into pursuing Him and His call on your life, take crazy faith risks, and do it afraid.