Interview with Roma Waterman

Singer-songwriter Roma Waterman has one of those voices that begs comparisons.
Sometimes, she exhibits the brittle smoky feel of Leigh Nash (Sixpence None the Richer), and other times the tender melancholy of Norah Jones.
Being in such good vocal company is impressive in itself, but Waterman is simply a remarkable and individual performer.
As a singer barely out of her teens, she gained an unusual break sharing the stage with Grammy award winners dc Talk, as well as touring with the Newsboys, David Meece, Kenny Marks, and Margaret Becker.
Since then she has made four solo albums, recorded sessions with Vanessa Amorosi, Marina Prior, Julie Anthony, Debra Byrne and Jon Stevens, and performed on national and international TV shows.
When she’s not conducting vocal master classes and workshops, Roma Waterman concentrates her energies on writing, performing and recording the definitive versions of her songs.
Roma tells her story to Australian radio producer and publicist, Wes Jay
My first contact with the Christian music scene was standing at the back of a David Meece concert when I was 17. As I watched him play I knew that’s what I wanted to do despite feeling it would never happen. Christian music was very different in those days and not very popular in Australia.
Then, as I stood there, I heard God speak to me really clearly for the first time in my life. He said that one day I would do what David Meece was doing and that I would work with him.
About two years later, I recorded and sent out a demo which resulted in a call from Word Australia with an offer to record an album. Six months after it was released, there was another phone call and this time I was being asked to consider touring with David Meece.
Not only was this confirmation that I’d heard God and was doing what he wanted, but it was the best introduction I could have had to the Christian music scene.
The David Meece tour was one of the best I’ve done to this day. As I watched him play the same show for two weeks, I was almost moved to tears when he would totally change what he was doing and follow his heart. I knew then that I wanted to reach people with what God had to say.
That was my foundation. It was not about putting on a great show or selling CDs, although they are important for conveying the message. The main thing was to be sensitive to God and to what people need.
As time went on I worked with great bands like DC Talk, Newsboys and Margaret Becker. Although they would have to be some of the best days of my life I was just living on adrenaline, constantly learning. I appeared successful and yet I was absolutely miserable. The more I worked and tried to do things the harder it became.
By 1996 I had set up a home office and was organising the Acoustic Café tour. I thought I was Wonder Woman and could put it all together by myself while at the same time being a wife, a daughter in a very large Italian family and running a house.
The phone rang every day from 7:30 am until midnight. The first night of the tour in Melbourne I was up on stage singing when I realised that I’d forgotten to practise. Rehearsing had been the last thing on my ‘to do’ list. By then, I had become so physically exhausted as well that I almost passed out and felt I had no control over my body.

This feeling became worse as the tour went on, and I began to experience panic attacks because I couldn’t control how my body was responding. Finally, I collapsed on stage during a performance in Adelaide. Back home, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which is very similar to chronic fatigue syndrome except your muscles begin to wear away. I was told it was incurable and I would have to give up being a performer.
I basically had an emotional breakdown. I was so physically exhausted that I couldn’t sing or write songs, and as a result I didn’t know who I was as a person. It’s a mistake that most performers make because we think we are our talent. For 12 months, I did nothing, but sit in church.
Then I started to become involved in the worship, and over a period of time became totally reinvigorated by God, the church, my friends and the people around me. I was really only interested in leading worship and doing whatever God wanted for me.
As I prayed one day it seemed God was saying that if I took care of his house, he would take care of mine.
I realised how much I’d always done in my own strength. I used to push and try to make things happen because I wanted to be a successful artist and performer who was liked by people. So it was a big lesson to see that the most important thing was using what I had for the Lord and pleasing Him, not making it or pleasing people.
After this, I found things that I had tried so hard to achieve previously and didn’t see happen started to fall into my lap. A publishing deal with Warner Chappell came my way which has been a doorway to the mainstream music industry. For the past five years I’ve been writing for other artists, run the Melbourne Gospel Choir, been on TV and worked with artists like Vanessa Amorosi and Julie Anthony.
God’s way is topsy-turvy. It’s about serving Him and being content with whatever comes. I’m more relaxed and love life now, because I’ m not trying to make things happen. God’s doing it. My confidence comes from God. I don’t think I’m anything special and that’s not putting myself down. I just know I’m a weak person without God’s strength.
My illness was a terrible time, but with hindsight, it has been one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I titled the album Fearless Courage because that’s what it took to finally do an album of songs that mean something to me.
My previous two albums in the 90s were great for their time and the point I was at in my life. But I made recording decisions based on songs which would be radio-friendly and this reflected my insecurity about how they would be received by the public.
This time, I wanted to do an album to please God.
I received a note from one of the younger guys in our music team saying he hoped I had the “fearless courage” to do what was really in my heart. Those two words leapt out at me as being the title for the album.
It does take guts to be who we are really meant to be. I’ve always seen myself as being a little left of centre in the Christian music scene with a slightly weird voice and song lyrics that are too poetic. But I knew it was time to stand up and be who I am. It didn’t bother me that I thought only my church would buy this album!
Fearless Courage reminded me that it is what this journey is about, and that I did have songs that are important to me. It’s been the best project I’ve ever done. When we were mixing down the album in Queensland, I cried at times because I was finally not afraid of being me.
In the song, If God, I wrote: ‘Maybe I could climb the highest mountain and maybe I could run the wildest sea, funny how you wonder if you were just a different person there’s so much more you can be.’
That’s so true in my life. I’ve often said that if I was Paul Colman I could be a better performer. We all think the other person is always doing a better job than we are doing. But in the same song I say – ‘If God was my best friend who could I dream of being then.’ That’s the truth. He is my best friend and I can be everything I dream of being.
Delightful is one of those theatrical pieces where people either screw up their faces and ask what is this about or they say it’s delightful. One of my favourite lines is – ‘You can believe what you want to believe, a rainbow is a trick of the sun. But when you decide how smart you want to be, the beauty of the colors run.’
As I wrote those words I knew that I didn’t care how the rainbow was made, I’d just enjoy it.
In my life, I didn’t care how I had got to this point, but I would just enjoy it for what it is, rather than trying to work out the best moves. That doesn’t mean I throw caution to the winds and do whatever I like, but rather be full of joy doing everything to glorify God.
When Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, he didn’t stop after saying that we might have life. ‘Abundant’ to me means your cup is running over and that’s how I want to live. Some days I don’t, but it’s not as hard as we think. The greatest revelation I’ve had is that God knows we can live an abundant life. It’s not impossible.
More Than Ice Cream is my favorite song on the album. My husband and I have a little saying which dates back to before we were married. When I ask him if he loved me he often replies ‘more than ice cream.’ We laugh because it’s so silly, but it has become our little tag.
During the time I was touring, I was away from home 10 out of 12 months, which is hard on your personal life. Then through the tough time of my illness our marriage was strained even further because I found it difficult being at home all the time and not earning anything, so it was hard financially.
One day I remembered ‘more than ice cream’ and it reminded me how we use words so that the meanings don’t have meanings any more. We can easily say we love chocolate, a movie or a car, but how often do we say it to our partner or kids.
So I wrote More Than Ice Cream and called my husband in to listen to it, as I often do with a new song.
When I had finished playing I turned around to look at him and he had tears streaming down his face. He never does that and it is the highest compliment I’ve ever received. All he said was, “that’s the best song you’ve ever written”. So it’s a really important song for me because of the walls it broke down in my life.
Poor Man’s Clothes relates back to when I was ill and began to spend more and more time reading. I picked up a book by
Rick Joyner called The Final Quest which is a dream or vision he had about the end times.
In one section of the book there is a gentleman on a journey who finally meets the Lord. But he’s very embarrassed to stand in front of God because he’s wearing such a dirty cloth. However, the Lord tells him it is the cloth of humility, and without it, he can neither see the Lord for who he is, nor be the person he was called to be.
Being curious the man looks under the cloth to find the most beautiful, shiny armour. It was so shiny he couldn’t see the Lord. He began to think he was the most amazing warrior, then suddenly realised what he was doing. He put the cloth back and the Lord said to him again to always wear it, because with the cloth of humility, he would always see things as they really are.
I cried when read that, because I knew I wanted to wear that cloth. It didn’t matter how rusty and ragged it was or that it looked like poor man’s clothes. I love the song because it’s me talking to the Lord.
This song was written in the midst of being ill and I wrote it for me because I was feeling so completely inadequate.
There was one more concert commitment which I had to keep that I didn’t want to do because I found it so exhausting to sing. But at the same time, I didn’t want to stay where I was either and I kept pushing myself to get better.
So I wrote this song the week before the concert feeling I was doing it at the Lord’s direction, but simultaneously praying that nobody would come. I was fearful of performing when I couldn’t control my body and I wanted to get better without anybody knowing I’d been ill.
Six hundred people came to the service, which was the largest number of people they’d had in three years. I didn’t know how I was going to get through it and just said to the Lord I was doing it for him and I would do my best.
I can’t really remember much about the night except it was easy and I sang this song. When I sat down thinking that was the easiest thing I’d ever done in my life I heard God saying to me, “that’s what it’s meant to be like, Roma, when you work with the Holy Spirit”. My physical and emotional healing began that night.
So I Can Be Found says, “If you should fall, I’ll be with you and if there’s a hand on your shoulder you can be sure it’s mine.
If you ever need me you can find me”. I’ve been able to find God and have no doubt will be able to for the rest of my life.
I’m doing what’s in front of me and I have absolutely no idea what’s ahead. I’m writing songs and very involved in the worship at Christian City Church, Whitehorse.
Prior to being ill, I was afraid of church and being part of a team. However, one of the major lessons I’ve learned is I can and do have more impact with what God gives me through investing in the same lives every week at my church. I’m part of a team which has meant taking a back seat sometimes and singing somebody else’s songs. That was a big change for me when all I’d known before was writing and performing my own material. But it’s not about yourself and performing. It’s about ushering in the presence of God and worship.
Darlene Zschech is my mentor and an amazing woman who has learnt to live the life of worship. She said at Hillsong 2001 that if we could find the songs heaven was singing, then we could change the world. That’s what I want to do – try to find those songs.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the business of music and when it becomes all about business, as it was for me for a while, then you can lose sight of God’s vision.
My aim now is to hear what God is saying. If we, as songwriters, could just write that in our songs instead of what we want to say then I think we’d make a big impact on the mainstream music industry. I’m already seeing that start to happen through experiences with my publishers.
Over the next 12 months I want to encourage other songwriters to listen to God and write his songs, because this is bigger than all of us. We have to leave our egos at the door.
We’ve now developed what we call the ‘Christian music industry’. If that’s the label, then let’s find what God has to say. Let’s make it about the Lord, and not about music.


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