TGCA Social Media Editor, Brianna McClean talks to WA artist Tenielle Neda about her journey to faith and forthcoming EP, What is My Hope?

TGCA: Tell us a bit about yourself! What’s your journey with Jesus been like? When did you start making music? What does life look like for you right now?

I was born in Carnarvon and have grown up in Western Australia in various towns—Perth mainly, in my teen years and onwards.

In my twenties, I did stints in Sydney, Melbourne and Karratha—sometimes for extended periods, sometimes all at the same time! (FIFO life!).

I am about to go back to part-time work after maternity leave, where I drive Iron Ore trains.

Currently, I live in Karratha with my husband and two sons (1 and 3). I am about to go back to part-time work after maternity leave, where I drive Iron Ore trains. So a huge part of life right now, or at least for the last 3-4 years, has been a mix of mothering, train driving, writing and recording music when I can—always navigating the balance! The writing normally happens sporadically at night when the kids are in bed, or in rare moments in the day when naps coincide (if I am not napping myself!).

I have loved to sing for as long as I can remember. I started making up my own songs around 12 or 13 I think … but it wasn’t until I was given a guitar around 14 that I started more seriously writing songs. From there it’s just been a learning and growing process. Some seasons, like in Sydney, were more intense musically—lots of playing live, lots of cowriting, lots of recording. In that time I released an indie/folk/pop EP “Daylight Disguise” with Island Records/Universal Music. That was probably my most “ambitious” season of musical life. It was also the season in which my heart was being more drawn to Jesus.

I would say that I grew up as a theist. I believed God and Jesus were real and I was “spiritual”. But I certainly did not live as though I loved Jesus—whether that was ignorance or something else. I did not know what it meant or what it looked like. Then in my 20s over a period of time, through my own reading of the Bible and apologetics books, and through the love and witness of some Christian family and friends, I began to see more of who Jesus is and what it meant for my life. A lot of that time involved some painful pruning. I reached a point where I decided intellectually at least, to commit my life to “follow” Jesus, and I was certainly being drawn to him. I made an active choice to seek to love him and trust him. I began an internship at the church I was at, in Perth (after moving back from over-east where my pursuit of secular music left me entirely parched and unsatisfied—as does every idol).

All of sudden, God’s love wasn’t just an intellectual or abstract concept … I cried as I came to terms with the abundance of God’s undeserved grace and mercy and love.

I do recall a day when I sat with my pastor, describing some of the struggles in my personal life that I still grappled with, and he asked me if I believed Jesus loved me. I said I just could not believe how he could love me. My pastor opened the Bible and read to me all the passages in scripture that speak of God’s great love for us in Christ, like Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

All of sudden, God’s love wasn’t just an intellectual or abstract concept, but a real, objective, experiential, personal love that wasn’t altered or defined by how people had loved, or failed to love me, in the past. I cried as I came to terms with the abundance of God’s undeserved grace and mercy and love.

So, my coming to faith in Christ was both a long process and a moment of real heart change, that was likely the culmination of many moments. And my growth in fully grasping that love and grace is still a work in progress—for which I am daily dependent and grateful. (That’s the short version!) 

Prior to this new EP What Is My Hope? I released my first Christian EP in 2019 titled Mercy with Running Club Records. Both EPs have been funded by Kickstarter campaigns which I am inexpressibly grateful for—because it’s made releasing this music actually possible.

TGCA: What/who are your biggest influences, in terms of music?

Over the years I have listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and the like. I love a lot of random songs in different genres that might have interesting/memorable/thoughtful lyrics and melodies. Some faith-inspired artists I really love are John Van Deusen, Josh Garrels, Jon Guerra, Young Oceans, The Porters Gate, Maddison Cunningham—there’s so much great worshipful music coming out which is also really creative and exciting to me.

The more I learn about God, the more I want to express that through writing and singing.

Good books, art and films inspire me. These days, I rarely write without my Bible open. Usually, my devotional time and prayers inspire most of my songs—whether that’s from reading my Bible, some kind of devotion or prayer book, or hearing a great sermon.

I studied a diploma of theology after my internship and am fascinated by the Bible. And the more I learn about God, the more I want to express that through writing and singing. When I became a Christian, it kind of deconstructed my old worldview and built up this new one. Now I can’t help but write about life through the lens of my faith. So all my songs are—either explicitly or implicitly—shaped by my faith, because it’s the lens through which I view the world and experience all my relationships. And I do always pray that the Holy Spirit will work through me when I write music, to write songs that (again, either implicitly or explicitly) speak hope into our human experience by pointing our hearts and minds to Jesus in some way.

TGCA: What inspired your latest album, What is My Hope?

The title track comes from the first question of the New City Catechism (or Heidelberg Catechism). The themes of hope—especially resurrection hope—are prominent themes, along with salvation, God’s faithfulness and the peace of Christ. I think in general, it is the concept of our future hope that propels the EP in terms of lyrics.

Probably for a myriad of reasons, my heart in this season of writing for the EP has a particular longing for Jesus’ return—to see him face to face. Perhaps it’s the general inward struggle of life; perhaps it’s those more public displays of suffering and difficulty that leave us all asking what, or where, or in whom, is my hope? Is there hope? Do we hope in vain?

I wanted to pose the title of the EP with this question which is valid and important for every one of us. It is my prayer that the songs answer these questions by pointing to the only One in whom I have found real and secure hope.

TGCA: How would you describe the EP?

I hope it’s beautiful and interesting, thought-provoking and encouraging!

Jon Guerra produced the EP, and he and his wife Valerie played all the keys, acoustic guitar and strings. I just adore their work. I feel as though they capture and communicate emotion so beautifully—displaying something of the creativity of God in their work. I feel so humbled and overjoyed that I was able to work with them on this EP. Part of the EP was recorded down south in Bunbury with a friend, James Newhouse, where we tracked some electric guitars, drums and my main vocals. The rest Jon laid down from his place in Texas. So it was a really fun and interesting process!

I would probably describe it as singer/songwriter devotional music—“less Sunday morning worship music and more Monday morning prayer music,” to quote Jon. Another friend recently described it as “liturgical”.

TGCA: Why is music important in the Christian life? Personally, how does it intersect with your faith?

I think for me, music blurs those lines between what is “secular” and what is “sacred”. There is no divide: all of life is Christ’s. Music is a manifestation of that. My faith permeates every aspect of my thinking and feeling and relating. Along with prayer, I would say it’s been the main outlet in my life for processing thoughts and emotions.

God’s Word tells us to sing: we are told to sing when we are joyful and when we are joyless!

I believe music and art can reach people in a universal and powerful way that seems to cross cultures and divides and demographics etc. It can be so powerful in communicating beauty, truth, joy and lament. Music uniquely displays God’s character and creativity, and I see it as a gift from God to us, to share with others. God’s Word tells us to sing: we are told to sing when we are joyful and when we are joyless!

I particularly love that about the Psalms. They don’t shy away from any facet of our humanity. As Christians, music can nourish us, orient our hearts and affections towards Christ, and communicate truth to our minds as we meditate on, and memorise, the words. Music has a unique ability to unify heart, mind, soul and spirit. Through music, we love God and love one another, and ultimately strive to bring glory to God. And that is my earnest desire and prayer—to bring glory and praise to God through my music.

To listen, subscribe & follow Tenielle Neda: https://linktr.ee/tenielleneda