God is known to work in mysterious ways, and the collaboration between two Melbourne musos to create a popping track with a Catholic message was no exception to the rule.
Alyssa Agius and Georga Byrne met six years ago. Alyssa describes how their respective bands were invited to play at an event at the Evangelium Summer School by Fr Nicholas Pearce back in 2012.
‘Georga and I knew of each other and we kept meeting at yearly Catholic events like Summer School. Then we saw each other at a group catch-up for female musos in Melbourne and we started talking, bonding over the challenges associated with being Catholic in a secular industry.’
Georga recalls a phone call she had from the Parish Priest of St Patrick’s, Ormond, asking the two to play together on Sundays. ‘He needed someone to sing at Mass and we started doing it together,’ Georga says.
‘St Patrick’s is where it all began. We had such a great connection,’ says Alyssa. ‘But it’s funny—we were both doing our secular gigs, and, as much as I kept music and faith separate at the time, I feel like every moment of my life and in everything that I had been doing, God had been preparing me for this moment.
‘I would do my gigs on weekends—weddings, corporate gigs, jazz bars, and then on Sundays I’d sing at Mass with Georga. We’d have dinner and talk afterwards. Much of what we discussed was based on helping each other with our faith, and integrating our faith into our work,’ she says.
Alyssa sings in her band Un-Limited with her husband Daniel. ‘If it wasn’t for what I do in Un-Limited, I wouldn’t know how to move on stage,’ she says. Georga sings for many different projects including her band Soul Chic.
The comradery and friendship between the pair have helped them to connect with their faith as Catholics in a world, particularly the secular music scene, where challenges arise with clashing values.
And then came their song, ‘Set Fire’. It was produced by renowned music producer Luke Batterbury, who has previously worked with Aussie music legend Darryl Braithwaite, and other luminaries of the Australian music landscape like Tania Doko from Bachelor Girl and Jason Singh from Taxiride.
‘Luke told us we needed to create music that people are drawn to. Inspired by the pop music of today, his motivation was to create a track with the same elements that would bring people to God,’ says Alyssa.
The tune, they explain, is designed to appeal to the mainstream music listener’s palate, yet is inspired by the words of St Catherine of Siena: ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!’
Alyssa and Georga acknowledge a gap in the Catholic world for Catholic pop music. ‘There needs to be more pop music and more women in the Catholic music scene, so I feel like we’ve really hit a niche,’ Alyssa reflects.
‘If you’re young and you want to listen to “cool” music, you don’t have too many options. If we’re realistic, most of the pop songs these days involve negative themes like drugs and cheating,’ says Georga. ‘There are some good ones, but a lot of pop songs don’t have great values. That inspired us to write pop songs with good values that young people can listen to and be encouraged by.’
The duo empathises with the youth of today and the issues that arise from being Catholic in a secular society. ‘To be young and Catholic is really hard. And sometimes Catholics live in this bubble, like we can’t be exposed to anything that’s in pop culture,’ Alyssa says.
‘In the world but not of the world is the bible phrase that comes to mind. We hoped that our music, songs like “Set Fire”, would share a message of love and hope. We’re currently working on more songs with the same goal,’ Georga adds.
Playing in the secular scene for anyone with strong Catholic values is a challenging feat, one which applies to this musical duo.
‘There’s a lot to deal with in the music scene. Things like substance abuse. But we’re both really lucky in that we have our faith to get us through these things. Something I’ve been doing a lot more recently is turning to prayer before a gig and saying, “God, how can I bring you into this place tonight?”’ says Alyssa.
With the release of ‘Set Fire’ in January this year, the pair have gone from strength to strength in their faith journeys. ‘Our lives are more open and our faith is more central,’ says Georga.
‘I’ve never felt more on fire about my faith than I do at this point in my life,’ says Alyssa. ‘I’ve never been prouder to be a Catholic and so passionate and so excited about this new venture. I’ve seen such a change in us both and really feel like we’re not just Sunday Catholics anymore.’
Melissa Parkinson is a Digital Content Producer of Melbourne Catholic. She’s a storyteller who enjoys capturing the beauty of the human spirit.