Verses is a three piece Electro-pop worship group, originally from Newcastle, Australia, that tour the United States leading worship at churches and playing at Christian music festivals. Comprised of brothers Luke and Joel O’Dea, and Luke’s wife Jess Clayton O’Dea, the trio were involved in a Corps plant for many years before making the move to the U.S.A. In doing some research for the interview with them I went to their website and looked at the “about” page. At the top of the page, in big lettering, is the word Jesus. It is clear after talking with them that Jesus is really what it is all about for these three. They have created their music in a genre that The Salvation Army is not traditionally part of, but that there is a lot of room through which to reach people for Christ. These three young “Salvos” (Australian slang for Salvationists) are passionate about others knowing God and about sharing His love through their music.
SAWM: How did you start out in music?
Jess: Mainly my music journey has been through worship leading in church from when I was very young. It branched into cover bands a little but it has been mainly in the church.
Luke: I guess for Joel and I it was pretty similar. We grew up in the church singing and playing. I think I got a bass guitar when I was seven. We were at Lambton Salvos (Salvation Army) at the time, and Mum and Dad were running a very contemporary sounding group and I was inspired to get on bass and play. I remember playing at Lambton Salvos when I was about 9. I remember thinking I was the musical one and I had the intention to be the singer and the front man, and one day Joel started signing and I thought “Oh he sings way better than I do”.
Joel:Well I don’t necessarily remember that moment, but yeah, my musical journey has been through worship leading at church. Our Mum and Dad lead a group that planted Northlakes Corps, so we have always been pretty heavily involved as a family in the life of our church. I was involved in the youth ministry and Luke was the worship leader and looking after the worship teams. We had probably four nights a week where we would have something church related and be there. So we very much grew up in church involved in ministry.
Luke: And we were all worship leaders at that church. Before we came to America, we had a team and the three of us would be leading most weeks. I would organize the worship team. Both Jess and Joel are also excellent preachers, so Jess would speak often at church. Jess and I ran the young adults group too, so we were heavily involved at our church.
SAWM: So how did you get from leading at a Salvation army Church in Newcastle, Australia to Nashville and forming this worship band, Verses?
Luke: We had all been involved in worship at our church and grown into leadership roles there, but I was working towards being a music producer. One day I was dropping something off at Joel’s youth group at the church and I looked at the words on the screen and I didn’t really have an understanding of what the words on the screen meant, and I had been involved in church for a long period of my life. At the time, there were kids who didn’t know who Jesus was going to the youth group and I thought “If I don’t understand how are these kids going to understand?” It was then that I feel like I had the God inspired idea to create the modern day memory verse, using pop music as the medium rather than a kids Sunday school type song. It took a little while and I didn’t think it would end up where it is right now. I thought I would just give the songs to Joel’s youth group and then be done with it. Eventually the songs were getting better and some people in America heard them and they brought us over to Nashville where we have been for almost two and a half years now.
SAWM: So how does that work from being heavily involved with a congregation and knowing them intimately to being in front of a crowd of strangers leading worship? As a worship leader how do you prepare for that?
Jess: That is such a huge change for us. I think one of things that the Lord has taught me is that I was getting caught up with my work at the church being my identity. People came to us because we were leaders; I was studying Divinity and there was almost a pride to it. So I feel like God took me out of it and said “Will you still search me out like you did when you needed a sermon?” So He really challenged my identity: we don’t have a couple of hundred people looking up to us, it’s just us and our relationship with him. Joel and I were talking at the airport before we came back to Nashville and we said we have to make sure that our heart is right, that we would go out and make all the sacrifices like we would have for the congregation we loved for these strangers so that they can know more about Jesus.
Luke: I think that shift has been good. It has opened my eyes to the width of the church and what the church can be. We can, rightfully so, get caught up in our ministry and in serving those around us but sometimes we can forget that we are meant for more than our Sunday service. We all had jobs, so we could almost have a dualistic kind of experience where we had all these things that we did for the church and with the church, and then there was our work life that was separate. Now, doing this full time this is our life; there is no distinguishing between ministry and other roles that we had.
SAWM: So what is a week on the road like for Verses?
Jess: Well we just did a five day stint on the road. I think there was a total of 17 hours sleep in that time. The travel was all driving, sound checks till 1:00am then up for church and ready to go at 7:30am. We were doing full day conferences and then get up and repeat the process. We had to do a concert in the mountains of Colorado and they were giving us oxygen tanks because we were so high up, it was funny.
Joel:Most of our work is weekend stuff. We will leave Thursday, whether that is a drive or a flight and then we are on the go until Monday night when we get home. Then Luke might get up on Tuesday and get into the studio and get back to writing and producing. So we get Wednesday, maybe, to recharge before we are off again on Thursday.
SAWM: So amidst all that busy-ness of ministry and the creative process, how do you find time for your relationship with God amongst all of that?
Jess: I am a morning person. I need to start my day with some time with God before I can get into any of that other stuff. My day is always better when I take that time to have a quiet space with God.
Luke: I think finding good books has helped me. Finding books that keep challenging the way that I think and they bring a fresh perspective of God. Reading has really helped me. It helps me contextualize my music, my ministry, my life and all of it. Bringing Him into every situation helps me make time for Him in my life.
Joel:I think in this time, God has become 24/7 for me. God time is all the time for me now. Learning to be grateful for the opportunities we have, part of our busy-ness is leading worship, so He is in that.
Luke: Driving has been really awesome too. We live with people, so singing at the top of your lungs isn’t always appreciated. So getting in the car and belting out a worship song is good.
SAWM: I loved on your “about” page on your website that the first thing you see is JESUS.
Luke: Honestly if it wasn’t about that, if it wasn’t about creating music and art that you can champion Jesus through, it wouldn’t be worth it. It’s not worth living far away from family, leaving our church if it wasn’t all about Him. We heard a preacher, fairly close to the start of our move over here, say that following Jesus isn’t always easy but it is always worth it. And I have taken that through to this day. No matter what you’re involved in, if you are a leader, a singer, a musician, getting up on Sunday and getting to church may not be easy, or being at rehearsal may not be easy, but it is always worth it.
SAWM: So Luke and Joel, do you think growing up in The Salvation Army and being so involved and busy in ministry has prepared you for the life that you are leading now?
Joel: I definitely think so. Our Mum is a very busy person. She was the leader of the church plant, she is a principal of a school, she just works and works and goes flat out. So growing up and being really involved, we watched our parents doing that. It was part of us as we grew up
Luke: We weren’t kids who went home because it was time for bed either.
Joel: I used to fall asleep at church on a Sunday night under the piano that Mum was playing and use the piano cover as a blanket. So the piano was on the side of the stage and I’d go up and Mum would put the piano cover over me. And halfway through the service I’d pop my head up to see if everyone was still there.
Luke: I think that the Salvos are a very “doing” denomination and we were a part of that, but I think doing this has challenged that for me. I could get caught up in the busy-ness and doing good things for God in that, but I am learning that relationship with God is enough. Our “doing” is a result of that relationship with God, but if we are just going and going and doing without that relationship, that’s not great either. I am like my Mum and fit that Salvo role but I’m learning that the point is to relate to God and be close to Him.