February 2012 Interview
Lou Fellingham on music, motherhood and God
Lou has been a solo artist and lead singer with the band Phatfish since 1994, as well as leading worship all round the world at events and conferences. She lives in Brighton, is married to Nathan, the drummer from the band and they have three children. Here she talks to Ali Herbert about music, motherhood and God
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve got four sisters and two of us were born in Australia – including me. Mum and dad had no spiritual background at all. They became Christians after they got married, so they were ‘first generation’ Christians in our family. After coming back from Australia, we lived in the South of England and went to a Baptist church. Mum and dad developed their walk with God and we were brought up to go to church, read our Bibles and have a faith.
Do you remember making a decision to follow God?
I had a definite turning point when I was about five and I was having bad dreams at night. Mum was reading stories from the New Testament about Jesus dying on the cross and I asked her, “Why did he do that?” Mum explained very simply that when you steal something from a cookie jar or when you say you didn’t do something when you actually did, there are consequences. That should mean separation from God, but Jesus died so that we can be with him. It was in very simple, childlike terms, but I thought, “Wow, this guy died for me even though I haven’t even given him anything.” I remember calling up my grandparents and saying, “I’ve become a Christian!” They said, “That’s nice, dear, so are we” and I said, “No you’re not because …” I started as I meant to go on! Hopefully I’ve learned a little more tact now!
Did you always want to be involved in Christian music?
When I was at school, I was very clear I wanted to be a singer. I have early memories of my parents playing lots of music at home and they encouraged me in it. They played a lot of Christian music – they were new Christians and it was all a new experience for them. Sundays were my favourite day. Church was full of life, friendship, family and fun. There was a real sense of community. We’d always have people back for lunch and I remember many times in the summer when the whole church would go to Ashdown Forest and play games, and have picnics.
How do you see the connection between singing and worship?
Singing is only one part of our expression of worship. For me there is a connection between the overflow of the heart and singing. Sometimes the song is personal, sometimes it’s for others to hear. When I sing to you, I want to communicate God and I want God to come alive to you. I want you to be enriched so that in turn you worship him. I believe that the Holy Spirit is with us and in us, and that as we worship, the kingdom of God is present. When my mum died, I fell silent. I usually sing all the time at home, but I went quiet for a little while or I had more painful songs. And then I realised I was beginning to sing around the house again and I knew I was beginning to feel a little better.
What was your journey to joining the band?
I joined the vocal band of YFC (Youth for Christ) when I was 18 and travelled with them for a year. Then I heard about a band being put together by Dave Fellingham (who is now my father-in-law!) although at first I wasn’t sure I was going to fit in stylistically. But then Dave said he wanted the band to be evangelistic, playing in pubs and clubs, and also to be involved in local church and worship, and that was the sort of thing I wanted to do. I auditioned for the band in 1993 and moved to Brighton in 1994. The aim was to be salt and light in the community. For a few years we did a lot of pubs and venues around Brighton and London. It was a real slog, but it was really fun – and when you’re 19 you don’t mind getting home at 4 o’clock in the morning!
Is there a difference between performing music and leading worship?
We are called to be worshippers of God in everything we do. I believe in excellence for God in our music whether we are leading congregational songs or performing a concert. I believe it’s possible to be ‘performing’ a song with excellence and even enjoying it, and that as a worshipper of God, God will still get the glory for it. When leading worship, my song choice will be different, but I still want the same outcome. Whether in a gig or with the church on a Sunday, we want the same outcome: God glorified, people enriched, lives set free as the Kingdom of God comes and ultimately people being drawn more and more in love with God.
Did you ever feel you wanted to go down the ‘secular’ route?
We were doing the secular thing for a while, taking our tape round to big companies and there was a little bit of interest here and there. It was a massively formative time for us – learning to play in front of all sorts of audiences. But it was also really hard work, with a lot of rejection and time-wasting. We got to a point when we said, “Who’s actually coming along to our gigs?” And it was mostly Christians. So then we thought, “How can we serve those who listen to our music the best?” So we quite deliberately started to write more songs that were designed to challenge and equip Christians – both songs that people might use in church and songs that were just designed to be listened to – without necessarily having to sing along! But there was always a desire that any unbelievers present would be challenged by the lyrics and the general atmosphere – while at the same time being comfortable musically.
You have three children – Jesse, Ella and Jude – how do you manage your music and motherhood together?
It’s a constant juggle. I cry when I leave them, but I love what I do and I know I’m supposed to do it. I’m trying to incorporate them as much as I can so they feel part of what I do. Jesse did over 30 flights before he was two! Now they’re at school, it’s a little harder, so we tend to have to leave them at home. Friends and family are so important and people are really generous. But it’s a constant struggle. You have to prepare everything before you leave and you want the house to be tidy, but when you return it’s often ransacked. Then you have to do the washing, cleaning, cooking … and then you’re off again! Sometimes you’re just exhausted, but your ability to juggle becomes greater. It’s just a joy having kids. They make me laugh so much! I can’t even remember what we did before we had children – what on earth did we do with our time?
What advice would you give to Christians wanting to be involved in the music ministry?
I guess I would encourage people to remember that we’re part of a body and we all have a different part to play. So don’t try to be someone you’re not. Love God and let all the ‘doing’ stuff flow out of a love and affection for God first. Work hard with everything you’ve got, be as excellent as you can be – but don’t trust in that, trust in God. Our value doesn’t come from what we do, it comes from who we are in Christ. Whether you’re leading worship or playing in a secular venue, you’re still worshippers and you are still called to display God in what you’re doing. It’s good to keep coming back to the root of, “Who am I in Christ and who am I building this for? Who gets the glory?” It is an ongoing journey and process that has to be renewed time and time again! There’s plenty more things, but I think that’s a good start!
Do you find it easy making time for prayer and quiet times?
The older I get, the more I feel the need and challenge of giving God time. I’m doing the online, daily Bible in One Year by Nicky Gumbel at the moment. I’m a good few months behind, but I don’t feel guilty about it because I feel more desire than ever for God’s Word and his presence. I believe everything flows out of relationship with God. When we’re up against it, instead of turning on the TV or flopping in bed, we sometimes just have to try and be disciplined and seek refuge in God. We need God in our lives. You cannot survive without his daily bread.
Do you feel pressured as a role model for young women?
I’ve made so many mistakes! My voice cracks, I forget words, I’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time – but that’s why there’s grace! A lot of people don’t get that. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy and don’t care, it’s just that you have freedom in it. I’m not perfect and the sooner people realise that the better! I don’t feel pressure from that.
What do you do to unwind?
I play netball once a week and have just started running a couple of times a week with some friends, and that’s lovely. I do like nice food and a glass of red wine. So I guess watching movies, doing sport, cooking and baking – I’m a ‘people’ person, so I love entertaining and having people round.
You’re on tour with your new album Higher at the moment – how is that going?
The gigs are going really well and we’ve had lots of encouraging feedback. Recently, someone at a conference said, “If you keep doing the same things, you’ll keep seeing the same results. If you want something different, you’ll have to start putting something different in place.” And we’re trying to do that; the tour is taking more risks, the new album has more evangelistic songs and so on. I don’t want the enemy winning. I know he doesn’t win ultimately, but there are so many people out there who are robbed, they could be living so much more freely. It’s what our new album is about – you’re made for something more. We could be getting so much from our walk with God, but because we settle for the stuff that’s in front of us, we miss out on the things God has for us. We can get so distracted. We want people to be set free – that would be so excellent!
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