THERE were two things that changed Emma Fradd’s life.
The first was the Gibson Flying V guitar James Hetfield of the heavy metal band Metallica strummed in the ’90s.
Or more specifically, it was seeing her older brother hold a replica of the Mighty Het’s prized possession as a teenager.
“Little skinny white boy with a big axe guitar,” she said laughing.
What was once her brother’s obsession is now Emma’s life calling.
Originally from Port Pirie, Emma picked up her first guitar in high school, imitating some of the industry’s best-known riffs.
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mason Williams – they were all easy undertakings for the young teenager.
Earlier this year, Emma relocated to Brisbane in search of her big break as a musician.
The ultimate dream is to nail down a full-time music career, travel across Australia and make people reflect on life through her lyrics.
But it’s early days and the idea of traversing the Great South Land with her Breedlove acoustic and JB Hutto Montgomery Ward Eastwood Airline electric guitar seem far from reach.
One thing that isn’t so far is God.
“Every lyric I write is usually something to do with God, even if it’s like a question I have for him or something that I want that I’m talking about in relation to him,” Emma said.
While the 26-year-old is upfront about her Catholic faith and its inspiration for her lyrics, she’s not happy being labelled a Christian musician.
“I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t talk to Catholic media because I wanted to be super – I don’t know – secretive about being Catholic,” Emma said.
She did this for two reasons.
Firstly, she doesn’t write worship songs and, secondly, she wants to reach more than just the Catholic bubble, perhaps people who carry her own story of estrangement with God.
In fact, eight years ago, Emma would have cringed at the thought of talking to God.
A self-proclaimed teenage atheist and committed band member, Emma decided God didn’t exist because she couldn’t see or feel him.
“Basically, the two guys in my band considered themselves atheists, and my best friend at the time was an atheist,” she said.
“But, for me, I thought, ‘Well, I can’t see God at Mass, I can’t see God or feel him, why should I care if I don’t even have any proof he’s real, you know’?”
That same brother who let his fingers fly down a heavy metal guitar, better known as The Porn Effect founder Matt Fradd, showed Emma a glimpse of Catholic joy.
In 2000 he went on a pilgrimage to Rome for the World Youth Day.
“And he was a teenager, he was a bit of a bugger,” Emma said.
“I think he would sort of bully me a bit.
“I don’t really remember a lot of it.”
Emma does remember picking up Matt at the airport and being greeted by a completely different person.
“He was so happy, he picked me up and gave me a big hug and I was like, ‘Whoa, this has never happened’,” she laughed.
Emma even started liking this new version of Matt, who became known in Port Pirie as the Catholic enthusiast who drew “everyone to his checkout ’cause he was just so nice” at Woolworths.
Things changed when Matt moved out of home, working briefly in Brisbane as a parish youth minister, and eventually ending up with the National Evangelisation Team in Ireland.
He eventually invited his little sister, who was 18 at the time, to live in Ireland with his wife, who expecting was expecting their first child.
Knowing her new home would be “heaps Catholic” with her brother’s family attending daily Mass and praying the Rosary nightly together, Emma insisted she would not go to Mass and would not pray with them.
“He was nice about it but I did get into some debates with him,” she said.
“But it got to a point where he was like, ‘You can’t say God’s not real if you’ve never tried praying’.”
Soon after, a priest paid for her to go to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina with her brother’s youth group, and she sought out a confessional.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to pray to God and stuff, and when I say our Father in Heaven I don’t believe it so does that make that a prayer’,” Emma said.
“The priest said something like, ‘Prayer isn’t just about you talking to God, it’s God talking to you as well’.
“And for some reason that touched me.
“I thought I’d say a decade of the Rosary every day and ask Mary to show me if God’s real.”
Her brother couldn’t contain his excitement, taking her to every shop in Medjugorje to find a Rosary bracelet.
“He has since told me in that time he really felt in his spiritual life the devil was coming for me in a way, so he said he would take up more spiritual practices to try and distract the devil, which is pretty wicked,” Emma said.
The pilgrimage ended in Canada, coinciding with the training for the NET training, which looked after the formation of missionaries from Ireland.
“It was like Matt coming back from WYD but 60 of them,” she said.
“I was a bit like, ‘This is dumb’.
“I had to sit there because there was nothing else to do, so after a while I said ‘You know what, everyone looks pretty happy. Looks like they have a joy none of my friends have’.
“So I went and knelt down in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and just kind of reflected with God and just said, ‘You know, if you’re real, if you’re actually real, if the truth is that you made me and you love me and you have a plan for me and the Catholic Church, all the teachings are spot on …’
“I said, ‘God, I want you now’ – you know, pretty lonely teenager – I said, ‘I don’t want to be lonely or sad, I just want you – whatever you have to bring’.
“It was probably my first real prayer.”
The prayers have flowed daily since.
Emma joined NET Canada a year later, stayed on the team for two years, and became a staff member for four.
One of the other NET missionaries who came from England was also a musician.
The pair joined forces and formed a band, Interior Castle, and recorded an album together, but have since parted ways.
In May, Emma returned to Australia for the first time in five years for an interview with NET Ministries Australia, where she is now working in its recruitment team.
“Something England lacks is young adults who are sold out (for Christ),” Emma said.
“(It) maybe just in my area but I found it very hard to get integrated; I found personal prayer and accountability pretty hard.
“It’s so good to be around so many Catholics who are on fire. I don’t know how I’d get to heaven without it.”
By Emilie Ng