Q&A with Maryanne J. GeorgeI feel like the one piece of advice that I give is to just be yourself because that's what makes you, you and that's what makes you stand out.
Maryanne J. George is a worship leader, songwriter and musician who is currently a part of Maverick City Music. She made her solo debut in 2021 with her EP release “Not Just Stories” which debuted at number 12 on the top Christians Album Chart. She chats with Peer about songwriting, worship and mental health.
PEER: How did you come to know Jesus? Did you always grow up in the church?
MARYANNE GEORGE: Yes, I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were saved so I always kind of grew up in church; my parents were singers and worship leaders. I feel like I always grew up around worship and music.
PEER: What led you to both worship music and Maverick City Music?
MARYANNE: I grew up around music like pretty much my whole life. My whole family is very musical so it’s like every holiday that we had had some sort of music attached to it. If it’s Valentine’s Day, we’re singing songs about love it and so we always just kind of had a lot of fun just whipping out different instruments singing together and harmonizing together.
My parents and their siblings used to sing for church and so their kids, me and my cousin, would do the same thing. I used to do a ton of covers on YouTube which I really don’t know if they’re still up there and I really hope they’re not because it’s so bad. But I used to do a ton of stuff on YouTube and then one year, I decided to cover a song and it turns out that one of the writers of the song ended up being the now founder of Mav (Maverick City Music) and so he had reached out to me via DMs and was like, “Hey, like you’re really good at what you do like I would love to have you come and I’m hosting this little writing camp like it’s a little bit more exclusive like it’s not a public thing but I would love for you to come.” And I was like, sure. Let’s do it His name is Tony Brown and he um was part of a band called “House Fires.” He ended up writing “Good, Good Father,” and he is brilliant at songwriting and being in a band like. And so, I was just so freaking floored that like first of all, you messaged me and thought I was good and like I was just really honored to join and so we did that one camp. I. I think after that camp it became Maverick City.
PEER: Do you have any advice for young Christians who are interested in pursuing music?
MARYANNE: I get this a lot and I feel like especially when we were on tour, we got a lot of questions asking about this. I really encourage people to just be themselves. I think there’s so many people who are trying to recreate Mav—or well, Mav is different because I feel like it’s a collective, so I feel like it’s never really going to be the same. What I love about Mav is we encourage people to do the same things that we’re doing in their own communities.
When I say don’t try to be me, I’m saying like don’t try to act like me; each of us are created in such a unique image. I believe each person is created in the image of God and that’s so unique. We’re all so uniquely different like I’m different from you. You’re different from me but we both carry an image of God in us like and so I feel like that’s such a beautiful thing. I think that God made us to show more of Himself to the world and so I always encourage people like if you want to grow in music, then continue to do what you believe you’re good at.
Do what you feel like you’re called to do; for some people, that is writing music and posting it online. For some people that’s leading at their church and that’s like what they feel like they’re called to do like lead at their home church.
It’s just different for everybody but I say don’t try to conform or sound like someone else. Own your voice, own your sound and go forth with that because that’s, that’s what makes you stand out. I don’t want to sound like Naomi (Naomi Raine) and I don’t want to sound like Natalie Grant or Lauren Daigle—like I just I would rather sound like me and I feel like there is no other me in this industry in this, in this world, right?
I feel like the one piece of advice that I give is to just be yourself because that’s what makes you, you and that’s what makes you stand out. That’s what God likes. He created us a certain unique way and He wants to hear what we have to say. As us. Not as someone else, so own your voice and walk in it.
PEER: That’s good advice for anyone not just in the music industry. Who are your musical influences?
MARYANNE: I grew up listening to like Bethel and Hillsong a lot. I remember being a kid listening to Stacy Borrico. I used to listen to her and Avalon. I used to listen like bands, a lot like Lauren Hill, there were like a lot of Gospel influences. I had this one phase where I was listening to alternative rock and there’s one band to this day I still think they’re so good. It’s called Altar Bridge. It’s not Christian but it’s called Altar Bridge. The guy who is the lead vocals, his name is Miles Kennedy and I still to this day think he has like one of the most insane ranges.
I listen to a lot of Whitney Houston, a lot of more ballad, big vocals like Adele. I love Adele and the way she sings. I love Beyonce; I would like to copy her riffs. These are more now recent but lately I’ve been a lot of singer/songwriters.
I just I started listening to a lot to this girl named Lizzie Mcalpine. But honestly, I’m also inspired by my friends. I love listening to Naomi’s (Naomi Raine) new record is so good. She just released a live recording that is going to be insane—like so good. Brandon (Brandon Lake) I’m so inspired by the way Brandon writes.
It’s a hard question because I feel like I’m also inspired by things that are not musical. I love nature and I love the beach. I go near the water a lot.
PEER: How does your personal relationship with God influence your songwriting and worship?
MARYANNE: One of the things I love about worship, at least my definition of worship, is it’s telling. It’s basically just reiterating who God is in action. There are certain songs that I sing and worship that technically aren’t worship. They’re just more like man-to-man songs; I consider worship songs that are like glorifying, exalting and telling the Lord who He is. Right? And I feel like even when I go through a personal situation, that may not always feel great. It’s still the fact that does not change that God is who He is and so I’m able to go into worship sets or like worship like environments and still declare who God is because He doesn’t change despite my circumstance or what I’m going through now.
When it comes to songwriting I do think a lot of the things I’m experiencing are going through a lot of my process with God. It doesn’t always come out in a song, and I honestly prefer it to not come out always in song. I think it comes out in like dialogue or like journaling or conversations with people close to me or prayer. But there are times where I feel like it does come out in song.
One of the songs on my album was actually kind of just like detailing this personal relationship I had with God. It’s called “Journey” and basically it says, sometimes you gotta rise, sometimes you’re gonna fall, like sometimes you got to lose yourself to find your way home.
That was pretty much like my personal journey with God where there are days where I felt like things were so great between us and we’re like led easily and then there are days where I was going through a dark season. Not that I didn’t feel like God was real, but because I knew He was real, but there are times where I feel like God didn’t want to work for me and He didn’t want to move on my behalf but He was willing to move on all my friends behalf—just not mine. “Journey” was one of those songs where I detailed that part of my relationship with God but then on my other song on my EP, “I’m Gonna Worship,” it was detailing a personal struggle that my husband and I went through. With his career and we had to make this decision that whatever the outcome is going to be, we’re going to worship and we’re going to trust You instead and so there’s like a lot of songs that I do write? Yes, they are dictated by my personal life but there are also times where I wrote songs that was not written for me.
There was a song called Sufficient that was released by Mav. Essentially, I wrote it thinking of a friend of mine that was going through cancer. There are other times where I feel like I’m writing for other people, or I feel burdened to write for someone else or you know. But I feel like we’re all reflections. We are the body of Christ, right? And for songwriters writing songs for the church, we represent the church in many ways. My personal relationship with God is also an extension or an echo of a lot of people in the church and so I just think there needs to be a relationship with God to write songs for God and for the church, right? But I don’t always feel like there are a lot of times where people are always honest. Like with their relationship with God. God is not afraid of songs that are real about how things suck between Him and me like you know so there are times where I have really sad songs because I’m just like, “God, where are you? Why aren’t you listening to me? I miss you, I need you. Like I feel alone.” It’s a lot like David in the Psalms like writing songs about how he’s so discouraged and I feel like those are all songs about my personal relationship with God and I think that’s beautiful and I think He loves it. I think he’d rather have us come to Him telling Him about how things suck versus like doing other things or going to other people.
PEER: What excites you about being in the music industry specifically the Christian music industry today? Especially as a member of the South Asian community?
MARYANNE: I am so excited for the season that Christian music is in right now. One of the things about Mav that I feel like makes it stand out in our industry is the fact that it’s so diverse and it’s this collective. For so long, and when you talk to anyone in Mav, you look at how Mav started it. It started because there were lines between CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and gospel. CCM was like the whiter side and then Gospel was like more Black. But now, we’re combining these two and we’re blurring these lines. One of the things that makes Mav stands out is that we’re so diverse. There’s no one person that has one sound so people like me can sound both CCM and I can sound also Black and gospel like maybe not Black, but Gospel. I can sound like I have a more gospel sound and so I love that our group and all the artists that sing in our group can do both.
And I feel like that’s not something that was always a thing. I love that like walls and barriers and expectations are being kind of broken down in our specific Christian music industry and now people are like, “I can do that too.” And even being a South Asian, we’re not represented as much probably because we’re immigrants. Growing up like my parents, they didn’t have the privilege of the opportunity of pursuing things that they felt like they were good at. They did what they felt would make money for their family and provide and so I’m part of this next generation that now has this unique opportunity to pursue the things that like I feel naturally inclined to which is music and so getting to do that and then to show other kids parents or the kids that are coming after me, “Hey it’s possible for me now.” I’m giving kids or girls—even girls because that’s a big thing to females and Christian music it’s a whole thing anyway.
But for females that are colored, like female people of color, I’m giving them an opportunity to see someone that looks like them and it doesn’t always mean that they have to be doing worship or songwriting but I want them to feel encouraged or empowered to do. What they feel like they’re called to do, maybe in an industry that’s not as represented by them, and so I feel excited by that because I feel like that’s it’s time like it’s just time to see more of us. Like standing up, rising up, like not staying in our churches and our communities but extending and branching out. Like I said earlier like there’s something unique about me that you might not have but there’s something unique about you that I don’t have. And for so long like I feel like we have seen non-immigrants taking the stage and now to have people you know from my culture or from my community doing that. It’s really awesome to have that—to really have that representation. So, yeah, I’m excited; I’m really encouraged and I hope that I get to see more people like me, more females of color, just rising up and doing really cool things.
As a kid in like middle school or high school I did a cover of Nicole C. Mullen, like she did this song “My Redeemer Lives” and she was a Black woman in CCM. That was not very common to see at the time. She was one of the only Black woman doing that and so I remember being a kid and being so inspired by her and I did a cover of her song. I felt like she represented herself in a space that didn’t usually see a lot of Black people in the same way like I want to be able to represent myself but also represent Christ because what I have in me is unique and I feel like God created me to inhabit spaces like this so He’s just making the table wider bringing more people in and so I’m excited to see what’s to come.
PEER: Do you have anything exciting in the works?
MARYANNE: At a few of the shows that I’ve been doing live I’ve been sharing some music that I’m working on but I would like to create another album—but not an EP—it would be like an album that’s going to be very exciting. I think it’s going to sound very different from my last one.
We just got off a huge tour and I just moved to a new home. I just had a baby. There’s a lot of transition. But I do feel very inspired by everything that’s happening and I have a lot to say.
Things are being created I know Mav has an album that we’re creating as well. It will be very fun to have just like a Mav album out for the first time in a while.
PEER: Awesome! You received a master’s in clinical mental health counseling and you’re now a therapist. Can you share your journey of wanting to become a therapist?
MARYANNE: Yes, So I just wanted to clarify that I’m not currently practicing. But yes, I am certified and I have like my degree in mental health counseling. Mental health has always been especially important. I am South Asian and it’s not something we talk about a lot in my community. I had been sexually assaulted as a child and so that was a big part of my journey and I had trauma from that. My parents had known about it. But like culturally, it’s not something we share. It’s not something that’s talked about, and my parents knew about it like I told them much later in life.
I had to grow up with kind of these reservations about mental health and what is best for me and what would be best for my family. I always had to choose and so I kind of felt like I was always destined to go into counseling. I always feel like it’s like for people who are counselors, it’s kind of like this calling like you just kind of feel like called to it. For so long, I wanted to do medicine. I was going to study to be a physician’s assistant and I remember God put it on my heart to start an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at my college campus and so in the process of doing that I was meeting so many people and I really believe the Holy Spirit gave me wisdom on like how to talk to them and how to share things with them and so I was meeting different people. I went to a community school so there were like 60-year-olds and then there were 21-year-olds and very diverse. It was in Queens, New York so it’s largely Black, Hispanic, Indian, white, Native American—it was just everything and it was so cool and I loved the experience of doing that. It was so funny because I feel like I started it in my senior year of college so it was just like the last thing and then I just felt like in my heart. My aunt was, “Why don’t you go into counseling?” I had switched my major over to psychology at that point and so I had all these science classes and I did have this desire to learn medicine—and I still do.
And I think a lot of counseling is integrating things that you learn about yourself and your body. There is this body-mind connection that occurs and so a lot of people don’t realize a lot of the way they feel is based on the way that their body is feeling. I’ve loved exploring that. Since she said that, I enrolled into masters of education program for clinical mental health counseling and it has been such an eye-opening and difficult journey. It is very difficult to confront things about yourself that maybe you didn’t even realize were issues that you had, and it could be things that came from generations so now the work is on you to break certain generational rhythms or things that have happened in time and over time.
I felt like very called to do that for myself, for my children, and for the future generations that come after them like I want to be able to set that standard now.
I feel very empowered even when I write a lot for church, and I find that I’m using a lot of my skills in sessions and songwriting sessions. It’s active listening skills or reframing a thought. If somebody says, “I feel this way and this way,” it’s almost there are certain things you’ll learn in therapy to like rephrase or to redirect. Using that, I’ll rephrase something and they’re, “Oh yeah, that’s pretty insightful like I guess that’s what that’s what I’m trying to say.” Using that to now write something that is both relatable but also hopeful for the church to sing, it’s been really, really awesome to see that coupling happen of this marriage between counseling and faith.
I’m really grateful that God had me do the counseling stuff first because I feel like it’s given me so much insight into this industry in this world and meeting people and like learning their stories and backgrounds and where they’re coming from. It gives me this non-judgmental place to look at them from. I grew up in an all-Indian Church so a lot of what I see, and experience now is so different from what I grew up experiencing. With my counseling background, it’s much easier for me to like to understand or trace back like why certain things happen like when something happens.
PEER: Can you explain the role of worship in mental health?
MARYANNE: Yes, I feel like I’ve said this before there’s like I do feel like therapy and going to a therapist is super helpful and I always encourage that. God empowers and gives grace to people like doctors and psychiatrists and therapists and so I do feel like those things are helpful but at the end of the day, coupled with those things, needs to be this relationship with God.
I think there is a beauty that corporate worship brings into any sort of situation that someone might be going through. Like any sort of circumstance, corporate worship brings something so beautiful and almost endearing and warm. There have been times where I’ve had a really, really hard week and I’ll come to worship, corporate worship at a church and sometimes I’m leading, sometimes I’m not, but I will experience like the warmth and the presence of God like so thick and so comforting in that moment. And it gives me what I need for the week and this is why I really strongly encourage for anyone to involve themselves in some sort of church or small group weekly.
There’s something beautiful about fellowship and corporate worship together. It reminds you that you’re not alone. It reminds you that you have other people that are walking this journey with you and it’s so important to be a part of and there’s something beautiful about collective singing like you. That’s why people love to go to concerts, right? We love to go to concerts. We love to hear our artists sing and like we love to sing along and you’re like in a group of people that all love the same thing. It’s like this. It’s like this experience that you’re all having together and that is such a beautiful thing to experience Jesus together. It’s why Mav tours, our worship nights, are some of the best because you feel so one-minded with everyone and so I agree that corporate worship is so important; it gives you insight into what you’re going through and any. It opens you up to be vulnerable with other people as well. That’s the power of music. I stand by the fact that if you are going through some sort of mental health issue, whether it be some sort of depression, anxiety, I strongly encourage everyone to try to get to church once a week, a worship setting once a week. Try to be around a small group or go to a small group.
God is still God—He is able to work despite what people say so the act of showing up in those spaces—God uses that.
PEER: What advice do you have for young Christians who are struggling with their mental health?
MARYANNE: I’m going to be honest, that is you speaking to me. I go through that, too. I’m a strong person of faith. This is the first time I’ll be talking about it publicly but I just had a baby, and I still am dealing with postpartum depression. I’m a person that has strong faith and I’m in a group that writes songs for churches.
I think that one thing that has encouraged me is that this verse that says “My grace is sufficient for you,” and every day, He gives me grace for that day. It’s like measured grace for that day and so I’ve like held onto that.
More practically, I try to plan something every day for myself whether that means taking my child on a walk or meeting up with a friend that I know is strong in their love for the Lord.
Sometimes with depression and anxiety and things like that don’t magically disappear. They don’t. It’s the reality of what it is; they don’t magically disappear but I do believe we can learn certain strategies to manage it and being around good community is one, i.e. plugging yourself into a church. I’ve been trying to do Bible studies.
There must be a renewing of our thoughts and that starts with what are we consuming. Sometimes it’s social media and we need to get off it or we need to unfollow the things that are maybe not helping or contributing to the health of our mind and we have to start there. But for some people, that means just getting off social media and focusing on their body and their physical health and that means like taking walks or running or like working out.
A lot of times if you’re growing up strong in faith, you know that God wants to heal you.
I write songs for people who go through it, but when you go through it yourself, it’s hard to get out of it and I think practical things for me includes watching my food, drinking more water, cutting back on caffeine, and watching my social media accounts. Getting off social media if I need to spend more time with good community and people. I love listening to sermons or Bible studies.
I think having a strong prayer life and being honest with God as well. God’s not afraid of your feelings. There was a period recently where I was just like, “God I’m just annoyed because I feel like you literally answer everybody but me.” I was honest about how I was feeling with Him and I feel like He meets me there. He’s not afraid of your feelings about that. He wants us to be there with Him in that time and He wants us to choose to come to Him.
PEER: In only one sentence, describe your morning routine.
MARYANNE: Caffeine dependent.
PEER: What are you currently listening to?
MARYANNE: Lizzie Mccoupine. Been listening to her “5 seconds flat” album. I personally like to listen to albums versus playlists. I have been listening to playlists more recently to find new music so I’ll listen to playlist to find new music. But once I find the music, I listen to albums.
PEER: What’s a Bible verse that has been on your heart recently?
MARYANNE: It’s 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” (NIV). That has been what’s been getting me through lately.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.