Amy Grant’s the greatest contemporary Christian artist of all time. Her goal was to be the first Christian singer-songwriter to become a successful contemporary mainstream artist. She did it under God, and she is well and truly surpassed that dream.
Her list of achievements is great.
– First Christian album to ever go platinum
– First Christian album by a solo artist to be certified gold
– One of the first contemporary Christian music artists to make it into the mainstream charts
– First Christian song to get Billboard’s top 40 list
– First Christian artist with a number one song on the Billboard 100
– More than 30 million unit sales
– Six Grammy awards, 25 Dove awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Audio – Amy Grant talks about her career and new album
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Back with her first album in 10 years Amy Grant joins us now on Open House. Huge welcome, Amy, thank you for joining us.
Well thank so much Leigh, I've to tell you I heard that long list of accolades and I thought two things I don't think I like that woman.
Really? Why do you say that?
I don't know, overachiever. And the second thing I thought was, I spent the entire day cooking and visiting with an old friend who is like my little brother, who came to town. I think we talked for four hours and cooking because a friend of mines dad passed away last night and I'm a big believer that you cook your care into food and so I just thought, you know, it makes a person's life sound odd, to say a list of accolades when everybody sort of wakes up the same way on a day.
Yes that's a great point to make and one that's very grounding for you I suspect after all that undoubted success.
You know the one thing about making your life in music, and being a performer is not a lot changes. I mean the size of audience might grow or shrink, but it's not a job you can delegate. You write songs, get up on stage and sing the song and then go home.
Yes, but you got to put yourself out there to an extent that the average person can never probably really understand. It's only you, who can do it.
I guess there is something in any performer that compels them toward a stage. Maybe part of it is a kind of high a risk factor, for me it's always been the belief that music is such a great connector. It connects us to each other and to what we think or what we believe or how we feel and that never gets old for me ever. I think I'm happier doing music at 52 than I ever was in my 20s.
How would you describe that attraction, that power of the stage and music? When you started Amy?
I have to say it's more of the attraction of the music. I was one of those kids, I had a handful of records and I would listen to them from beginning to end. I would just lift the needle and put it back at the top of the disc and I just was mesmerized with music. I stalked a few artists when I was a child and made scrap books from the rag magazine. I love music, and I'd go to a lot of live performances, and I love everything from the old church hymns that I learned as a kid to honestly two rooms away in our house just on the other side of the hallway from the bedroom. Our oldest is working on her first record.
So as a mother who has a 15 year old got her first record label signing, how do you reflect on where your daughter is now and what's ahead?
No one has pursued music the way I did, of the children. My husband Vince, he pursued music as young as I did, but we laugh. I was singing in churches across the country and he was singing in bars because he loved country music [laughs]. But that same thing, this is the only thing I think I want to even know how to do.
What do you feel for her and her future then as she follows this track?
Well, I guess the best advice her father and I have is whatever your concept of a rising is, that's not the most interesting part. It's every person that you meet along the way. it's the stories behind the songs that you write, it's your car breaking down on the side of the road and you barely make it time for the gig that you're supposed to do two days from now. It's seeing the world with a suitcase in your hand and it's all the relationships that you make, that's really what it's about.
And doing something significant from others as well?
Yes, always hopefully. In this household everybody sings about different things. But what I'm hoping, is there is at least a framework of faith, because I write my songs. I have had a deep faith in God since I was a little girl and that colors the way I see myself and the way I see the world and I know that comes into my songs. So what I'm always hoping is that people will say, well I'm interested in that perspective. How does it feel to view the world that way and always hoping that somebody would be encouraged to approach a relationship with God and everybody wants to feel known and loved, there's not a better source of that except the one who made us.
In your early days, how challenging was it for you to remain faithful to that faith? From a youngster almost, you take out a Grammy Award, two Dove Awards, it became quite a dizzying love for you didn't it?
It was certainly exciting, that's for sure. I've made some good choices and some really bad choices in the context of living life. There is a lesson in everything, just as far as being faithful, I would say that it always God who is faithful and all of us humans on each unique journey. Our pendulum swings between being joyfully on our knees and wanting God's will for our life and then getting completely distracted and wandering, and I don't know, I mean that feels like that's what my life is like, it's just the pendulum that swings wide and far.
I'm sure you're not alone. For lots of people outside music as well.
I mean to me the best news is getting older, cause you've just learned so many good lessons the hard way. I feel more apt to not be so curious about things that might be harmful.
Is there a best lesson that you have ever learned?
Oh my goodness. We're talking about faith in our relationship with God, that everybody that you meet is somewhere in their journey of life and somewhere in their journey of faith. So much can happen to a person in 15 minutes, and so, whenever I meet someone whether they are warm and embracing or angry and vindictive. Whatever they are, high as a kite or carrying their Bible. I'm reminded they're somewhere in their journey of life. And like everyone else who's ever breathed, God is in pursuit of them. They are just somewhere in their journey, I can make an observation about someone, but it should never be a permanent judgment because people change every day.
In your journey through music, God was very much at the center of your life. Though you didn't confine yourself to just contemporary Christian music, you went mainstream as well.
I love music of all kinds. I mean I grew up on Carole King and James Taylor, and I loved Stevie Wonder from the time I was 10 years old, and then of course the bands that were really big, when I was a kid, like The Jackson 5, and The Beatles. When I first started singing contemporary music with faith lyrics it’s just because I couldn't find any.
In fact the first group I ever sang to were my school friends. I was going to really amazing church, and I felt like it was changing the way I felt about life, it was changing the way I felt about myself, and my understanding of the huge epic story of God's involvement in man and the whole redemption story and that every one of us is a little tiny piece of that story. It gives a much greater significance to all of our lives because it's not just our individual story, but how we fit into God's eternal plan which is creation. That was so thrilling to me. I went to girls prep cool. There's no Bible taught there and I thought, but how can I wet people's appetite to want to have conversations about this and so I started writing songs.
How did you continue to have your faith nurtured through the inevitable highs and lows of a music career on a very successful and high-profile career?
I would have to say my family. I've always lived in Nashville, Tennessee. I've got three sisters and until a couple years ago my parents were both alive and very vibrant. I was involved in a really exciting artistic church community, that's just a very grounding, stable environment.
Last night, our youngest is 12, and I was in her bedroom and the producer that produced this record, I just finished the first one in 10 years, we had an album release party last night and he came up to me and said "someone is waiting for me, and I'll call you later". And what he didn't tell me is that his father was dying, and he had told his dad, “I need to go to this event don't leave without me.” And he had gone back and precious Marshall was saying goodbye to his dad. He never mentioned it.
And so we didn't talk until last night, and it happened to be the exact same day two years later that my mom had died, I just remember the anguish of losing, that first time you lose a parent and I had just sent a message on my phone to my older sister and I said, “I need a good hard cry,” and she just texted back, “Dump it at the cross.”
I thought, I'm just so grateful for my sisters. And another phone call a good friend of mine that sings with my husband is battling cancer and the battle is not going very well.
So I had those two conversations and thought I'm so glad for my sister. I was just kind of fighting it, I just kind of wanted to the just be in some anguish for a little while. I don't know just was leaning into feeling tied up in a knot, and I finally thought, okay I'm going to listen to my big sister. And I just started pouring my heart out. It's crazy, when you pray it doesn't make any sense to the human mind. But when you open it up and just start spilling it out to the one who made you, peace comes in and it's just like, "Do you trust me? Do you trust me? It's going to be okay."
You can't explain to somebody who's never prayed how bizarre that is, and if I had never experienced it, I would think it was weird too. But it absolutely is, I think one of the reasons that we return to prayer. Sometimes it might feel like you're talking to the ceiling, but many times you feel the absolute presence of peace that you don't find anywhere else.
And I'm sure it represents a most balanced life. As I hear you speaking I think here is a good work/life balance, 30 years in the music industry. You've just finished these first album in 10 years. What's the inspiration for this new album, Amy?
Well lots of life has happened since the last record. I have dedicated the recording to my mother, the memories of my mother, she passed away two years ago. One of our last conversations, I'm sure I was inspired by this the whole time I was working on the record.
She had a kind of dementia that would come and go. It happens a lot of times with people as they get older, and I had dropped by the assisted-living apartment where my mom and dad were. We visited for a while and I said I got to go pack my bag and get on the tour bus. I'm singing tomorrow night in Detroit, or wherever I was going to be, and she looked at me with a big smile, and said, “Oh, you sing?” “Yes ma'am, I sing.” And of course I sang the very first song I ever wrote for my mother.
And she said, “Oh what kind of songs do you sing?” And I told her songs about life and songs about faith and she said, “Well, why don't you sing something for me right now?” And I swallowed this gigantic lump in my throat and choose an old church hymn that I knew she loved and about half way through I said do you recognize this? And she said, “No, but it's great, keep going.”
Anyway I finished and I did have to leave it. I gave her kiss on the top of the head and I was walking out the door, and she said, “Would you do me a favor?” And I said, “Yes what?” And she said, “When you walk out on that stage, sing something that matters.” I was so taken, I said, “Yes, I will, I will do that,” and I think that has just been whispered in the back of my head the whole time I was working on this record, and that was amazing inspiration.
How does it feel to be back on the horse of a new album then after 10 years?
It's very exciting. I love writing songs. I love telling stories through music. And I really enjoyed working with Marshall Altman, the producer. We just shared a really similar view of creativity and it was like talking to somebody that spoke my particular quirky dialect of creativity.
One of the many dynamics in your successful career is that you also have a large following from the gay community. How do you explain how that's happened?
I had an interview with a gentleman, I can't remember the name of the magazine, but it seemed like every question that he asked me, in some way was a different version of, do you accept me? And I told him that about halfway through the interview I said I have never done an interview quite like this.
You're saying, that's the cry of the human heart, is I'm acceptable? Do you love me? I know that the love of God welcomes all of us, and I guess maybe it's just been that welcoming spirit. It seems like a lot of times the gay community just tends to maybe be attracted to female artists.I mean that's pretty historic, but I'm really glad.
I had a whole group of people, like 500 people. We have a barn and we have setup a sound system and did music and one weekend last summer and I was talking to everybody before they left and I think we're all in our own way a bit of mess, but how changed the world be if each of us went back to our own community and shared the love of Jesus, and primarily, he was concerned with the disenfranchised. I don't know how you read your Bible. My Bible, Jesus says the work of God is this to believe in the one he sent. I tried to be responsible and sharing about the love of Jesus.
It's kind of reflective of the title of your album, “How Mercy Looks From Here.” I would love you to take us out with one particular track of your choice from this album “How Mercy Looks From Here,” what would you choose, Amy?
I would pick the song, “Don't Try So Hard.” It was a thrill of a lifetime to record with James Taylor, he is singing background part. His voice sounds like home to me. I've always loved his music. The message I have to sing to myself all the time.
Amy Grant, I've been so pleased to speak with you. Thank you so much. It's been a great honor.
Thank you, Leigh. I hope I can make it back to Sydney sometime.