Amy Grant talks game-changing album, writing songs about her faith journey (video)

Amy Grant press photo, 2021 | the media collective

By CP

Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Grant is celebrating the 30th anniversary of her popular cross-over album, Heart In Motion, and opened up about how her journey began and where her career has taken her.

The iconic album was re-released this month with a special double-disc distributed by Capitol Christian Music Group. The disc set features unreleased tracks and updated remixes of the album that was originally released in 1991.

Grant is the first contemporary Christian artist to ever garner a platinum record and the “first to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the first to perform at the Grammys,” Billboard reported.

“From 15 to 30, I was just trying to find musical language and songs to talk about the faith journey,” Grant told The Christian Post in an interview.

Heart in Motion would go on to catapult her career from just the faith market to the mainstream market. The album sold more than 5 million copies upon its ‘90s release and several songs went on to become top 10 singles. Her hit song “Baby Baby” also reached No. 1.

Now with 26 Dove Awards, six Grammys and a career that spans over four decades, Grant said she believes all artists “occupy slightly different places, and that’s OK. People connect to music because it’s feeding something in them.”

Grant told CP she hopes to live out the remainder of her career and life “finding language for respect” and approaching everyone with “more humility.”

The following is an edited transcript of Grant’s interview with The Christian Post where she talks about her successful career, the impact of her music, and her outlook on life after having open-heart surgery.

CP: Did you ever anticipate that Heart In Motion would change your life the way it has? 

Grant: Honestly, probably just like everybody, you just live one year at a time. Then you look back and go, “Wow, that was a game-changer.” But when you’re in the middle of something, you don’t really think about it. I’m 60 years old, so half my life ago is when I was making that record.

Half my life ago before that, when I was 15, I got on stage for the first time. I was in high school. I was involved with this youth group that was really vibrant; it was in a mixed community. I would go back to my school and say, “Hey, there’s nobody … finding musical language for the faith journey, which is so endlessly fascinating.” So that’s why I first started writing songs.

I loved all the music I grew up with: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, John Denver … The Beatles, Elvis, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson Five. I loved my record collection. So from 15 to 30, I was just trying to find musical language and songs to talk about the faith journey.

Then all of a sudden, right around 1989, ’90 rolled around, 30 years ago, and I had put out a lot of music already. I was at such a fun, joyful time in life. I had two young kids; I was actually pregnant with my daughter making that record, Heart in Motion. My sister lived next door, and she had four kids. They were always at our house and I just made a record that reflected that time in life.

Every record you work just as hard on. You write, you’re in the studio, but that record, Heart In Motion, brought together a community of creative people in a way that I had never experienced. So three producers, some new songwriters, and it did all of a sudden feel like this thing I’ve sort of been doing at one pace for 15 years [changed]. Everything got busier and bigger and happening faster.

I look back on that time and it was like being shot out of a canon. It was wonderful and a lot of hard work. I go to shows now and it will be a big production. We did probably a simpler version of that. But arena shows and all that … I just sit there clapping for that artist on stage going, “I’m so glad I’m where I am now.” I know what that feels like and I would rather be here.

CP: Your good friend Michael W. Smith is known as a worship leader. You make music from the perspective of a Christian. Would you say that is your niche? 

Grant: Music has been a lifeline for me, whether I’m listening to somebody else or writing my own song. But what I tried to do is go, “I don’t ever want to forget this feeling, I’m going to put that in a song,” or “Man, I am so struggling with direction in my own life,” or “I have questions about this,” or “I love this person.”

To me, it’s always been, I just write first and foremost for the audience of me and then somebody will come along and say, “I felt the exact same way you did.” I write more for an audience of one, and I feel like that’s kind of the narrative voice of my songs. It’s always about close proximity to me, so those songs have found their own audience.

CP: In Christian music, there aren’t a lot of people who lean more toward mainly reflective music, as you have.

Grant: I think all of us, we sort of do what comes naturally to us. I always look at, there’s so many creative voices, there’s so many ways to do everything. Honestly, I never even thought about comparing myself to anybody when I was young. I was just young, stupid. I was like, “Yeah, no, I don’t sing very high. I don’t have a lot of vocal gymnastics. I just do what I do.”

Then all of a sudden, you have some success, and then you go, “I can’t do what those other people do. I just do what I do.” There’s a weird thing that happens where you feel like you have to kind of measure up to some standard. And you hopefully push through that and go, “We all just have our own unique voice.”

Somewhere, I guess, in the last third of my life, I really saw the creative community as going, “Oh, it’s all of us. We are all telling the story of life through music, all of us are. We’re telling the story of our culture. Some of us are telling the story of our faith journey.” But the arts just tell the story of mankind. So these days, I tend to look at everybody and go, “Oh, yeah, you’re part of the matrix. You’re doing this, but we all create this big, beautiful picture.”

CP: You’ve had great success in mainstream music as a Christian singer despite much criticism. Do you find that music with the message is more accepted in the mainstream world now?

Grant: To me, it’s two completely different landscapes. Back in the ’90s, even the way that we just discovered music, it’s totally different. For a song to be heard it had to be on the radio. Way back when it was word of mouth, but you had to find music, it was not accessible. The beautiful thing about today is everything is accessible. I guess that’s good and bad.

I just think in the end, songs connect with people. For every artist, there’s a million ways to live life. But through our songs, people will say, “Oh, well, that’s their slant on life.” I mean, that’s true of every genre. You can hear a song and go, “Oh, I love that song. I do or don’t relate to the life that it came from, but I’m moved by that music.

The right time can be a game-changer for a person, especially when it has to do with faith. I think a lot of people connect with faith music the most deeply when they’re going through a struggle. Like, “Does anybody know what this feels like?” And then a song will come along and even if they’ve never walked into a church building …

CP:  What would you say has been the impact of having that broad reach that you’ve had?

Grant: I have wonderful artist friends. I’m thinking of one person in particular. l love this person, and their mantra is: “Everything I do has got to glorify God, and this is all I want to do.” And there’s so much joy that comes from that person.

Then I go, “There’s so much joy in what I’m doing, and I’m compelled to do something different than you are.” So I just think of it more in terms of I just think we all occupy slightly different places, and that’s OK. People connect to music because it’s feeding something in them.

From a creative standpoint, I think it would be great if we were all a little braver. If I were not afraid of anybody’s opinion, just in life in general, what if I weren’t afraid of what anybody else thought. I wonder if we would take up the space in which we live differently? I wonder if we would reach out to somebody differently?

CP: 2020 threw a wrench in the road for everyone and you, like everyone else, were forced to stand still. How was that for you? Was there something that came out of that season for you?

Grant: Yes. Well, a lot of time at home and touring kind of goes in seasons. We had just launched probably the biggest tour in 10 years, and we had barely started it and then everything shut down.

What I will mostly remember about 2020 is just how I’d never spent that much time at home. I had never spent that much time with my husband because he also travels. We had been empty nesters since the fall of 2019, and I loved being a mom. I had two kids in my 20s, one in my 30s, and my last at 40. In our blended family, I inherited our oldest when I married her dad and she was 17. Of course, now she’s 39.

It was just the longest time I’ve ever been in one place. For our youngest daughter to come back home from college, that was such a gift. I think the game-changing gift was all of us, we had so few distractions, and we were so aware of each other. We were more aware of each other’s pain. We are more aware of each other’s worldwide experience of COVID, more aware of racism, more aware of our own limitations.

So many things that we experienced in community; everybody was isolated. And so you go, “Oh, well, apart from the team, I can’t do nearly what I thought I could do.” There were just so many hidden gifts in that year.

I have never been so aware of the people that really keep the country running. The people that aren’t getting the big paychecks, but the people that show up every day and make it happen. If all these people didn’t come to work, life would come to a screeching halt. I’ll never be in a checkout line in the grocery store again and not just look in the face of that man or woman and just [think], “Wow, thank you.”

I had a hospital stay during COVID, which made me so aware of the healthcare community and just how important nurses are. The head of ICU nursing staff came into my room that night after I’d had surgery and he was such a bright light and so lovely.

And he said, “I’m not assigned to you but I just want you to know you’re in good hands.” I was asking him all about the early COVID cases. That was June of 2020, and you know by December, he had passed away from COVID, serving the people in that hospital. That’s humbling and makes you realize that so many people were affected so deeply in that year. And we were just more aware of each other in so many ways. To me, that was the gift.

CP: You had open-heart surgery in the midst of all this and you have shared that your heart condition was discovered because the doctor had a “gut feeling” to check you out. How are you now? 

Grant: The first thing I was telling all my friends, go check everything out even if you feel OK. I think all of us, we have to be reminded … life is a gift and you have to just go make sure everything’s OK.

Honestly, I’m so grateful. Yes, it was scary, but it was fixable, and I have such a deep respect and compassion for people that have ongoing health issues and it’s not something that can be fixed with one surgery.

That was really the biggest lesson, probably, in it for me, is that there are people that are navigating a health journey every day. They take a deep breath, and they go, “OK, I’m going to just put my best foot forward and love the people that I’m around.” But they’ve got a whole thing going on that’s present every day in their life. Those are the people I have respect for.

I called a friend who has one of those ongoing journeys, and I just felt differently about her daily experience because I just had a little tiny taste of it. I called her one day and said, “How are you doing?” And she said, “You know it took a long time for me to get out of bed today. I just kind of stayed under the covers and then I finally got up.” But just those subtle things. Everybody’s carrying a lot more than they let on every day.

CP: You often talk about the importance of unity. Unity is something that is greatly threatening all of our existence because the enemy hates unity. Following 2020 a lot of our differences were brought to the forefront and it caused great division. Can you explain the importance of unity and what that really looks like for you?

Grant: Unity just means standing together, bringing your differences. But unity is seeing the world around you, the people around you, in an inclusive way.

I think about astronauts in outer space. If something goes wrong, “Houston, we have a problem.” To look at the world … it requires a certain amount of trust. We’ve got different backgrounds, but the language of respect is so important.

As we start to gather again and be in groups, I think there was naivete that I know I had, going into life in general just because my eyes had not been opened. There’s a woman that I’ve maybe had coffee with twice. She’s half my age, we met at a banquet that was honoring different philanthropies, then she left Nashville and moved to New York. She was in town visiting and we got together just for a quick visit.

I have never said to her, because I’m a middle-aged white woman and she is a young black woman living in New York, and I said, “What was it when you were a kid? Where did you go to school? What was it like?” And she said, “Well, honestly, I went to a white school. That’s what I did. My dad was a pastor and so I had that community.”

To me, the important thing about unity is to be so aware of our differences. And then to respectfully say, “My experience was this, what was your experience?” and be more about observing and listening to understand. Not to hold somebody up to your measuring stick or for you to be held up to theirs.

The discussion is never-ending … and now I walk into a room and go, I’m a 60-year-old Caucasian woman and … for somebody it’s going to be [one thought] and for somebody else, it’s going to be [another thought], depending on what their life experience has been.

But we’ve got the opportunity to step into that space in the middle and go, “Hi, help me see you and I’ll try to help you see me.” To me, even the discussion of unity, it starts one-on-one. It just starts with how we value and see anybody. It’s the language of respect and you have to be brave. You have to be brave because fear makes people behave in all kinds of ways.

Every once in a while, I will have this conversation with myself. Sounds so bizarre, “Well, this thing that you’re doing, if you died doing this, is this OK with you?” I just think … saying, “I don’t know all the ways I’ve done it wrong, but I’m open to seeing life differently.” I mean, how would that change our marriages? Everything starts one-on-one.

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