When someone is blessed with talent for writing songs combined with a great voice to communicate those tunes, it’s not surprising when their albums attain gold and platinum status. Such is the case with pop/gospel songstress Amy Grant.When someone is blessed with talent for writing songs combined with a great voice to communicate those tunes, it’s not surprising when their albums attain gold and platinum status. Such is the case with pop/gospel songstress Amy Grant.
She made history in the Christian music community when her Age to Age album was the first gospel album recorded by a solo artist to receive gold certification in 1984. The lp went on to be certified platinum. Subsequent releases, Straight Ahead and unguarded has reached platinum. One of her early lp’s, My Father’s Eyes was certified gold in 1987. Her current album Lead Me On has also been certified gold.
Her albums blend the tunes she’s written with tunes penned by some of the most noted writer in the industry including Jimmy Webb, Justin Peters, Janis Ian, Kye Fleming, Rich Mullins and Gary Chapman, producer Brown Bannister, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Michael W. Smith, who began his career in contemporary Christian music as Grant’s keyboardist before finding success as a solo act.
Though she’s adept at finding songs that express her sentiments, her growth as a songwriter can be traced through the tunes she’s written. Grant began writing and recording while still in her teens. The subject matter in her songs has grown from early tunes such as “Mimi’s House,” writer about the love in her great-grandmother’s house, to songs addressing more adult themes including a selection on Lead Me On titled “Faithless Heart” which Grant says is “about as close to the bone as I’ve ever written.”
A native of Augusta, Ga., Grant is the youngest f four daughters. The Grants lived in Houston before her physician father relocated his family to Nashville. At the age of 15, Amy was writing songs. While working in a local recording studio, sweeping floors and doing odd jobs, Bannister (then a novice producer) became familiar with Grant’s talents and brought her to the attention of Word Records. By 16 she was a recording artist.
What prompted Grant to begin writing songs? “I needed to,” she replied. “It felt good. I guess it was a way of taking all the thoughts and feelings spinning around in my head and making some kind of sense of them.
“I was not at a stage in life when I thought ‘I’m gonna take all this wisdom and tell everybody else about it.’ It was not because I thought I was a very together person. It was a stage in life when nobody was listening to me and so it was a real private experience when I started writing.”
When she began to share the fruits of her adolescent muse, her family was her first audience; later Bannister was the first professional in the music field to give her feedback. Bannister admitted Grant’s early songwriting was not phenomenal, but it was good and he saw potential. “What really blew me away about Amy was her ability to communicate,” he recalled.
Grant readily admits that she feels the material she is writing today is much stronger than her previous work. “From a recording standpoint I rely a lot more on what I bring to the table as a songwriter,” she commented. “But I think it always helps to get outside input too. It gives you fresh ideas to have other people’s material on your records.”
Though she cuts songs by many accomplished writers, she feels her current work measures up. “There’s always room for improvement,” she said, “but I don’t feel if you lined up a bunch of my songs with other people’s songs, they’d go, ‘Let’s see, the real immature song would obviously be yours and they would be these songs.’ I thought that way for a long time because a lot of people start writing songs at an early age, but many of them are suddenly put on display so they get a chance to kind of grow then slowly come into the public eye. And for all the odd circumstances of my early career even my simple little stupid songs were on public display. Now I don’t think my songs stick out because they were written by a younger person, part of that I guess is because I’m older now.”
A lot has changed in Grant’s life since those early days. In addition to being one of the hottest artists in contemporary Christian music, Grant crossed over to the pop charts when she signed with A&M Records, making her one of the few Christian acts with a secular label deal. She also recorded a number one pop tune when she dueted with former with former Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera on “Next Time I Fall In Love.”
Her personal life has changed as well. She’s now married and the mother of a year and half old son, Matthew.
“I do feel a lot older,” the 28 year old admits, “but in a great way. A lot of life has gone down the pike and it feels good to write from a place of experience rather than imagining someone else experiencing this. Some experiences that help write a really good song are very hard, difficult experiences, but in the whole framework of life you wouldn’t trade those for anything.
“Between the release of my 1985 studio album and this latest one, Gary and I had a baby. I lost my grandmother. It’s all part of the fabric of life. I had a miscarriage and really tough marriage times. All that stuff is nothing I would write in a letter to the public, but I feel like those things are reflected hopefully in a very rich, colorful way in the way the songs are written.”
Grant said she’s pleased at the response the album is garnering from both the public and critics. “I didn’t feel like the same person going into the studio this time,” she commented. “When the album came out I really felt like it was a pretty honest reflection of where we were at the time. We being Gary, me, Brown and all the people that put all the creative input in. And it felt so good to have people say this album is so different. I don’t care what the adjectives were. I just wanted it to be obvious that there is value in living and talking about it and I felt like that came through.”
In addition to having a broader range of experiences to pour into her songwriting, Grant feels she’s learned to communicate more clearly and creatively. “I hope that as I mature as a songwriter, the songs come into clearer focus,” she explained. “When you have a feeling of elation, or whatever those amoeba-like, constantly changing shape feelings are, if you are 20 years old and try to grab one of those feelings and wrestle it to the floor and put it on a piece of paper, sometimes it communicates and sometimes it doesn’t. As I get older I’m finally able to feel something and communicate it in a clearer way than I have before.”
One song Grant feels was challenging to write, but achieved the result she wanted, is a tune on Lead Me On titled “Say Once More.” She says the song is a real simple thought through which she was trying to convey a complex emotion.
“I wanted to communicate the feeling of being in love. It’s a great feeling, yet there’s something frightening about it. It’s like sand, it slips through your fingers,” she related. “How do you write a song that says all that – that says it thrills and frightens and says tell me it’s not gonna change – but you know there aren’t any guarantees?
“If you’ve never written a song before, you sit down and you think ‘well I’ll write love slips through your fingers like sand and there are no guarantees’ and you go for the obvious stuff. I feel like I was thinking all those things, but with “Say Once More” hopefully what happened was a very articulate, emotion filled rendition of that feeling. If you listen to it and it hits you that way then you say ‘it’s a success.’ If it didn’t then it wasn’t a success.”
Grant said the letters she’s received from fans have let her know that her songs accomplished what she set out to make the listeners feel. “I’ve had so many people write to me and say ‘What was the haunting feeling behind this? Why do I feel happy and sad at the same time?’ And that makes me go ‘yeah it worked,’ All the things I thought I was feeling were communicated in the song,” she said.
Grant readily admits to being an undisciplined songwriter, working at her own pace and on her own schedule. Though many writers may go into their publishing companies and write from nine to five, the other hats Grant wears – recording artist, wife and mother – make regular songwriting hours impossible.
Like all artist/songwriters, Grant has to make time for her writing and she says that time is generally when she’s home because she doesn’t find road life conducive to writing. “When the sun starts to set, that’s when I write,” she stated. “but unfortunately when I’m on the road, the sun starts to set and I’m already at the hall doing sound check, concert, meeting people afterward, packing up the trunks getting back on the bus and suddenly its 1:30 or 2 a.m. and I don’t even have one creative thought.
“I really think my pattern for writing just doesn’t work on the road. The good side of it is that the best writing comes because you are expressing life experiences. So I think that time on the road is the living part of songwriting. Then I come home and write about it.”
When co-writing Grant says she’ll often do it by exchanging tapes back and forth. “I enjoy co-writing because I feel my strong point is lyrics,” she stated. “Some people I love being in the room with when I’m writing but for the most part I’d rather do it by myself. I enjoy writing with Gary in the same room and with Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Beyond that I’d rather bounce a tape back and forth between myself and somebody…you put your ideas on it and I’ll put my ideas on it.”
Grant’s husband, Gary Chapman, has written or co-written several of Grant’s best known songs including “Father’s Eyes” and “Angels” as well as number one songs for country artists T.G. Sheppard (“Finally”) and Kenny Rogers (“I Prefer the Moonlight”). Grant says the frequency of their co-writing varies.
“We go through phases. I guess it depends on how we’re communicating at the time,” she said. “We wrote a lot more together when we first started getting to know each other because how we met was in that arena. Now because there are so many demands on our time, we don’t write as much together.”
Parenthood has wrought changes in the couple’s songwriting and lives in general. During this interview Matthew busied himself by stuffing toys in his Dad’s guitar. Aside from the obvious changes having a baby in the house brings, Grant feels Matt has changed her writing in that she feels great freedom.
“You see things from a whole new standpoint,” she said. “From a songwriting standpoint I feel a lot more freedom just to be creative and not try to meet some standard. As soon as I had Matt I said ‘this is the big work of my life’ and it took all the pressure off.”
Though Grant is obviously a busy young woman, juggling many responsibilities between career and family, her songwriting is one of the things in her life she’ll always find time to enjoy. “It just feels good to connect,” she enthused. “When I first write a song I’m just connecting with myself, but it feels good to see it on paper and feel understood, even if it’s just me understanding me. And it feels good to sit down with an audience and sing a song and watch them connect. It’s the most gratifying thing to connect with what’s inside (me) translated through a song to somebody else.”