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Amy Grant
Keystone Magazine Interview

By Don Gillespie

This was a controversial time for Amy, it was late 1997, her marriage appeared to be in trouble and we were involved with some very intense discussions with her record company about publishing the original interview. Since this time she had recorded several more albums and continues to be one of the favourite artists of our time.

Having recorded over 200 songs, 14 albums, sung with some of the top male vocalists in the world and having had an international number one hit, Amy recently released a new album, Behind The Eyes. In the Keystone interview we talk with Amy about the years, the career, the music, the marriage, the gossip and get a look at the lady Behind The Eyes.

 

Who is Amy Grant?

AMY: Well, she's getting older, You know, I think one thing I'm learning as I reach my mid thirties, I've really started reassessing life and who I am. I've been doing music since I was a kid and it's been a great run thus far, but there are some things just on a personal level that I've begun to discover. I'm a pretty quiet person and the spotlight has never been something that's been real comfortable for me, especially something that came at such an early age. It's been interesting to give myself the freedom here in the last few years of saying my job requires a certain amount of publicness to it, but I'm not one to want to be on the 'A' list party invitation, to be at the newest restaurant opening, or `in' hip party. I much prefer spending time with my family and a few close friends, quiet evenings at home and I've felt well, that's who I am and I'm going to not feel the pressure to show up at everything that people invite me to, because of the public side of my career.

You and Gary have really busy lives. How do you keep home and marriage and family together?

Well, it's difficult. The kids - we have three children, Matt just turned 10, my daughter Millie is 8 and Sarah just turned 5, so I have no more babies at home. Once a child reaches a full handful, I don't think it's fair to consider them a baby anymore. They are really great in terms of adapting to the busyness of our schedule. I think it's all they've really ever known and I have a lot of help. I've got a nanny who is just like a second mom to the children and like a sister to me. She's been with my family since before Matt was born, so my children have never known life without Sis, which is what they call her. All of Gary's relatives and all of mine, our immediate family, live within a few miles of our home, so our kids are surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, so I think everybody pitches in to give them a real sense of home and stability.

One thing that's been really fun this past summer is that I have been doing promotional work for my new album and I've been taking one of my children at a time, out on the road with me, usually only for a week. Before we leave, I ask them if they want to come with me and I explain to them if they want to come that they need to know it's a work trip and that we'll try to squeeze in some fun, but that it's long days, long hours and a lot of radio stations. I think it's been really good for them to see that when I leave home I'm not going to just have fun somewhere, that I really work. 1 want them to understand that my job is important to me but that it's also hard, that it's not just a bunch of fun. So I think as they get older, the kind of one on one time we've been able to spend this summer will become more valuable, and it's really been a joy for me to get to just spend more time with each of them individually, getting to know them.

And then with Gary, it's busier than it's ever been because of his job as the host of Prime Time Country. It's the first regular job he has had since we got married, so it's difficult. But the interesting thing is that there's a lot of structure, because he's in town now all the time, so even though I'm travelling a lot, he's at home every night with the kids and can help tuck them in and stuff. The two of us, we're kind of ships that pass in the night and we talk on the phone or say 'see you at the end of the week' and it's not easy, but we've been married for 15 years, so we make do with how our life is. It's not traditional, I will say that.

In those early days how much influence did Michael Blanton and Dan Harrell have on your career?

They were a huge part of it. Honestly, I think for me, had I not hooked up with them, I would have probably been very content to play small coffee houses and churches and just do my music at a real local level. I don't know what Daniel and Mike saw in me, because I was not the best singer, I was not the most talented guitar player and I wasn't the best songwriter. I do think that back in the beginning I was at least writing songs from the heart about something extremely important to me, my faith, and there was an honesty there. I think Mike and Dan early on saw that there was a generation of young believers who wanted to hear a peer talk in contemporary terms about their faith. They were the ones who had the bigger plan, that we could take this to more people and they had all the belief in the world that my music could really impact a lot of lives.

I don't think that's how I looked at it. I was worrying about passing finals in high school. They did a lot of the thinking and planning. They still do. Not as much, they've moved on to other things although they still manage me, but there are other people now who help me plan out my promotional schedules and touring and stuff like that. But they were a real big inspiration for me. I really respect them. Dan has such a keen sense of business and marketing and Mike is just an amazing, creative soul, who if he weren't a manager, would be an artist in his own right. They make a great combination, and as an artist just starting out I don't think I could have fallen into any better hands to carve a career path for me.

How much are they still involved with you now as far as things like marketing, merchandising and even songs that you put on the album?

I think that the actual recording process of picking songs is where they're the most involved, and that's really more Mike. He's one of the first people I'll play a new song for. He knows me behind the eyes. I worked with Wayne Kirkpatrick and Keith Thomas on this album. Years ago Mike would be at the studio all the time and he's no longer at the studio all the time, but interestingly enough, when I finally turn in some songs to him, he has a real, keen, objective ear now, because he hasn't heard every take and every track laid down, so he views it more like an official A&R guy would. That's where he's very involved.

As far as the day to day, I have a responsible manager, a woman by the name of Jennifer Cook, who is really in the trenches every day working with both Myrrh Records and A&M Records. She's travelled everywhere all summer with me and we work on a daily basis together, but she checks in with Mike and Dan and gets their opinion on things. She's certainly capable of making decisions completely on her own, but they have a really great working relationship, so I think they have a lot of trust in her, that she carries things out with the same spirit and intent they would want, if they were on the road. So it works really good.

Some people say Amy Grant is just too nice, and then you get some in the Christian community who say, `Is she still a Christian?' You must be aware of that and how do you respond to it?

You know, I am because people tell me, not many people tell me that to my face. I do have people say I'm nice, but it's rare that somebody comes up and confronts me on my faith. I get some letters but mostly what I hear is people saying, `This is what's being said about you', but it's never really said first hand to me. I know that there are a lot of people who have questioned my selection of songs and some of the changes that I've made, and I don't feel a responsibility to answer every complaint. I feel very confident with the direction that my music has taken. The way I look at it is that I look at the body of songs that I am recording from the day I started to the day I stop, as being songs about the whole of my existence. Most of those songs, and I've recorded over 200 songs, 80% of those are about my faith. I have recorded already the bulk of what I will ever put on tape. I can talk about, and still sing songs about, my faith but also sing songs about family, or struggles, or coming to terms with things whether it be disappointment, or pain, or death. There are a lot of things I think, that we face as humans, whether we believe in Christ or not, and to be able to express those sort of things in song is important to me.

To kind of round out the picture of who I am and what I believe, I believe like I believed at age fifteen and a half when I wrote my first song about my faith. Those beliefs are still there. I'm choosing to write about some different themes right now, because personally, as an artist, I think it would get a bit stagnant to sit down and think every time I sit to write a song I'm landlocked in my theme. I know there are people that do that, and I say hats off to them if they can continue to be creative and write great music, I admire anybody that dedicates themselves strictly to Gospel music. For me, for what I honestly believe my gift is, in terms of communicating, faith is a big part of it, but so is what I'm writing about now. And for as many times as I've heard or read the big crossover issue, I can honestly tell you that's not what I think. I know there was an effort to push something in the pop market - I'm not denying that - but for instance yesterday I did an in-store at a bookstore in Phoenix. There were probably 500 people that showed up and I performed just maybe for 40 minutes on my guitar and I did everything from Baby Baby to my new single It Takes a Little Time, to El Shaddai, to Thy Word. You see, to me it all fits and I know there are some people who don't think it does and to them I would say well, this gives me the freedom to pursue what I know is right for me and I don't have to try to convince anybody else of that.

Regardless of your career path, or what people might perceive to be your career path?

Yeah, I'm still making music for both markets. I'm still signed to the Christian label that signed me when I was a young girl and I love those people. It's funny, because people say, 'Oh, I know you're probably too busy to call a Christian radio station' but no, I'll do that, I'm fine to do that.

For me it all fits, because it's my life and the one thing I will say to fans who were originally concerned with some of the different direction is, I do understand that people may wait three years for me to put out a new project and that they're not a part of my life during that three year process of writing, so what they get when they get a CD, that's all they know of me. For me it probably makes more sense because I understand who I am, better than somebody who just buys CD after CD.

You've been recording now for almost 20 years. What are some of the highlights?

Well, I am still honestly amazed and humble that something that started as a hobby for me and that I loved doing, turned into a 20 year career, 20 years plus - I hope to do this for a while. So every time somebody gives me the green light and says, `We want yet another record', I get all excited again. I don't take it for granted, I honestly don't.

Highlights? They go back to the beginning, working with Brown Bannister, and then we were just young kids and I think so much of what we did in the studio was to us just the thrill of getting the chance to do it. Some of the things that really stand out now are that I really enjoyed singing the duet with Vince Gill. We became good friends through that process and through a bunch of different charity things we did in Nashville. I think really highly of him and I'm glad that I have a song that forever captures our voices together. We recently just did an instrumental version of How Great Thou Art for an instrumental album coming out, which was fun as well.

On this new album, one of the highlights was working with Wayne Kirkpatrick, because it was the first time we've written songs together for years, but he had never been my producer and he has such a neat way about him in the studio. He's quiet and yet he has a purpose in what he's doing and we would have some of the greatest conversations and really did some different things. We used a lot of different studios in recording the different songs for this album and we would pick studios for the mood we could create to record in. I was just knocked out that this is what I get to do.

Ten years ago, Mike and Dan said that one of the best things that they have ever been involved with was your concert at the Forum. Has there ever been another concert like that since?

Well, I don't know for them, I know that was a pretty charged night for all of us, because it was sold out and I can't remember who had been there the night before, but it was a big pop act and they had not, I think, sold as many tickets as I had. We were all very excited, because that was really before I had any major mainstream radio success, or even a whole lot of press, so that was an exciting night.

I think for all of us, Baby Baby reaching number one, even internationally in some markets, that's a thrill and I hope some of the songs on this album do really well, but to me a number one song is like lightning striking, you don't necessarily expect it to strike twice. We were out the day it went to number one. I was taping the Arsenio Hall Show in Los Angeles when the call came in that it had edged out another song for the top position. That was a real highlight.

Also last year when we did the Christmas show that we've been doing for five years in a row, we opened the Nashville Arena, which is a beautiful facility and we sold out two nights with myself and Vince Gill and CC Winans, Michael Smith and Gary Chapman, and I think for us to be asked to be the inaugural event in an arena in a city that we all call home was a really special honour.

One of the low points of your career I understand happened at Estes Park in '81, when you first went on with a band.

I can laugh about it now. I don't think 1 necessarily laughed that day. Oh, it was horrible! It was the first time I ever performed with a band and we hired the Daniel Amos Band, which has been a very well-known Christian rock band. People had been used to seeing me with a guitar player, an acoustic, kind of folk setting and we were going to come in and really knock everybody for a loop and we did, but it wasn't a good loop. They did not like it. It was a hard night as a performer, but I think one thing that Mike and Dan really helped me see is that even when something did not meet with overwhelmingly positive response from the audience, we have to stick to what we know we are supposed to do. And part of their thing - it really wasn't how I thought - but they thought we need to grow this audience. Not in terms of numbers but in terms of, if we never had another person buy a ticket other than that group of people at Estes Park, they need not be afraid of me getting up there and singing with the band.

Part of it was just a learning process and in many ways I was the first artist to start doing some of this stuff, and some people expected certain things from you and didn't want change. Mike and Dan back then said, "You don't ever want to be stagnant, you don't ever want to define yourself by other people's expectations. You need to be who you are, who God wants you to be." So even though that had been a real hard night, in some ways it inspired us to think we were onto something. We need to pursue this.

You did a gig with Bruce Willis, opening a Planet Hollywood. How did that come about?

I had met Bruce and Demi at Camp David with President Bush and Barbara Bush. It was after the election when Bush lost to Clinton and he was doing one last weekend up at Camp David, which is a Presidential retreat. He was bringing in some people who had been big supporters to thank them and he asked me to come do some music. Bruce and his wife, Demi, were there and we got to talking and they were really nice. One of their daughters liked my music, a Christmas album or something, so I think we all exchanged phone numbers. When the Planet Hollywood was opening, Bruce's office called my management company and said Bruce was going to perform that night, he'd put a band together and would love Amy to come up and do a song. I was in the studio at the time and we weren't going to be able to rehearse anything, so we just decided to do a cover tune and I think we did Proud Mary or something, but it was a fun night. Nashville was so alive that night and we had a red carpet that went a city block that we had to walk out. People were screaming and it was really fun.

You've recorded songs and sung with a number of people, Art Garfunkel, Vince Gill, Peter Cetera and many others. Of the people you work with, is there any one particular thing that's gone really well for you, that you've particularly enjoyed doing?

You know, I can honestly say that I am not saying this to be politically correct. Each collaboration like that has been special, because of the individual involved. They all take on their own unique memory and meaning. When the call came to sing with Peter Cetera, I mean I'm obviously a huge Chicago fan, that was great, just the idea of getting to sing with him. Also, the stuff I've done with Michael Smith. Michael just turned - oh, I don't know if he's willing to admit this in public, but I'll say it. He just turned 40 and we had a birthday party for him and people did some music, and Michael and I got up and sang a song together. We grew up together and all that kind of felt a special part.

Again, the friendship that came to be because of getting to record a song with Vince was very special to me and there've been so many other people. You know, the type of work that I'm able to do has allowed me to run in sort of really interesting circles. Not better than people that aren't famous, but certainly there's an interest factor. For instance, I am a huge Carole King fan and I met her at a thing with Paul Newman and we actually sang a song together and it was like - somebody touch me, I can't believe it!

Also, singing with John Denver was a highlight. Last year at the Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament in Palm Springs, Vince Gill and I got up and sang Country Road with John Denver. We both listened to the song a zillion times growing up and he's so sweet. I was just so sad when I heard that he was killed. I've listened to a lot of his music and it's a real deep loss.

What happened with James Taylor?

Well, I'm a huge James Taylor fan and I've always wanted to sing with him. He actually came in and did a concert in Nashville, probably ten years ago, at an event I was hosting and we got to talk a little bit. Anyway, as I was working on this album I thought, I would love to sing a duet with James Taylor, and I'd written a song called I Got You and I thought he would sound great on it. It's kind of an up tempo song. So 1 got his address and I sent him a tape - first I called him on the phone and he said, 'I'd love to, send me a song'. So I sent him the song and when he finally called he said, 'I, too, have always hoped that maybe we'd be able to do something together, but if we do I want it to be something really special and I don't like this song, I think it's awful.' Of course he didn't realise I'd written it. So there was a long pause and he said, 'Please tell me you didn't write this.' I said, 'I did, but I appreciate the honesty and maybe there'll be another song.'

But you know what? He was right, it wasn't a very good song. It didn't make the cut for the album. As a song writer people ask me a lot, 'What's your favourite song on this album?' Well, my pretty typical response is, `Ask me again in five years', because certain songs mean something to you after a while and really wear well with time. That's what the whole recording process is like on this project, because I recorded 31 songs. When you go in and do one in the studio, it's always your current favourite and that's kind of how this song I sent to him was. It was the one we were working on, it was my current favourite, but the good thing about having the luxury to take a lot of time and write and record so many different songs, is that by the time we really sat down to pick the songs we thought were the best, I had lived with them all for a long time, and it was real easy to look at that list and fight for some. It's real easy to look at others and decide to leave them out. I think regardless of James' opinion, I think I've Got You would have fallen into that category. So I thought it humorous. I loved his honesty and it didn't hurt my feelings, I just thought it was funny, you know?

We've heard the National Enquirer stories. What is the real story?

I actually have never seen the stories. I hear that they've written some things and I don't make a habit of reading those, so I don't know exactly what they've put. The tabloids have always been, I have felt, pretty kind to me, until recently. I guess they've printed a few things, but you know, I guess they put people behind cars and bushes and they take pictures of very innocent activities and actions and then they decide to throw a slam on them that just isn't reality.

The one that I think was the most recent was me giving Vince Gill a ride home and it wasn't even a ride home, it was to his car. He was walking two blocks in the hot sun and I saw him and pulled up and said, `Hey buddy, you want a ride?' and drove him to his car two blocks away. I mean, they turn that into some We got you! story. It's like got me what? Giving a friend a ride. I'm not going to try to fight that. I know what's true. I know my life. I know my friends and the people who know and love me also know what's going on, so I think it's unfortunate. But I don't have the type of public life that ends up being too interesting to the National Enquirer, you know. I'm kind of a quiet homebody, so for the most part they leave me alone.

Tell me the story you told about the bag man.

The bane of my existence has always been curiosity and it's got me into trouble a few times. I had a day to kill in the city, sat on a park bench and got talking to a bag man. When I went to say goodbye I was afraid for just a brief moment that he was going to follow me, and that I had made a big mistake and I told him that. I said, `I'm a little nervous here, Johnny. I'm afraid you're going to follow me back to my hotel, or come look for me.' He said, `I will not follow you.' And he didn't. I would certainly recommend the conversation, because when he said to me he hadn't talked to somebody in 3 or 4 days, it struck me that we all have a need for connection.

I was talking to somebody and I don't even remember who it was, but it was somebody who was talking about street people asking for money. He always gives, if he's got a couple of bucks in his pocket, but he says, 'I will not just hand them money. I make sure that when I hand them money I look them in the eye and I touch their hand, shake their hand and smile, so that it's not just throwing a coin toward them.' It's an actual connection of `I see you, I recognise you. You say you have a need, here's a little bit to help out', but it's more of a place of just validating that they exist. I think a lot of us walk by homeless people, or people
with handicaps and I remember being told if you see somebody who doesn't have a leg, don't look. Well, enough of that and that person sits there and thinks, `Why isn't anybody looking at me? I'm still here. I'm a person.'

I try to do a lot for the Make-a-Wish Organisation for kids who are dying, and some kids say that one of the things they want is to spend time with me. And so I do all of those. There was a girl who came out to my home who had cerebral palsy. Her name was Stephanie Howard and she just had the most contagious smile, just beautiful, but very handicapped and we spent some time together. Her father actually put her in the car, and I went to Sonic Burger, which is a little drive up hamburger stand and got her a cherry limeade and we both sat there talking. I went to hand her the cherry limeade, and she had physical disabilities and I asked her, 'Are you OK to hold this, do you need help?' And her verbal skills are not good, although she can certainly communicate well, but she has trouble speaking and she kind of said in this voice (slowly), 'You know, Amy, I'm a normal person on the inside.' I was just so struck with these people that have things happening to them, illnesses, circumstances that the rest of us respond to like they're not normal, or that they don't exist and I just think that's a real tragedy. Anyway, I'm sorry to get on a soapbox.

I've read in some articles, and in some radio interviews you've stated that this album is about honesty and it is the real Amy Grant on this album. In a sense, is this the first time we're seeing the real Amy Grant?

I wouldn't say it's the first time you've seen the real Amy, because I think the real me was showing up for most of the songs recorded on the last 14 records, not all of them but most of them. I think what I can honestly say is that on this album I allowed myself the freedom to write about some things that were a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit sadder, than in the past. I don't know what I thought people wanted from me, but 1 think it had a little bit to do with every song having to be up or positive or encouraging. A lot of life is that way, but certainly not all of life is that way, and so when I sat down with David Annerly, who's the A&R person at ASrM Records, who oversees my recordings, my career, he really challenged me. He said, "I don't feel like the album has love." For as much as he really liked that album, he said, "I don't feel like the woman I know is as present as I would want you to be as a songwriter. I think you need to challenge yourself and not just flesh out lyrics that have already been started by someone else. But come to the writing process with your own ideas and your own feelings and don't be afraid of what you need to say." Whatever stretch of life it was, there were things that were painful, certainly everything is not a ' personal experience, but as you ' see people around you, your , friends trying to cope with a ' growing family and most of the ' people I know who are married ', have ups and downs, so on this album I gave myself the freedom to address some of those issues.

What's your gut reaction to some of the criticism in America of the album?

Well, you know what? I don't think I'm very aware of the criticism. I guess I'm lucky. I have spent most of the summer on the road for A&M records, promoting the first single It Takes a Little Time on pop radio and on the mainstream side of my career, and so those discussions in terms of whether this is appropriate don't happen. The album debuted in the top 10, sales are going well, I've got a single that's really working. I've gotten some of the best critical reviews. I don't read very many, but the few I've seen have all been the best I've ever gotten, so what I have seen has all been positive, so if there's a groundswell of people who don't like it, or something like that, it hasn't reached my ears yet.

But every other song doesn't have ‘Jesus’ in it, you know?

Yes, they've been saying that for a long time of my albums and I remember telling somebody and this was I think, back at Heart in Motion, but I still believe it, a well timed statement of truth is sometimes much more effective ', than trying to brow beat ' someone. I think if people were ' to look at a youth group situation, as an example. A youth pastor knows that if he's got a group of kids he needs to provide them with beach outings, overnight camping trips, games of volleyball and cookouts and all sorts of fun in order to build a trusting relationship, in order to get to know them as human beings. And in the midst of all of that, at some point, there's going to be a talk, or a testimony, or something that's going to talk about Jesus. Every moment is not spent in Bible study. It doesn't have anything to do with your faith, or how you're living your life as a Christian.

I think for people to say that every song needs to be a three and a half minute sermon is not realistic. There are people out there who can do that and I love their music, but I don't think all of us need to do that. I meet people who come up and hug me and say, "The minute I heard Somewhere Down the Road I felt like somebody had reached into my soul with the words I needed to hear, because I just lost my 5 year old daughter, or I lost my mother last year to cancer." Those people aren't being critical, they're hearing what I would hope would be a well timed truthful statement at the end of an honest album.

Amy has sold over 20 million albums worldwide, including 1 Quintuple and 2 Double Platinum, 9 Platinum and 10 Gold Albums.She is now married to Vince Gill.