Amy Grant talks 'Heart In Motion,' Joni Mitchell, losing music legends and more
Amy Grant isn’t just a Christian music superstar. She’s written actual, honest-to-goodness hymns.
Seriously: Crack open your pew’s hymnal this Sunday, and there’s a decent chance you’ll find Thy Word, a 1984 single co-written with Michael W. Smith, that made its way into church songbooks shortly thereafter.
“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t you have to be dead for this to happen?’” Grant laughed during a recent phone interview. “I never anticipated that. And it still feels a little weird to me. I grew up in a church that had no choir, so it was all congregational singing, and it’s funny to me, because it’s hard to imagine singing what feels like a stylized song, congregational-style.”
Writing a hymn is a pretty good way to ensure you’ll stay relevant long after you’re gone. But the best-selling contemporary Christian artist in history, who performs at the Capitol Theatre Thursday (click here for details), is even better known for her hit pop songs, including Lucky One, Takes a Little Time and House of Love.
And then, of course, there's 1991's Heart In Motion, the five-times-platinum crossover monster that featured enormous hits like Baby Baby, Every Heartbeat and That’s What Love is For. Heart In Motion was nominated for Album of the Year at the 1992 Grammys (losing to Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable...With Love), and today sounds not only breezy, sweet and innocent, but incredibly prescient, a time capsule from an era of pop music that artists like Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen now seem eager to recreate.
“Great, quality songs,” Grant said of Heart In Motion. “The songs are way beyond the artist. It doesn’t even have to be all the songs, but if there a few of the songs that are memorable and singable, that keeps a record vibrant long after it’s gone.”
Though Grant broke through in the late ’70s and ’80s in contemporary Christian music, winning five gospel Grammys and scoring nonsecular hits like El Shaddai and Father’s Eyes, she was always inspired by singer-songwriters like Carole King and James Taylor, who both appeared on her 2013 album How Mercy Looks From Here; and Joni Mitchell, whose Big Yellow Taxi she covered to great success.
“There was a fresh spontaneity about her songs. She sounded like nothing else when she came out,” Grant said, adding: “She was un-capturable.”
Mitchell’s elusiveness, Grant noted, has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, as conflicting reports have swirled about her failing health. And so I asked how she, as a fellow performer, has been affected by this downer of a year we’ve been having, losing legends like Merle Haggard, David Bowie and Prince.
“It just feels like a thinning of the herd,” she said. “You just have this sense of being a part of the greater creative tribe. And that’s just the pattern of life, but you don’t feel that pattern of death until you get to the back half of your life.”
It’s like every other wave in life, she said: Everyone goes to college, everyone gets married, everyone has their first kid, everyone has their second kid.
“The sobering wave is death,” she said. “In a crazy way, it makes every day such a gift. Getting on stage and making music, maybe there’s a time in my life where I’ll think: ‘Whew, I’m exhausted. Take take a deep breath, brush your hair, put on lipstick and get out there.’ But it never feels that way now.”
The notion of an artist like herself feeling called to perform live, she said, is not too different from being called to Christianity.
“All music carries with it spiritual undercurrents,” she said. “You can’t be creative and not feel that. It’s a flow of inspiration that nobody’s good enough to generate. Musicians and writers and singers are poignantly aware of the ‘great other’ that comes through them.”
Grant hasn’t done much this year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Heart In Motion, though she did connect with Grammy-nominated singer Tori Kelly to record an updated cover of Baby Baby. And she’s not ruling out a larger celebration of the album in the future.
Not long ago, Grant attended a concert where another early-’90s songwriter, Marc Cohn, performed his self-titled debut album in full in celebration of its 25th anniversary.
“The year I was touring Heart In Motion, his record had just come out,” she said. “We would get on the bus and travel with all the lights out, listening to his record. Walking in Memphis, Ghost Train — it was such great songwriting. And when I showed up at the City Winery a couple of weeks ago, the whole point of that show was to play that record in order. He just talked about the stories behind the songs. He had some photographs to go along with it. It was fantastic.”
Could something like that be in the works for Heart In Motion?
“I just didn’t think of that in time,” she said. “Maybe I’ll do it for 30 years.”
Hey, when you’ve written hymns, time is on your side.
-- Jay Cridlin