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Happy Birthday, Amy Grant!

| November 25, 2010 | 0 Comments

Thanksgiving is the perfect day to celebrate the birth of Amy Grant, a woman who has touched untold lives simply by showing us how to live better by giving more.

On a personal level, as a Nashvillian I’m always moved by her unwavering support of this community—whether it’s a benefit concert, a supportive hand or a comforting hug, Amy always shows up. I’m given strength by her willingness to stand in the spotlight and make herself so relatable by fearlessly wrapping herself in her own shortcomings and embracing the beautiful messes of life. And I’ve been forever changed by her unfiltered stories shared so freely and honestly.

So on the anniversary of Amy’s 50th year on this earth, I want to say how lucky we are that she’s here among us, and give a huge thanks for the monumental difference she has made.

To celebrate, here are excerpts from an interview Amy had with Performing Songwriter in 2008.

How did you first start writing songs?

I was 15. I loved music and was starting to play guitar. I loved making things up and saying what I wanted. To this day, songwriting is the most rewarding part of the creative process by far. There’s nothing quite like it. I recently wrote a song called “Unafraid.” One verse is about Vince, one verse is about my kids, and one verse is about my mom. I have never cried so hard writing a song in my life (laughs). Just crying for gratitude. The floodgates burst open. That’s such a cathartic feeling.

When you started writing, did you feel constrained about the subject matter you could address as a Christian artist?

No. Now people approach songs about faith as a genre-specific career step, and it wasn’t like that in the mid-’70s. There was no genre. The reason I started writing songs about faith is that all the other subjects were covered by James Taylor, Carole King, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins. All that stuff was already there: love, heartbreak, loneliness, desire. But absent from all those songs was anything that talked about faith, so I was writing to round out my repertoire of life experiences.

At the time I was completely swept up in this hippie church down on 16th Avenue [in Nashville] called Belmont Church. This was 1976, long before all of this Contemporary Christian music had come around. Nashville was all about Southern Gospel. I made a cassette tape of songs I had written, and it fell into the hands of somebody who played it for a record company and they said, “She’s doing this new kind of music; sign her!”

Did you get resistance when you sang about secular subjects?

Nobody cared (laughs). It wasn’t a big grassfire. I always felt free. I was around people who were encouraging. I was writing so much of my stuff that it enabled me to find an audience that related to the person behind the performance. That’s been the biggest thing. That’s why a certain crowd has stuck with me, because they say, “I feel like I know her. Whether she’s being silly or sexy or spiritual, it’s all part of the same package—just like me.”

You’ve established very long-term songwriting and production relationships with people like Michael W. Smith, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Brown Bannister and Chris Eaton. How do you manage to keep those collaborations going for decades?

I try not to burn bridges with anything, but especially with work. One thing about being an upfront person is that you have to make a revolving door comfortable. I know some artists who make loyalty a mandate with the people who work with them. I love the people I work with, but I’ll be the first to say, “If you can get a better paying gig, go for it” (laughs). I try to treat people with respect and always try to make a deal good for everybody. You make it as good for the other person as you’d like it to be for yourself.

Writing a song with someone can be such an intimate exercise. Is it ever weird to share with a co-writer the emotions that go into a song?

It’s never been weird. The purpose of writing a song gives you the same goal. You can take two different people at very different times of life—one can be in the middle of heartbreak and the other has just had their third child—but they’re meeting on common ground. So it’s not like a date (laughs). You can be as vulnerable as you want to be. I’ve been in songwriting sessions where I did a lot of the talking and others where I was pretty quiet.

Have you written a lot with Vince?

No. We both write at home, and we write quite a bit [individually]. Often we are pursuing our own ideas and then coming back and saying, “Hey, what do you think of this?” There’s nobody I enjoy playing a new song for more than him, because I can see it all over his face if he feels like it’s a good one. And if it’s not, he’ll just say, “Hey, can I make a suggestion about these chords?”

Is it tricky writing with your husband?

I guess it could be, depending on who your husband is! (Laughs) But not with Vince. He’s so musical and a great communicator.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?

I’m harder to please now. Your standard goes up. It’s increasingly harder for me to move myself. And if I can’t be moved by an idea, there’s no chance somebody else is going to be moved. But I don’t feel like it’s my job to pump out songs every week anymore. Now it’s like fishing—I throw that line in the water and wait and wait and wait for a nibble. Once a nibble comes I go, “All right, I’m going to write that song.” I wait on an idea to come, and then I work on that song.

But that creative thing will take you by surprise. You can have an idea of what you want to say and keep it on the back burner for a year, and then all of a sudden you’re noodling on the guitar and sing out a lyric, and a musical line will connect to an idea. That’s like getting a great tug on the line. You go, “Hey, there’s a fish out there!” (Laughs) You just have to be patient.

—Interview by Chris Neal

Excerpts from Performing Songwriter Issue 114, December 2008

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