Amy Grant Talks About Writing Her Hit Songs, Classic Album Heart In Motion, And Her Christmas Albums

Amy Grant
Amy Grant
(photo credit: Cameron Powell)

With a career spanning over 40 years, Amy Grant is a renowned singer/songwriter and Grammy Award winner, and she’s been a leading force in three music genres. She’s been a multi-platinum pop artist, and she’s now celebrating the 30th anniversary of her blockbuster 1991 album, Heart in Motion. She’s also had a long career as a successful teenage artist, who’s a pioneer in the Contemporary Christian Music field. On top of this, she is known for her popular success as a Christmas music recording artist.

In addition to these achievements, Grant is now being recognized for her excellence as a songwriter. This October, she will be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (along with Toby Keith, Rhett Akins, Buddy Cannon and John Scott Sherrill).

Over the years, Grant has proven that she’s a talented songwriter who has co-written most of her songs. This includes her pop hits “Baby Baby,” “Every Heartbeat,” “Good For Me,” “That’s What Love Is For,” “I Will Remember You” and “Lucky One.”

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Amy Grant, who discusses the making of her classic album, Heart in Motion, and writing her hit, “Baby Baby.”

Grant not only co-wrote her pop hits, but she also co-wrote her Christian music hit singles, including “Find A Way,” “Lead Me On,” “Saved By Love,” “1974,” “Say Once More,” “Stay For Awhile,” “Angels and “Sharayah.” And notably, Grant co-wrote “Tennessee Christmas,” which has become a classic holiday song.

Amy Grant Interview

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Grant. She discusses her great career, her songwriting, and the 30th anniversary of her album, Heart in Motion. But before we get started, here’s a rundown of her hit albums, her awards and other achievements.

Here’s a list of Grant’s albums that have been certified platinum or gold: My Father’s Eyes (1979, gold); Age to Age (1982, platinum); A Christmas Album (1983, platinum); Straight Ahead (1984, gold); Unguarded (1985, platinum); The Collection (1986, platinum); Lead Me On (1988, gold); Heart in Motion (1991, 5x platinum); Home for Christmas (1992, 3x platinum); House of Love (1994, 2x platinum); Behind the Eyes (1997, gold); A Christmas to Remember (1999, gold); and Legacy…Hymns and Faith (2002, gold).

Here’s the video of Amy Grant’s #1 hit, “Baby Baby.”

Grant has won six Grammy Awards, with four of the awards for Best Gospel Performance, Female. She has also won 26 Dove Awards, and she’s been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In addition, she is the recipient of a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Music City Walk of Fame. And notably, she has been married for 21 years to country star, Vince Gill.

Here’s our interview with Amy Grant:

DK: Congratulations on being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. How does it feel to receive this honor, which is for your songwriting?

Amy Grant: I was blown away…it’s such an honor. I’m not as prolific a songwriter now as I was when I was younger, so a part of me, it feels like a good cattle prod to get back to work (laughs). I’m honored to be listed among my fellow songwriters, a lot of whom I admire. With any award in the creative arts, I think all of us feel like…Really? Is what I’m doing good? I can’t really tell (laughs). When you’re writing a song, all you can do is try to write something that moves you, and hope that it moves somebody else.

DK: I read that you were born in Georgia, and you mostly grew up in Nashville. How did you get into singing and writing songs?

Grant: I guess it was in high school, that two things happened simultaneously. There was a coffee shop down on 16th Avenue that had a trio that performed that I was crazy about. They never became famous, but I would go down there and listen to them. This was before I had a driver’s license, so I had to get rides there. Then as a freshman in high school, I took a songwriting class. I guess I loved storytelling, and I always loved music. So it was those things coming together that compelled me to start writing.

DK: When you were a teenager, you had success as a Contemporary Christian music artist. How did you decide that Contemporary Christian music was the way to go when you were starting out?

Grant: Well, that genre was really young. I don’t think there were that many artists in the mid-‘70s (doing CCM), certainly not in Nashville. That coffee shop that I was talking about was kind of a Jesus people/hippie coffee shop. I saw some great musicians there, and the coffee shop hosted traveling musicians. That experience coincided with my faith journey, which really ignited during that time. And I think being a part of that community, it really broadened my world. I saw the world differently. That’s what made me want to write those songs. So it had nothing to do with a career…it was wanting to express what was happening in my life.

Here’s the video of Amy Grant’s hit, “Every Heartbeat.”

DK: After you had success as a Christian music artist, you gradually made the transition to pop music. How did you decide to branch out and do pop?

Grant: My first record came out in 1978, when I was 17 years old. Then I toured fairly consistently when I wasn’t in school. And I slowly started including songs about life, because to me, an evening of music…it’s all of life. It’s not just one thing—it’s the highs, the lows, falling in love, faith, disappointment. And because I spent so much performing, I wanted the full story. I wanted songs that represent everything about life, and in the early ‘90s when I took a real step into fun pop music, it was where I was in life, the opportunities that had come my way. By that time I was signed to Word Records, and they approached A&M Records and said, “Hey, we have an artist that could use your platform.” So that connection with A&M was not generated by me…it was generated by the record company I was already signed to.

[Back in those days], way before iTunes and all the music platforms now, the only way to get music was to go into a store. And at that time, faith records were mostly distributed through Mom & Pop music stores. So it was Word Records that said, “We feel like we’re not exploring all the possibilities and the platforms that this artist should have.” They made the intro for me.

DK: You’re now celebrating the 30th anniversary of your big album, Heart in Motion. Back when you were making this album, can you talk about the process of writing & recording the songs for Heart In Motion?

Grant: It was a beautiful time in my life. I had toured a year-and-a-half with the previous studio record, called Lead Me On. It met with great success, and I was pregnant with my second child. I was on the road touring, but at a certain point it’s better to stay at home (laughs)…balloon, give birth, and go through those early months. So with Heart in Motion, I was writing a lot of that record at the end of a pregnancy and at the beginning of my daughter’s life.

Before that record, I had pretty much made a record every year. But then you put a couple of kids in the mix, and everything slows down. So one of my managers, Mike Blanton, said, “I think we should work with three producers (Keith Thomas, Brown Bannister and Michael Omartian). We’d get the record done in half the time.” And they were all fantastic producers that I had already worked with, at least peripherally or directly.

Here’s the video of Amy Grant’s hit, “That’s What Love Is For.”

DK: When you were recording this album, was there one particular song where you were excited and said, ”Wow, I think we’ve got the pop hit and it’s gonna be great”?

Grant: Keith Thomas wrote the music to “Baby Baby.” When he said, “Would you write a lyric to this, and do you want to record it,” I felt like I had won the lottery. This was because that music was so compelling. So I think having the chance to sing that song, to be a writer on that song…I knew that song was special.

In the middle of the creative process, at that point in my life, the only pop success I’d  had was five years before with Peter Cetera (“The Next Time I Fall”). But that was his career, his music…I just sang a song with him. I don’t think my brain was on that wavelength, thinking…”Hey, we’re gonna bust through the Top 40 with this one.” I just think my life had the pattern of making a record, writing, recording, touring. I had been in that cycle for nearly a decade. [But it turned out that Heart in Motion] had a lot of singles on that record.

DK: I read that the new edition of Heart in Motion has some previously unreleased cuts and some new mixes. Can you talk about the new edition?

Grant: Sure. Back in the early ‘90s, of course remixes were all the rage, but they weren’t available and there were zero music platforms. So we didn’t actually create remixes for this; we just made available the club mixes—everything that was created in 1991. And I hadn’t revisited some of this stuff…it had been in Iron Mountain (data storage), which is like the air conditioned vault. But we found two songs that did not make the record but I’d already sung the vocals. They just hadn’t been mixed. So we finished those songs, and then I finished a song that the lyric of the chorus was on the liner notes. So when I was putting out that record in 1991, I had a song that I was working on, but it just wasn’t cooked (laughs). So I finished that song and recorded it as a new cut.

Here’s another excerpt of our interview with Amy Grant, who talks about the recording of her Christmas albums. and the impact these albums have had on her career.


DK: Besides your pop albums and your Contemporary Christian albums, you’ve also recorded some excellent Christmas music albums. Can you talk about making your Christmas albums?

Here’s the lyric video of Amy Grant’s classic Christmas song,
“Tennessee Christmas.”

Grant: Yes. I think when I’m long gone, the songs that will hang around that I was part of, will be the Christmas music. And I’m telling you, that was not on my radar when I made my first Christmas record. I think for me, things happen in patterns, and I love that Christmas records are not artist-focused. They’re season-focused…it’s a thematic record.

And looking back, every time I had a period of success, or just something that could have been good or bad, or was stressful, I would follow it with a Christmas record. It was a way of stepping back.

The first big-selling record I had came out in 1982, when I was a senior in college. It was called Age to Age, and it was the first Contemporary Christian music record to sell a million copies. And I felt…suddenly you’re a major part of the bottom line of the fiscal year of the record company, and everybody’s like, “Okay, what’s next?” (laughs). I didn’t know that was going to happen. And I think I found myself going from all the spotlight and attention, that I would retreat by making a Christmas record. ‘Cause it was like, “I’m just the channel for this music. Everybody knows this music.” And I was still a writer. But that’s what happened right after that first platinum record. I made my first Christmas record.

Then right after Heart in Motion, I made my second Christmas record (Home for Christmas, in 1992). It’s kind of interesting…I went through a divorce in the late ‘90s, and I followed that with a Christmas record (A Christmas to Remember). It was just a place to retreat to, and still use my life perspective…what I hope is that my creative voice is honest, sincere. You know, the pictures that I’ve painted through music from the beginning have always been reflections of the way that I have lived life. And there’s a billion ways to live life—mine is just one. But I’ve tried to maintain a consistent voice through that. So when I got the Songwriter Hall of Fame award,  the first thing I thought was…there are a lot of people in that category that have hit after hit after hit. I don’t look at my work that way. I look at mine as more…I have told one long story (laughs) that has found its place in the lives of other people. And because I was a recording artist, it felt like I was just always expressing…this is the viewpoint from the way I live life.

DK: Currently, you’ve begun a major tour of the U.S. Can you talk about your new tour, and what fans can expect when they see your new show?

Grant: Yes. We’ve done the first six shows, and we’ve got a couple weeks off. Then we hit hard in September and October and the beginning of November. It feels so good to be back out (laughs).

Because it’s the 30th anniversary of Heart in Motion, I’m doing seven songs from that record. But really, we’ve cherry-picked songs over the last 40 years, and it’s a very eclectic setlist. There are songs that I’ve sung consistently over the last 20 years that I’ve not included in the setlist because I’ve sung them so much. And so in some ways, some of these might be deeper cuts. But it’s a lot of music, 25 songs, and I’ve got a great backing band. There’s eight of us onstage.

Here’s the link to Amy Grant’s site:

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima