Amy Grant On Faith, Songwriting And Christmas Blues The pop songwriter says she wants her album, Tennessee Christmas, "to feel like a good, steady companion, whether you're at the top of your game or struggling."
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Amy Grant On Faith, Songwriting And Christmas Blues

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Amy Grant On Faith, Songwriting And Christmas Blues

Amy Grant On Faith, Songwriting And Christmas Blues

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS")

AMY GRANT: (Singing) Come on, weatherman, give us a forecast snowy white.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

"Tennessee Christmas" is Amy Grant's latest album. This queen of Christian pop music could also be called the queen of Christmas. She's released four Christmas albums in her nearly 40-year career. Amy Grant joins us now from Nashville.

Welcome.

GRANT: Hi.

CHANG: What is it about Christmas that keeps you coming back to it?

GRANT: Well, you know early on, because I wrote songs about faith, I think at Christmastime, there's just an openness in people. Like, you can imagine the corner pub. Everyone's clanking frosty beer mugs, singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

CHANG: Yeah.

GRANT: And so, to me, early on - my first Christmas record in 1983, it felt like, hey, I can combine my faith at a time where people are looking for meaningful music. And so now, all these years later, I'm still touring at Christmastime - who knew? - and it was just time for another record.

CHANG: This album - it's a mix of your own music, some Christmas standards, some hymns. I wanted to listen to one of the songs you wrote. It's called "Melancholy Christmas."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELANCHOLY CHRISTMAS")

GRANT: (Singing) I post another from the quiet of my room and wonder who will like it and wonder what to do with the rest of tonight and tomorrow night, too. Christmas is coming soon, coming soon.

CHANG: I don't know. This song - it just - it made my heart hurt. What were you trying to capture with this song?

GRANT: Well, I wrote this song with Marshall Altman. He was one of the three producers on this record. And when we first - all of us - met in a room and I played the guys the songs I'd been working on and I said - I don't know. I just - I feel like I've done the sort of musically cinematic approach to Christmas. But, I said, what I feel now in my mid-50s is, I see how much sadness there is. And even if you have a fulfilled life - I mean, Christmastime rolls around, I miss my mother so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELANCHOLY CHRISTMAS")

GRANT: (Singing) Maybe I'll call up some friends just to see if they're home. I don't want to feel lonely, but I'm here alone. And the snow falls down, coming down.

I mean, I've sat in my own home in front of my Christmas tree with my family sleeping and bawled my eyes out. And I don't even know what it comes from. But I think there is a kind of exquisite longing that we all feel at Christmas. I want that song and this record to feel like a good, steady companion, whether you're at the top of your game or struggling because I think music is powerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELANCHOLY CHRISTMAS")

GRANT: (Singing) And sing Christmas songs...

CHANG: I wanted to ask you. Well, so Lifeway Christian Resources, one of the largest Christian retailers in the world, decided not to carry your album in its stores. And some, even your own manager, have speculated that's because the songs weren't Christian enough. Is that something you think about when you're writing your songs and putting together your albums, whether they're Christian enough?

GRANT: Well, first off, I owe Lifeway a thank-you note because so much attention was on my record the week it came out because of their choice not to carry it. I don't - I make the music that I feel passionate to make. And I was so pleased with this project. And I was surprised, but everybody, of course, should always follow through with what they feel like they need to follow through with.

CHANG: You don't label yourself a Christian artist, right? I know that's something that you've said in the past.

GRANT: I don't. I guess - it's not because I'm ashamed of being a Christian. It's because I just feel like I just say I'm a songwriter. Like, if you and I were sitting beside each other on an airplane and somebody said - what do you do? - I'll go, I write songs.

CHANG: Even though you resist this idea, this label that you're a Christian artist, is it important to you to communicate a message of faith in your music?

GRANT: Absolutely. Communicating a message of love is the most important message to me. It takes faith to believe that we are loved. You know, I have to say it to myself every day to the chaos in my head or the chatter. I just will go - OK, girl. I know how you live. You live busy and sometimes feeling inadequate - this is how everybody lives. But how we live and who we are are not the same thing. We are loved. I believe that's true about everybody, no matter what kind of faith label they might have. I think we are all equally loved by the one who made us.

CHANG: I wanted to listen to another song on the album. It's called "To Be Together."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO BE TOGETHER")

GRANT: (Singing) The last flight out was canceled 'cause of unexpected snow. Sleeping in the terminal with the whole world headed home to be together at Christmastime.

CHANG: So this song has a bit of a backstory. I read your daughter got into a serious car accident not long after you recorded it.

GRANT: Yes. So the song itself is really just about the importance of being together. Having several adult grown children (laughter), I think sometimes the bravest thing any of us can do is to go home because we all grow and change after we leave home. And that takes being brave to go back home sometimes. That's what that song is about.

But the week after I wrote it, my daughter Sarah and her boyfriend were, you know, early evening drive on the interstate, and a car lost control and jumped the median and hit them head-on. And I had this exquisite experience in the emergency room going back and forth with Derek (ph) who was headed to the ICU in critical condition. And my daughter - they were setting bones, and she was traumatized. And that - coming home just the way you are, knowing this is all that really matters - to be together - like that refrain, the end of the chorus, it was like a jingle, like a commercial that gets stuck in your head.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO BE TOGETHER")

GRANT: (Singing) Coming home just the way you are, knowing this is all that really matters - to be together.

And it just kept playing over and over. And I got to tell you, it brought me so much comfort because I thought - I don't know what the future looks like. I don't know if there are head injuries involved here. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. Everybody's breathing right now. But it was just like, it will just be what it will be. So it was my - the experience after we wrote this song that I felt so comforted by that lyric. And I thought, oh, my gosh - if this song can do for anybody else what it has done for me, then I'm grateful.

CHANG: How is she doing now?

GRANT: They are both doing well. And there were several surgeries stretched over several months. And - but everybody is walking and talking and re-engaged with life. So I'm really grateful.

CHANG: Amy Grant, thank you for being with us. And Merry Christmas to you.

GRANT: Thank you so much, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOY TO THE WORLD")

GRANT: (Singing) Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

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