The Journey To 'How Mercy Looks From Here': Amy Grant Talks About Her First Full-Length Album in 10 Years
Ask Amy Grant what advice she would give herself if she could go back in time and she’d tell you, “don't waste energy measuring yourself against somebody else... Because everybody is gifted.”
Words of wisdom from a woman who has been through a lot in her life. But it isn’t the 6 GRAMMY® Awards or the countless forms of recognition that are teaching Amy the most - though they are undeniably very important parts of her journey - at the top of it all, it's the life experience. It’s learning how to embrace blessings that come in different forms.
For Amy, one of these blessings came in the form of lessons learned from her mother, Gloria, who suffered from dementia until she passed away just over 2 years ago. “Two months before she passed away, I had gone to visit my mom and dad one evening...”
She recalls, “I was telling my mother goodbye and that I had to go get on the bus to go do a concert. And she said, 'oh, you sing!' And I said, 'yeah, mom, I sing. I sang you the very first song I ever wrote.' And she said, 'would you sing something for me now?'”
Amy sang her mom an old hymn that she loved. After she finished, her mom asked her if she could go on the bus with her. “I had to tell her it wasn't going to work out this time and I was walking out the door and she said, 'hey, would you do me a favor?' And I said, 'anything.' And she said, 'when you walk out on that stage, would you sing something that matters?'”
Two years later, here we are... How Mercy Looks From Here, slated for release on May 14th, is a collection of songs that matter - songs with deep personal meaning and songs that we can all relate to.
“I always – always – experienced music as an amazing connector with people." She says, "It has a healing quality to it. That's what always made me go, 'I want to do that. I have to do that.'”
And thank goodness she does!
I was lucky enough to have a lovely conversation with Amy about her latest record, How Mercy Looks From Here. She is an incredibly inspiring woman! Please enjoy it below!
Find Your Fav: Hi, Amy! Are you having a good morning?
Amy Grant: Yeah, I got on a bus last night at midnight and drove to Bloomington, Illinois. I'm having my second cup of coffee. Doing some interviews and then I'm going to try to sleep!
FYF: So, ten years between records. Ten years is a very long time. What's your journey to this record looked like?
Amy: Well, I never stopped recording. I just didn't do a whole record. And I never stopped touring. So, I would say, in the last ten years, I've felt like the bell-curve of my musical journey was on the downward slope and I was just going to be singing old songs, for as long as anybody would listen. That's how it felt. It felt that way three years ago, four years ago, five years ago.
Then – and I was not expecting it the year after mom passed away – that I would feel such incredible creative energy. I'm not going to say anything hooky-spooky, like she was on the other side going 'come on! This going to go by really fast – get out there and do something!' Haha! But I just really found myself re-energized.
I was introduced to a producer, Marshall Altman, whom I had never met. I had heard some of the work he had done with other singers. We hit it off; we met and got along instantly. Part of the fun of making music is the fact that you're making it with other people. So, he just said, 'play me all your songs.' Everything I played he would question if it were finished. He'd say, 'I think that second verse could be better,' and I'd think, 'well that's brave!' ha! Bold, really. And he'd say, 'no, really, it's not nearly as good as the first verse. You should keep going.'
He was encouraging me and challenging me, and I just loved the process. And I saw the gift of having waited all that time, because I had a lot of songs that were written over those [ten] years. We tweaked and did re-writes. That's what a lot of the co-writes were – especially with Marshall – trying to go back and and hone down an improved song. Mostly, it was just so much fun. I forgot how much fun it is to be in the studio. It didn't feel like a job.
It felt like the first time I walked into a recording studio. I was fifteen and it was part of an extra class offered at school. And I remember thinking – really – that I had died and gone to heaven. I had that studio day marked in my calendar, and I anticipated it for weeks. I don't know if you had things like that that you were excited about when you were a kid, but it was like that all over again. I loved every day.
FYF: That's awesome! That's so exciting. Well, I've had the privilege of listening to the full album a few times. And it's so special. The title-track, "How Mercy Looks From Here," is so spiritual and positive. Has the way that you practice spirituality and your connection to music changed over the years?
Amy: I think we all change as we get older, you know? I think that when we're younger, we tend to identify with groups. Especially when it comes to spirituality or faith. Somebody might say, 'I'm in that group,' or 'I'm not a part of that group,' and I think, with time, every person – especially the longer you live life – as one brass-ring after another that you either reach or fail to reach, it doesn't push the button you thought it was going to push on the inside. I think most of all, I realized that everything has more value when you see it in the context of faith. Life is a much bigger picture than just your own existence and how you fit into that.
Believing that God has a plan that's for mankind – and, specifically, for you – it puts a different light on every day. And that doesn't have anything to do with, like, church attendance, although that might be a part of it. I mean, it certainly is a part of my life, though not always. But it's less about kind of having the right lingo and fitting into a group because you talk the talk of that particular group...
It's more about just being still and having time alone, and keeping the conversation open with God.
FYF: I think that's really important as well.
Off-beat question: If you were able to go back and talk to yourself just before you released your very first record, what advice would you give yourself?
Amy: What advice? I think I would have said, 'you are not going to believe how long this is going to last!' [laughs] Because – no kidding – there's really not very much special about my artistry. My first record deal that came along - Buddy, is the man who made a contact call - and his exact words to the studio owner of where I was doing a little bit of work - he said: 'she's not that good, but she sure sounds sincere,' ha ha!
You know what? I think I'd go back and say, 'don't waste energy measuring yourself against somebody else. Because everybody is gifted.' That's what I would say.
FYF: I love that. You've dealt with a lot of public and religious scrutiny. Looking back, how did you handle it? Are you looking at it differently, now that life is more settled?
Amy: You know, this might sound kind of strange: criticism that came from somebody I didn't know – whether it was written in an article or talked about somewhere – that was so far beyond my immediate circle of relationships, I never felt that it changed my life.
Even when I was going through a divorce or seeing my face or my name on a rag magazine, I never pursued any of it. I never looked for an article; I never pulled anything up online, I never went to a chat room. Anything beyond the circle of where I lived and the people that I met in real time, it didn't feel normal to pursue those conversations. Because, just all by myself in my real world, I was capable of screwing up enough things without looking for somebody's opinion, who I would never meet! Ha ha!
I'm just normal. You know, good decisions, bad decisions. I always – always – experienced music as an amazing connector with people. It has a healing quality to it. That's what always made me go, 'I want to do that. I have to do that.' And I told my first manager, I said, 'I would have been happy singing in a coffee shop if you hadn't found a bigger platform for me.' I mean, easy to say, because that's not what happened, but, yeah.
FYF: I know your mother had a really big impact on this record. I'd love to hear a little bit about that story, if that's OK. If it's too difficult, that's OK.
Amy: No, it's a pleasure. I was thinking about her this morning. I was actually wondering how my children will remember me, ha ha! You know, nobody's perfect, but she was certainly steady, how I remember her.
Two months before she passed away, I had gone to visit my mom and dad one evening, and as her body failed, sometimes her mind would wander and maybe not recognize you. But it wasn't consistent. So, when that happened, I'd try to jog her memory or go with whatever reality she was in. She wouldn't stay there long. Anyway, I'd gone to spend time with my dad because he was so energetic. I was telling my mother goodbye because I had to go get on the bus to go do a concert. And she said, 'oh, you sing!' And I thought, 'here we go!' And I said, 'yeah, mom, I sing. I sang you the very first song I ever wrote.' And she said, 'would you sing something for me now?'
It's easier to tell now because it's in the past, but at that moment, I had a lump in my throat the size of a golf-ball...
I picked an old hymn that I knew she loved and I said, 'do you recognize this song?' and she said, 'no, but I love it! Keep going.' I finished it and she asked if she could get on the bus with me and go. I had to tell her it wasn't going to work out this time and I was walking out the door and she said, 'hey, would you do me a favor?' And I said, 'anything.' And she said, 'when you walk out on that stage, would you sing something that matters?' And I thought, wow. Dementia or not, that's about the coolest thing she's ever said to me.
FYF: Did she remember that you were her daughter?
Amy: It's hard to know. I remember one time – I laugh to this day going, 'A woman's hair has so much to do with if they look like a bag lady in destitution or gracious and refined.'…My mom had great hair. You know, if I walked in to see her and her hair hadn't been attended to, she would look like she had just swung in on a vine, you know? Like Tarzan and Jane.
One day, she was a little unsteady on her feet, so I put a chair right beside the shower, and wrapped her in towels and I sat on the floor and I was rubbing her feet - which she always loved with lotion – and she said, 'this is so kind of you...to do this.' And I could tell that she was being gracious; that she was not remembering that this had happened many times. And, you know, you just kind of go with the flow, when things like that happen. And that was the lesson we all learned. You know, she was in there, but, sometimes, she didn't seem like herself.
I had so many unanswered questions about how she got dementia. I'd look at every bit of food I'd put in my mouth and go, 'oh, dear God – is this taking away my mind?' It's strange to go through that.
It's funny, we were out in the yard one day, and I was trying to get my mother to the bathroom and I looked at my son, and I'm gesturing from my mom's back, and I say, 'You and me…Like hey, someday, you're going to take care of me like this.' And he said to me - he said a big 'NO – straight to the home! You're going straight to the home!" [Laughs].
He's 25 now. He's in an Engineering program and it just took him forever to figure out what he wanted to do, and now he wants to get his Masters and a Doctorate. And I go, 'ok, so, this next tour that's paying for your education - I hope you know you have a little payback in caring for Madre here!” Haha!
FYF: Haha! Well, thank you so much, Amy! We hope to see you in Seattle soon!