Amy Grant Talks New Christmas Album, Christmas Traditions and Christmas Shows with Husband Vince Gill

Lisa sat down with Amy Grant to talk about her new Christmas album, Tennessee Christmas, some of her family’s unique Christmas traditions, this year’s Christmas shows with her husband, Vince Gill, at the Ryman Auditorium and more.

Show Participants

  • Amy Grant
  • Lisa Konicki, NCD Editor in Chief

Show Links & Notes

Show Transcript

Lisa Konicki: “I want to welcome special guest to the Nash Country Daily special writers room, we have Amy Grant with us. Welcome, Amy.”

Amy Grant: “Thank you so much.”

LK “We’re going to talk Christmas in November. You have a Christmas album out now.”

AG “I do. You know what? It’s all Thanksgiving and Christmas, those holidays, they’re all about the same thing: love and gratitude.”

LK “It’s one big blur over the next two months.”

AG “Yeah, a happy blur.”

LK “So let’s talk about the album, tell me a little bit about it.”

AG “Well, Tennessee Christmas is my fourth record, fourth full holiday record, Christmas record.”

LK “And your first one in about almost 20, maybe 17 years or so?”

AG “Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes. Why a fourth?”

LK “Why now?”

AG “Well, I had some unexpected touring opportunities. I’m turning 56 this month. When you’re a kid, you imagine what the arc of your life would look like, and I’d never imagined that I would have the opportunity to do one of my favorite things at 56. Touring cross the country with symphonies. My feeling, I love the earlier music that I’ve recorded, but life changes your perspective on everything. This record is all about welcoming and trying to create a sense of family for just one listener because a lot of people spend the holidays alone.”

LK “Yeah, it’s not just happy Christmas songs, there are some melancholy songs on there and some sad songs on there. Did you do that purposefully?”

AG “I did. Part of it is, you know when you’re a kid and you play on the playground, you come home and your mom says, ‘Who did you meet?’ And you go, ‘I don’t know, we just played!’ You reflect back your own experience on other people.”

LK “Right.”

AG “Then you get older and you go, ‘Hey, everybody on the playground was different.’ Everybody’s family was unique, and you discover more about other lives. I did come from a big family and there was always somebody at the top of their game and somebody barely hanging on, but it was such a sense of community. Just my years of touring, I’ve been introduced to people that it’s the hardest time of the year for them. It’s changed my perspective.”

LK “You have a duet on there with your husband, Vince Gill.”

AG “I do, yes.”

LK “Did you have to twist his arm to get him to do that?”

AG “I did not. We’ve been singing ‘Baby, it’s Cold Outside’ for years. We do Christmas shows at the Ryman.”

LK “And you’re going to do that again this year?”

AG “Oh, yeah.”

LK “When does that kick off?”

AG “The first Wednesday in December.”

LK “And you’re currently on tour right now with Michael W. Smith?”

AG “Michael W. – mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.”

LK “How’s that going?”

AG “Great.”

LK “Yeah?”

AG “Yes. Throughout the Christmas season, I actually have two very different experiences. On the road, it’s with symphonies, with Michael W. Smith, my friend of 25 years and our special guest, Jordan Smith.”

LK “He’s the winner of The Voice?”

AG “He’s a phenom.”

LK “Yeah, he’s good.”

AG “Then two Christmas shows a week with Vince, to audiences that I look out and feel like I know the whole crowd. That is a more intimate musical setting. It’s so nice, constant change.”

LK “Are you getting feedback from the audience? You’re finding these stories that people are alone and people use your concerts to get them through the holidays, are you finding that from the audience?”

AG “Yes. I’m not a big social media participant, but when things are posted that really create a ripple effect, they always are brought to my attention. When this record first came out, someone bravely said, ‘I’ve spent the last three Christmases alone, sitting in a wheel chair, not talking to anyone.””

LK “Oh, wow.”

AG “Very brave thing to put on social media.”

LK “Oh, yes.”

AG “Do you know the first person to respond said that, ‘I have had the exact same experience the last two Christmases.’ Then somebody else responded and then, suddenly, the beautiful side of social media is this community came together saying, ‘Why don’t we check on each other this year?””

LK “Wow.”

AG “I know! I was like, ‘That’s what I was hoping!””

LK “That’s huge.”

AG “Yeah.”

LK “And that’s what social media should be for, unfortunately it’s not nowadays.”

AG “Yes, yes.”

LK “That’s amazing. What’s your favorite part about Christmas?”

AG “Oh, my goodness. I love that the whole, that our entire culture, celebrates wonder and possibility and how can we love each other? Yes, it’s covered in commercialism, it’s covered in all kinds of pressure for decorating, but it also intersects so poignantly with faith that a lot of us carry. That this is all a trickle down for God so loved the world, he sent his son. I love that, so love the world. That’s everybody. You don’t have to be loving him back to be loved. I think that’s why I started doing Christmas music in the first place because it’s such a natural intersection of I loved music and I just felt the most joyful when it included some celebration of faith.”

LK “Wow.”

AG “That’s where it all started.”

LK “I was expecting you to say presents or something like that.”

AG “Well, all of that is fun. Yeah.”

LK “Yes. What are some traditions that you guys carry through in the Grant-Gill home?”

AG “A lot of travel for me. As years have gone by, I try to keep it very simple. We don’t try to have a big holiday meal. Breakfast, together, Christmas morning, is our big meal.”

LK “Do you open your presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?”

AG “Christmas morning. My kids have all gone past that point. They’re so much more excited about what they’re giving than what they’re getting. I loved watching them cress that hill. You would notice it because it would go from a flurry of tissue paper to, ‘What package is that?’ And they watch the package go all the way to the recipient and talk stops. Their eyes are just riveted on that sibling. Because it mattered. The other tradition we have is I take photograph, we have five kids, blended family, and the oldest is married, so now there are six in that generation and one grand children. Everybody grabs a cup of coffee and I just say, ‘Let’s sit anywhere you want, but in a line,’ and I photograph them. We’ve gone from the youngest member of that picture having a pacifier in her mouth to now she is driving a car.”

LK “Oh, wow.”

AG “It’s just so interesting to see. Then we put cameras away. We don’t photograph anything opening.”

LK “You don’t take pictures?”

AG “Mm-mmm (negative).”

LK “Do you have a book or something of all those pictures lined up next to each other?”

AG “Not yet. I pulled some together and here’s the funny thing, I don’t care if your hair’s messed up. Of course, they have PJs, the girls have mascara from the night before, they look awful. But I go, ‘Nobody’s ever, ever going to see these.’ Now, three or four of them are published in the liner notes of the Christmas record.”

LK “Oh, they’re not happy.”

AG “Here’s the other thing, as much as I love making music, I’ve never really wanted my … I’ve never tried to go to my children, ‘Hey, mom’s got a new record.””

LK “Right.”

AG “It’s possible they will never know that those photos are in there. I’m not going to show them.”

LK “I’m going to show them. I’m going to send this to them.”

AG “Don’t you dare!”

LK “That’s fantastic. But you also write Christmas songs as well.”

AG “I love it, yes.”

LK “Do you enjoy that process?”

AG “I do. First Christmas song I ever wrote was with Gary Chapman, my ex.”

LK “Yes, ‘Tennessee Christmas’?”

AG “Yes, ‘Tennessee Christmas.’ We met for coffee and I got to give him the good news that I had recorded that song again and we toasted with our coffee cups. It was so, so wonderful.”

LK “That’s great.”

AG “I wrote a song with Chris Eaton called ’Breath of Heaven’. These, to me, I feel like my best offerings. On this record, Chris Eaton and I wrote a song ’To Be Together’ and I feel like as we were writing it, I knew it was special.”

LK “Can you give me a little story behind the song on that one? How’d that happen, how’d that come about?”

AG “Yes, how our perspective changes with every year: when you’re a child you’re filled with anticipation; when you’re parents of young children, you’re in total sleep deprivation, that’s what Christmas means; and then you get middle-aged, back half of life, and no kidding, I just think, ‘Can I just see your face?’ I just want to see your face. I was just thinking about our family that has morphed. When I was in college, five generations of my family lived in Nashville. My great grandparents, grandparents, my mom and dad, my generation, my older sisters were already having kids. Now, as I’m speaking, I have a niece in Mongolia with the Peace Corps, I have family in New York, I have family in London, I have family in Ohio. We’re just going, ‘Okay, who’s coming home? Who’s coming home?’ It kind of gets your heart racing.

“I just started talking about —the opening lines are—I know one niece coming in with her three kids, her car’s so funny, it’s just car seats in the back. The song starts off, it’s, ‘Chaos in the car seats, heading south on 65.’ It was just so specifically written for Mimi and her kids.”

LK “So it’s about your life, pretty much?”

AG “Yeah, and the next line is, ‘She’s sleeping in the terminal. Last flight out was cancelled because of unexpected snow, she’s sleeping in the terminal with the whole world headed home.’ That’s for my daughter, Milly. How many times she’s tried to get home from Manhattan, New York.”

LK “We all know that.”

AG “and it’s like, ‘No!””

LK “Snowed in or something like that, yes.”

AG “But it’s all about being together with our dysfunction and our function.”

LK “Are you all going to be able to get together this year, this Christmas?”

AG “Not all of us, but most of us.”

LK “I want to talk about the 25 year anniversary of ’Baby, Baby’. That’s my time.”

AG “Come on!”

LK “I know you as a pop artist. ‘Baby, Baby’ and ’Heart in Motion’ and all that stuff. 25 year anniversary just happened. You picked Tori Kelly to re-record that with you.”

AG “Yes. We’re label mates and she wasn’t even born when that song was out.”

LK “That’s what I was going to ask”

AG “Yeah, I know.”

LK “Did she know of it? Did she know what was going on?”

AG “Nah, nah. It was so emotional for me. That’s the thing about pop music. It’s immediate. I just loved what she did with that song, it was unbelievable.”

LK “She’s phenomenal.”

AG “Yes. I had hopes that it would sweep the world again, but it didn’t. That’s okay.”

LK “It was still your vocals from 25 years ago.”

AG “Yes.”

LK “So you didn’t re-record. She just added to it.”

AG “She just added to it, yes. A new track, it was so well done.”

LK “Yeah, it was great.”

AG “The great part was I didn’t even have to go to work. I dropped by the studio and got to hear her sing. It was so funny because she has an effortless voice. Got to spend time. I asked her dad, ‘At what point did you know she was so gifted?’ And he said, ‘She was a toddler and we would be in the grocery and she would be standing in front of the grocery cart, just singing. People from the next aisle over would come.”

LK “That’s amazing. So you met her since?”

AG “Yes. She came back to the house and we visited for a while.”

LK “That’s great.”

AG “She’s a great, great woman.”

LK “Yeah, she’s unbelievable. It was such a great rendition. I loved it and I’m surprised it didn’t take off either. I thought it was going to be 1990 all over again.”

AG “I know!”

LK “Or whenever it was.”

AG “Wouldn’t that have been fun?”

LK “What can we expect from your show with Vince? For those who haven’t see it these past couple years that you’ve been doing it, what can we expect out of that? Your Christmas show at the Ryman.”

AG “The great thing about a Christmas show is we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. It is a family show, although my husband cannot be trusted to always be …”

LK “He’s known as the-…”

AG “To not be a little bit naughty.”


LK “Yeah, he’s known as the nicest guy in the business. Is it true, can you state, unequivocally, that he is one of the nicest guys? Living with him, spending all this time with him.”

AG “Yes, he is very kind, and also, it’s funny, because he has a really—He’s very witty. I think because he is so kind, he can say things that are so honest and can take you out at the knees, but I don’t know, he just gets away with it. Last year, we had a fantastic husband and wife duo from Chicago that opened the show. Nashville traffic is so crazy, but for people that actually get there on time, John and Val Guerra are funny and musical. They were such a hit last year, we’ve invited them back this year.”

LK “Oh, wow.”

AG “Also, there is an amazing group of violinists, Music City Strings, that are children ranging from five years old to teenagers. We invited them to participate. Since we haven’t done a show yet, I’m not exactly sure how all those parts are going to come together.”

LK “Right.”

AG “But our audience is always multi-generational, so we try to have things coming from the stage that are multi-generational. It’s just so much fun.”

LK “That’s great.”

AG “Yeah.”

LK “That’s fantastic. I look forward to that. What does 2017 look like for you?”

AG “I already have some plans.”

LK “You do?”

AG “Yes.”

LK “Can you share them or is it a secret?”

AG “One of them, I’m trying to plan a family trip.”

LK “With everyone, every child?”

AG “Yes. I don’t even know where, but nothing happens unless you plan it. Trips are, you know, you can feel like you want to kill each other, but then you come away with really having had some great memories. The last time we did this, we actually went and helped with an organization called Compassion International. It was a bonding experience for us, but also seeing part of the world with need. I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but that’s occupying my thoughts. Obviously, I always make music and tour, but I’m so curious to find ways to deepen a sense of community with my family, with the Nashville community, with the creative community. I have this crazy idea of starting a fire at our farm on December 31st, then inviting people to come keep the fire and having it be like a baton that we pass off, and to contemplate while we’re passing the baton, of keeping the fire. It might last til January second, but what if it lasts until March 15th?”

LK “Right.”

AG “To contemplate what fires you want kept in your life. Dreams, friendships, and—Anyway, I’m going to kick it off, but then it’s going to be an experiment—keeping a fire.”

LK “That’ll be interesting to see how long that does go.”

AG “Yeah.”

LK “You could keep it through the whole year.”

AG “Well, it gets so hot. At some point, it doesn’t really make sense.”

LK “That’s so interesting.”

AG “I think so. We do a lot of talking in our culture and our interaction, some life lessons can only be learned in the doing. I think community is learned.”

LK “And such an appropriate time now, we need it more now than ever with everything that’s going on in this world. Do you do resolutions? Do you make New Year’s resolutions?”

AG “Sometimes. One year, it was bathe more. One year, it was eat more fish.”

LK “Did you keep those?”

AG “I did, yeah.”

LK “Do you have one for 2017?”

AG “Not yet.”

LK “Not yet? But do you think you’ll do one?”

AG “Maybe. My resolutions, oddly enough, now, I don’t attach with the new year, but I attach with the celebration of my mother’s life. Five years since she passed. Every year, I did something kind of to honor her. It was more long lasting than something to improve me—It’s just different. First year, I quit chewing gum.”

LK “Completely?”

AG “Mm-hmm (affirmative), because from the time I was a teenager, I was walking onto a stage and she would say, ‘Please spit your gum out.’ Then the second year, I started writing in cursive because she writes in cursive. The third year, wearing a little bit of jewelry because I never really did. Then the fourth and fifth year, I had combined and had a well built in Rwanda. It’s called Glorious Water. Her name was Gloria, but I did that in honor of her, and there’s a sign.”

LK “Oh, that’s beautiful. So every year there’s something in honor of her?”

AG “Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.”

LK “That’s beautiful.”

AG “It’s more compelling personally than what’s my New Year’s resolution?”

LK “Right. That makes sense. Well, thank you so much, Amy. It was great talking to you. Tennessee Christmas in stores now, you can pick it up. Thank you so much.”

AG “Thank you.”

The Writers Room, Ep. 45, 19 minutes
photos by Jason Simanek