As Amy Grant prepares to release her first new music in 10 years while in the midst of a 70-city headlining tour, the Christian-pop icon compares herself to a recently restored vehicle returning to the road. “I feel like an old car that got taken to the shop banged up and they’ve put in a new engine and a great paint job,” says Grant. “I feel like a classic.”
In the last three years, Grant, 62, has dealt with a series of medical issues and mishaps. In June 2020 she underwent open heart surgery to repair a rare congenital heart condition, then last summer she hit a pothole while riding her bike and sustained a serious head injury. In January, she had surgery to remove a cyst in her throat.
“There were so many hidden gifts,” she says of the bike wreck, explaining the trauma caused a pre-existing thyroglossal cyst to grow more rapidly — prompting its immediate removal. Following a five-hour surgery, she says “it was like somebody gave me my voice back.”
As a result, the poignant single “Trees We’ll Never See,” out Friday (March 24) via Capitol Christian Music Group, is a welcome return for the artist know for her distinctive voice and thoughtful lyrics. For decades, Grant — who launched her multi-platinum career as an earnest Nashville teen — has left listeners inspired while becoming the face of the Christian-pop crossover movement with such enduring hits as “Baby, Baby” and “Every Heartbeat.”
Today, Grant is healthy, happy and excited about making new music. She returned to the studio in February to work with songwriter and producer Marshall Altman — who produced her last studio album, 2013’s How Mercy Looks From Here, which peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 — on a yet-to-be-released feature for Cory Asbury. She says she was so moved by the experience that she and Altman began playing songs for each other they’d written, one of which was “Trees We’ll Never See” (which he co-wrote with Michael White).
“Marshall wrote that song five years ago. I get choked up thinking about it,” says Grant. “It just felt like I could have written it. It’s so much how I see life … Everybody assumes I wrote it because it’s the mantra I have lived by.”
The song’s lyrics reflect Grant’s world view: “We’re all sons and daughters/Just ripples on the water/Trying to make it matter/Until our time to leave/One day they’ll carve your name in stone/Then send your soul on home/‘Till then it’s praying for rain. And pulling up the weeds/Planting trees we’ll never see.”
Grant, a six-time Grammy winner and recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2022, says she now sees her life in its fourth quarter. “I was thinking about my mom and how she died at 80. If we’re lucky we have four 20-year spans, I think the gift of fourth quarter is the perspective and awareness and the appreciation of all of it.”
“The first half of life you’re so worried about measuring up,” she continues. “‘They’ve got a better voice. I hope my songs don’t sound stupid’ — and then by the end, if you’ve opened up your own heart and mind to how loved everyone is, even people you don’t care for, that’s the gift of the last quarter.”
Grant’s heightened awareness of mortality has been fueled by the recent deaths of Bobby Caldwell, who co-wrote her chart-topping duet with Peter Cetera “The Next Time I Fall”; legendary bass player Michael Rhodes and friend Beth Nielsen Chapman’s husband Bob Sherman. “So much of your younger life is saying, ‘Now what’s that going to do? How does that play out? What am I going to see from this investment? In the fourth quarter we don’t have that luxury of time. You just have to say, ‘I am flinging love out there,'” Grant says. “I’m passing the baton on and not because I don’t still have life to live, but I want to empower people who are coming behind me.”
Grant admits not everyone can appreciate her perspective, including her own children. “My kids — the ones I’ve birthed — are all in the second quarter. They don’t want to hear this crap,” she says with a laugh.
Following “Trees,” Grant plans to release another single in April. Co-written with Natalie Hemby and Barry Dean, she played the song for Altman the same day he shared “Trees.” He immediately booked musicians and they recorded both songs within 10 days. (The new song was written after Grant attended a therapy session with one of her grown children, saying she and husband Vince Gill “gave the gift of therapy to our family…Natalie sat down at the piano, and I just felt the lyrics spilling out of me.”) Grant says she’s “taking it two songs at a time. Hopefully, I’ll have one a month and by the end of the year, cull out the ones that weren’t good and put the rest out.”
The return to music has helped Grant put the last three years behind her — though she’s still adjusting in some ways. Her memory has returned and she no longer has to rely on a notebook to remember extended family members’ names or a teleprompter to remember song lyrics. She used to take her bicycle on tour and ride 30 miles before a show, but now takes it a little easier. “I started building my stamina back by going to the Y probably every other day and I felt like I was swimming kind of slow. Now I feel like I’m starting to get my rhythm back,” she says. “It’s still hard for me to balance if I have my eyes closed, [which is] typical for a head injury. But if nothing else changed, I would be fine . . .I feel like my mind has never felt so vibrant and active during a show.”
Perhaps the biggest change, Grant says, is that she doesn’t take anything for granted. “When I’m on stage, I’m just flooded with gratitude. It feels so good to have shared a journey for decades with an audience. I have a sense of humor about myself in my own songs. It’s not like we’re curing cancer here. It’s music, but music is something that we can share and participate in simultaneously. You don’t have to agree with their politics, spirituality or anything. Somebody buys a ticket and sings along and there’s a feeling of unity. That’s beautiful.”