Amy Grant makes music by feel

August 23, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Washington -- It's hard to think of Amy Grant without remembering the "Baby Baby" video.

Meeting her now, in the lobby of Washington's Four Seasons hotel, she seems every bit the businesslike pop star. Even though she's in the midst of a publicity tour to promote her new album, "House of Love" (A&M 31454-0230, arriving in stores today), Grant is courteous, charming and totally down-to-earth in her sensible shoes and conservative blue dress.

Still, the "Baby Baby" clip defines the way most of us imagine her. It was hardly typical video fare, with no special effects or exotic locales; all it offered was Grant and a good-looking guy cavorting and acting cute as she lip-synced to the song. Yet there was something genuinely appealing about the image it conveyed, something that made viewers want to see the thing again.

"D. J. Webster, the director I worked with, he said, 'What we're trying to create here is a picture of the relationship that everybody wants,' " Grant recalls.

Creating that illusion wasn't easy, though. It was nerve-wracking enough to have to make a video for the first time; it didn't help that she was also supposed to be carrying on with some actor she barely knew. "I had been married for several years," she says, laughing. "I hadn't had a date with somebody I didn't know in a long time."

But she had a good feeling about Webster and her co-star, Jamie Stein. "I remember D. J. said: 'Now, Amy, I want you to jump on Jamie's back. You're going to cavort around this apartment building, and at the end of the song, fall over on the sofa.' And all I could do was just take a deep breath and say, 'Jamie, I weigh about 135 . . .' "

"Baby Baby" was instrumental in convincing people that there was more to Amy Grant than a Christian pop star past. Grant recalls a strategy meeting in 1991, before "Heart in Motion" was released, when one of the executives at A&M Records said that if he had his druthers, he'd put the radio and review copies in plain brown wrappers and send them out without Grant's name on them.

"Why?" the singer asked, dumbfounded.

"Because your reputation is the hardest thing we have to fight."

Telling the tale now, three years and 4 million copies of the album later, she laughs. But she still seems slightly stunned that anyone would think that having been a Christian singer would stunt her chances for success in the secular mainstream.

"I didn't realize how deep the stereotype ran for having been a contemporary Christian music artist," she says. "Because I wasn't living a stereotype, I was just living my life. I had no idea how the perception of that painted me as a two-dimensional character. But when I got out and started meeting people, their first comment was, 'You're normal.' And I'm thinking, 'Who did you think was going to walk in the door?'

"That gives me a lot of compassion for people that I know in the contemporary gospel mainstream," she adds. "Because I just want to go, 'Guys, you got no idea what they think about us out here.' "

Dealing with people's perceptions wasn't an issue for Grant when making "House of Love." Instead, all she had to do was come up with songs that fit together well. Of course, that proved easier said than done. Grant spent more than a year sifting through material.

"We wound up cutting probably 14, 15 songs for the album," she says. So how did she whittle that down to the 11 that are there now? Simply put, she would take the album out for a spin.

"I would get a cassette tape, put down different songs and listen to it in the car," she says. "Then I try to figure out which one [works]. And at the end of several months, some of these songs I'm so sick of, I'm fast-forwarding past them every time. So you throw those away."

Grant admits that her approach isn't the fastest way to make an album. "It's a process, yeah," she says. "But I can't imagine somebody saying: 'Oh, that last record was a hit. Hurry up, let's do another one.' Because it just has to develop."

In fact, "House of Love" actually continued to develop even after Grant thought she had finished with it. "We delivered it to A&M in May, and they said, 'Great, we've already got the singles picked.' But there was about a two-week lag between when we delivered the mixes to them and when we were going to master the album, and in my car I kept thinking: 'What's wrong with this? I just really feel I missed something.'

"For whatever reason, I kept singing this old Joni Mitchell song, 'Big Yellow Taxi,' while driving around in my car. One day I was talking with a girlfriend of mine, saying, 'Now why is nobody doing songs like this?' And she said, 'Well, you've got a record coming out. Why don't you put it on your record?' "

Grant laughs. "We're three days away from mastering. I called A&M and said, 'Hey, can I add another song?' We cut it, mixed it, and they said, 'Well, this will have to be the third or fourth single.' "

Planning? "It's all accident," Grant laughs. "But that, to me, is the great spontaneity of creating music, when everybody is operating from gut instinct, and it looks like there's a big agenda. But the only real plan is to try to make music that moves us."

'HOUSE' CALLS

To hear exerpts of Amy Grant's "House of Love," call Sundial, the Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6148 after you hear the greeting.

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