Grammy-nominated Christian music artist Brandon Heath grew up in Nashville, and spent his formative years at the famed writer’s haunt The Bluebird Cafe. In 2009, Heath won the the 2009 GMA Dove Award-winning Song of the Year for “Give Me Your Eyes,” and his 2011 album Leaving Eden debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard Christian Music Chart. For his new album, Blue Mountain, Heath teamed up with some of his favorite hometown writers, including Deana Carter, Lee Thomas Miller, Barry Dean and Luke Laird. We chatted with Heath about the new record, Carrie Underwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter and more.
How did the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville inspire you as a young artist?
I was 15 when I first walked through the front door of the Blue Bird. I was there with my parents to see one of their songwriting friends, Bonita Hill. There was a guy Skip Ewing that was playing in the round and after his first song, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I was so taken by the stories and really just the friendships between the writers. I wanted in.
You performed at Carrie Underwood’s wedding. How’d that go?
Carrie’s a sweet, genuine girl. We met at an afterparty for the ACM’s in Vegas a few years ago. I had heard that she liked my music and was going to dance to one of my songs, “Love Never Fails,” at her wedding. I told her I’d be happy to come and play it for them, so we made it a surprise for Mike, now her husband. It was a really great night, just a small but fancy family gathering really. Love them!
Are you conscious of writing for a Christian music audience when you write?
Somewhat. You have to be a little, but you can’t let it govern your creative process. I understand that my main audience are people who know and love Jesus, but my goal is that any listener would find in my music that they are known and loved by God.
Are there any songs of yours would you point to for non-Christian fans?
I would say that most of my songs would appeal to the non-Christian fan. I think anybody would appreciate good songwriting. Not to sound to presumptuous, but I put a lot of time and effort into my lyrics, honestly to make them not sound like time and effort.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
I’ve always been a big fan of Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. David Wilcox is another, genius! I cut my teeth on them when I was a teenager and grew to love Bruce Springsteen, Sting and a few others. My real songwriting heroes are Nashville cats like Rivers Rutherford and Lee Thomas Miller.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
I wrote this super sappy song for a girl named Cherish. (Of course it was for a girl.) It was called “Weeping Willow,” I was in 8th grade. Cherish played guitar and taught me E minor, the darkest and most brooding of chords, and I was off and running.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I just came back from a writing retreat with my buddies Matt Wertz and Steve Moakler, I think the last song that we wrote was a song called “Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.”
How do you go about writing songs?
I usually co-write. I’ll come in with a title usually, and sometimes a melody. I don’t even like to come in the room without something in my head. I’m writing today with a fellow Christian artist and I’ve already got a few ideas for the song.
Do you have any standards for your songs you try to adhere by when choosing them for an album?
Yeah, I try not to have a hard line of whether or not a song fits the record or not. I just want them to be good. My newest record was much more thematic than my last three, so there was more attention to theme, but a good song is a good song and if I can give it a home on a record, I usually figure out a way to do so.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Conversations. It’s usually a line from a conversations that I get inspired by. I’ll pull out my phone and jot it down in my notes. Most the time the person thinks I’m being rude and sending a text. It’s just one more of the struggles of being a songwriter.
What’s a song on your album you’re particularly proud of and why?
My favorite song on this new one is “Paul Brown Petty.” It’s a story song about my Granddad. I wrote it with Heather Morgan, a very talented country writer and it’s deeply personal, but still good enough to reach a larger audience I think.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
“I got treasure up in heaven, I got dirt all over me.” That line is from the song “Diamond.”
Are there any words you love, or hate?
I love the word “precipitation,” I hate the word “subpoena” for obvious reasons.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Mary Chapin Carpenter, she’s always been one of my favorite songwriters but had a much too short window of success.
What do you consider to be the perfect song, and why?
“I Can’t Make You Love Me” is at the top of my list for a few reasons. Number one, the perfect song found the perfect voice in Bonnie Raitt. Number two, it was written by an ex-pro football player Mike Reid with Allen Shamblin. I love that such a sensitive and raw lyric could come from a couple of guys. Bruce Hornsby on the piano can’t hurt either.