Point Of Grace: Returning to the CCM charts with their signature harmony

Tuesday 20th November 2007

Mike Rimmer spoke to Heather Payne of the superstars of '90s CCM, POINT OF GRACE

Point Of Grace
Point Of Grace

'How You Live' is the latest release from American girl group Point Of Grace. I say "girl" but it's probably best to describe them as women since the members of Point Of Grace have been making their unique brand of pop music since the early '90s and these days are married with children rather than being the singletons of their early days.

The group have a huge back catalogue of number one Christian hit songs that have been the mainstay of American radio for more than a decade. The band notched up an incredible consecutive 24 number one radio hits, a feat that hasn't been equalled by any artist recording in any musical genre! For 15 years they have been one of the most successful Christian groups in America yet they have never really managed to become popular over here in the UK. Media interviews this side of the pond have been rare and the group have never performed in this nation.

But now one of the group's founder members, Heather Payne, is on the phone. She's reminiscing about the early days, "We started singing together when we were in college, at a Baptist University in Arkansas. We just started singing together, just dabbling in a little harmony and travelling around. Everybody kept saying, 'You guys should record!' We didn't know if there was anything really there."

The turning point was a visit to The Christian Artists Seminar in the Rockies, Colorado where they met John Mays from Word Records and he later signed them to a record deal in Nashville. Eight albums and gazillions of sales later, Heather still sounds surprised, "Well it's been pretty amazing, it really has been! Who would have thought that putting four little girls from the South together, that AREN'T singing country music but are singing Christian music, that it would continue on, and that we would be continuing to do it even today?! It's just been such a blessing and the Lord has blessed us with people along the way that have ministered to us, and given us wisdom, and prayed for us. And the Lord has brought us wonderful songs to sing and we've worked with some amazing musicians. I was telling an audience the other night how I wish that I could take them through the journey that we have been on, to see how the Lord has directed our path. It's all about him guiding us. He's just led us and it has just been an amazing adventure so far."

The other 75 per cent of the group are Shelley Breen, Leigh Cappillino and Denise Jones and they all live in Nashville. They all have husbands and children. Heather observes, "We've been doing this for 17 years and so we're kind of like sisters in a way." Heather goes as far as admitting that it's Shelley who is the bossy person in the group. "Every group has to have one, so she's definitely that. She would admit that too!" she laughs.

Their new album illustrates what has made Point Of Grace so popular with their signature harmonies and slickly produced pop sound. They have a knack for recording very catchy material. I ask Heather to tell me about the album's title song, "How You Live". Does it have a theme that they were keen on getting out to their audience? "You know, I think it's where we are in life right now," she shares. "We're all wives and mothers, and struggle with everyday life; balancing being a mom and a wife, and having a ministry and being a member of our churches. Just struggling with the balance of it all and remembering the perspective that not just every day, but every moment we have is a gift from the Lord and not to take that gift for granted. I think a lot of times we wish our time away or we wish our day away because maybe we're struggling with our day. Or we put off sitting down with our kids and looking them in the eye and putting a puzzle together because we have too much to do. Or we put off using our best china, or wearing that dress we keep hiding in the back of the closet because we think, 'I just don't have anything to wear that to.' Just the things that we continue to put off and put off. The thing about it is, every day is a gift! We're not promised tomorrow. I think that's why this song, "How You Live", really blessed all of our hearts. It kind of met us where we all were just as human beings, as women, and dealing with having the 'guilty mom syndrome' and just balancing our lives in general. When we heard it we thought, 'This is a song for moms!' But really, we've had so many men come up and say, 'Oh, that's where I am too!' So it's just a really wonderful song to kind of give us a perspective."

The group haven't had things all their own way. They've hit the highs with the radio chart toppers and they've consistently played to strong audiences when they've toured but back in 2004, the release of 'I Choose You' proved by the group's standards to be a flop. Was it simply a case that tastes in pop music had changed? Heather isn't convinced, "I think so." She hesitates. "I think that we got a little ahead of ourselves too maybe, in trying to change along with pop music. I think that pop music was going more into the solo background singer kind of thing, where that's really not who we are and we tried to do that more on "I Choose You". We really had some great songs on that record. The whole record industry was changing with the downloads and pop music in general was changing. I think it was just a hard time to release an album. We stand behind it still."

She continues, "I think we made some different choices on our new record because of what we did on 'I Choose You'. It just didn't work. I think people didn't understand what we were trying to do. And so now we went back to our roots, we went back to what Point Of Grace does best and that is harmony, bringing those parts back together and not making it so much about solo as it is about the whole group. I think that's the strength of who we are.

Point Of Grace's music has always been about having a strong message. I suggest that with their success dipping and with them all being busy mums whether they had a meeting at any stage wondering whether it was a sign that they should stop? "Well, we try to keep that perspective at all times," Heather responds candidly. "I don't think we thought that way at that point. We would stop doing what we're doing if it was affecting our families. Or if the Lord had taken his blessing off what we were doing. We really felt like we still had some stuff to do and you kind of don't want to leave on that note."

Point Of Grace: Returning to the CCM charts with their signature harmony

Not wishing to be rude and always being brought up with the adage that one should never ask a woman her age, I am not sure how to broach the next subject with Heather but I do wonder how getting older affects the group. When they started they had a ministry to their contemporaries, reaching out to teenagers and to young women. Now that they're all mums and have their own children, has that changed the way that they relate to their audience? Has their audience grown up with them? "I think the audience has definitely grown up with us," she affirms, "and I think our audience has also had children and they are breeding our new audience!" She laughs, "So I think that we have a little bit of that going on. We still do conferences for teenage girls and I think that getting a little bit older, what that has done to us is change our thinking. Three of us have little girls and I have another little girl on the way, and if anything, I think that it has given us more of a passion to minister to that age group. Because the girls that we can talk to now that are teenagers are going to be the ones that are going to influence our little girls, who are four and five right now. So I think it's probably given us even more of a passion to really minister to them and to breathe truth into their lives and to challenge them in new ways and in their faith."

What about the message that Point Of Grace are bringing these days? Obviously when they first started they weren't as sophisticated as they are now, spiritually, and so their earlier messages and early songs were much more simplistic. "Absolutely," Heather agrees. "I think that's part of the sanctification process in all of our lives as believers. You never quite reach that point where you know everything, and God; there's so much hidden about him in the Word that he just reveals little pieces of himself throughout our lives, and reveals a lot about ourselves throughout our lives. I do think that it has matured along the way. I would hate it if it hadn't! We shouldn't be doing it if we haven't matured over the years, spiritually especially."

She reflects, "Somebody told us a long time ago when we first started singing together that you should never speak on stage or to people about things you haven't been through. Don't speak beyond your own circumstances and things in life. I look at that and I think that's so true because when we were younger we weren't moms, we weren't married, we didn't have the experience of going through the trials and tribulations that all those things bring. And now that we're moms and we have kids and they're about to be school age, and we have our husbands and their jobs and the things that we struggle with in all of that, we have more of a voice and we have to lean more on God's strength and not our own strength. And being in his Word every day is even more important; not that it could ever be any more important but it has to be the well that we draw from. So I think as far as that goes, if you're changing then that's going to affect your music. I think that we've always tried to see ourselves as pop music for the Church; we're here to encourage the Church, but that doesn't mean that we don't share the Gospel, and that doesn't mean that we don't share our faith in our concerts. Even though a lot of church people have heard the Gospel hundreds of times, can you ever hear it enough? And we make sure that our ministry is Christ-centred and focussed on what he has done for us and his redemption and the glory that we have to look forward to."

So what gets Heather out of bed in the morning? What would make her go out on the road and tour or work hard in a studio as opposed to staying at home and being a wife and a mother? "That's the balance that we struggle with," she explains. "It really is! Our priorities have changed over the years. We don't travel nearly as much as we used to. I think as wives and mothers we all have the perspective that if this ever is detrimental to our families then it's not worth it. Our first ministry is obviously with the Lord, and our first ministry is to our husbands and our families and our churches - as long as we can keep this perspective. But it doesn't mean that we don't have the guilty mom thing. I was telling a friend of mine earlier today; my daughter wants to go with me everywhere. She LOVES to travel, all my kids do. They love to travel and they all come on the road with us for the Christmas tour, and occasionally our husbands will get to come too. It's never better than when we can have our whole families on the road with us. Then it's like: 'We can do this forever!'" She laughs. "But reality is that's not how it works so we just can't travel near as much as we used to."

Their latest album is a real return to form and she describes working with producer Brown Bannister, "It was very familiar to us because we've worked with him several times before. He's a master at what he does. He's a wonderful musician, and he's a wonderful person, and he's a wonderful believer. He 'gets it'! He's very creative musically and yet he sits back and just when you think, 'Are you even listening to this?!' he comes up with this great idea! He's just very laid-back and wonderful to work with in the studio. So the process for us is a good process."

She continues, "There's something else that we did on our 'I Choose You' record that was a little different because recording studios have changed so much; people have them in their homes now! We went to people's homes and we would go in and record everything separate. I would sing my part and then somebody would come in and sing their part. It just kind of took the magic out of it; it took the special thing out of it. And so this time when we got back into the studio and Brown has this amazing studio at his home but it's like a big, huge recording studio so we got into the room together again and we all sang together at the same time. We all had different mics but we sang together and there's something special there. When you're in the room together there's just a vibe that you create when you're together than when you're by yourself. So I think that has a lot to do with the difference in the last record and this record too."

So after all this time working and ministering together, does Point Of Grace have any unfulfilled ambitions? Heather thinks for a second and then responds, "You know, I think the best things are more to do with our kids now. It's funny because I was talking to somebody the other day and as much as Point Of Grace is a legacy for me - I want to leave a legacy with my children. My children are a legacy that I can leave to this world. I think that is the one thing right now; my husband and I look at our kids and we think: 'This is the time in our lives and their lives that we can instil in them the truth of God's Word. They're at that age where they're just sponges and they're listening to everything we have to say and are taking it all in. They remember! Their memory is amazing! I think that's the one big thing for me personally, that I really don't want to miss out on. It's being a part of their lives and breathing truth, and seeing them as the legacy that we get to leave here and wanting to leave a wonderful legacy there."

They do have other ways of passing on their excitement for God and the truths they have learnt to others outside of their family through the Girls Of Grace initiative. Heather explains, "The Girls Of Grace conferences here in the United States are for teenage girls 7th through 12th Grade. We minister to them through song, and we do fashion shows. A big issue with parents and teenage girls today is modesty and we talk about modesty and we talk about sex and dating. We talk about friendships and family, and we talk about the Bible and spending time in the Word every day. We're trying to get those girls at that young age; where we share with them from our hearts how maybe we made some mistakes along the way, and then maybe we did some things right. We try to base it on the Word of God and what God has to say about all this stuff. So we are trying to branch out a little bit from just the music thing. It's been wonderful for us."

So there's still plenty for Point Of Grace to do! I tell Heather that if they keep going like this, I imagine them appearing on the Gaither Homecoming tours! She laughs "We've never been a part of the Gaithers! Well, we did do a Gaither praise gathering before, but yeah, I don't know if that's in our future." One thing is for sure, with the group's brand of harmonies, they will never really go out of fashion. "Not really," she agrees, "I don't think so. I think pop music changes along the way and here and there you'll get some different things. But what is better than hearing good harmony?" Can't say I disagree! CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.


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