by Tracy Darlington
Heather Payne Interview
moves you. But you have to know what you’re singing about. There’s
this meeting when the mind and the heart join together and
we’re truly worshiping our creative God for what He’s done
for us. That's
a truly wonderful thing."
With one of the most recognizable voices in contemporary Christian music, Heather Payne will release her debut solo album, Sweet Exchange, on September 14. As a founding member of the legendary ensemble Point of Grace, Heather’s voice has become synonymous with gospel music. Sweet Exchange features Heather’s signature vocals paired with timeless hymns and anthems of the church while adding an updated style to create her signature sound. Featuring songs like “Rock of Ages,” “Holy Holy Holy,” and the heartfelt anthem “My Jesus,” Heather’s soaring yet intimate voice take us on a journey of a “sweet exchange.”
Tracy: How did you first know God was calling you to pursue music?
Heather: You know, it was always a love that I had. From the moment I started talking I started singing, and music has always been a big part of my life. I was raised in a Christian home, and grew up loving to listen to and sing Christian music. It was a very natural thing for me. I didn’t necessarily know I had a call, even after I was in Point of Grace. Somebody else said to us, I think it was Wayne Watson, that you know you have a ministry when you don’t call it a ministry but somebody else does. Because coming from somebody else you know they’re seeing the ministry that is happening.
It was combining the two loves of my life, music and the Lord. I just kind of stepped into it. I’m loving it. I have another call on my life right now too, and that is to be a wife and mother. That is a wonderful, incredible role. But the thing about it is I don’t have to give up that other call on my life. Just because I stay at home with my children and my husband doesn’t mean that I can’t still do what I love and be able to minister through that calling.
How did the making of your new album Sweet Exchange come about?
It was another very natural thing! When I left Point of Grace I spoke to a friend of mine, and he said, you know if you get ready to sing again, if you get ready to record again, my advice to you is to do it because you want to do it not because you have to do it. That was such wise advice. It gave me perspective. I didn’t want to rush into doing an album. I wanted to kind of let it be a natural thing, and if it happens it happens. If it doesn’t, then it doesn't, and that’s okay.
One of the things my husband and I wanted to do with our children was to teach them hymns because we have some great worship songs, but a lot of time worship songs don’t have a lot of lyrics in them. They kind of have repetitive choruses, which are great, but they don’t have a lot of teaching in them. The hymns do. We wanted our kids to be able to learn them. So in our family devotions we were singing hymns, and one day my husband said, “You know, we were talking about you doing a record. You should do an album of hymns. That way the kids will learn them because they’re listening to you sing. And what a better way to learn them than to sing along with mom.”
Another blessing is that I didn’t have to leave home. I wouldn’t have recorded if I had to go to Nashville. There’s no way it would’ve happened. I did that before when I was in Point of Grace, and I’d be gone from home for literally a month and a half, and most of the time my children were with me staying in a hotel. You can imagine what that was like! (Laughs.)
My producer now lives about fifteen minutes from my house, and he has his studio in his basement, so I would literally go over when two of my kids were in school, one was in pre-school, and there’s one day a week when my toddler goes to mother’s day out. So I would rush home and run over to the studio and record some songs. There was a time when I took all four of them over there when my husband was working, and they played in the back yard while I sang (laughs). It’s funny, because I think that a lot of women believe that if they stay home, that’s just it. Anything they I love is just gone, they don’t have the time anymore, and it just can’t work out. But if the Lord gives you that burning desire to do something, I believe He’s going to make a way for you to do it. And not in a way that will sacrifice your family life. Not in a way that will mean your desires to still produce something worthwhile besides children and making meals and things like that . . . which is a part of our life, a real part, but a lot of times people think stay at home moms don’t have any life anymore (laughs) . . . which is not true! We do. I know a lot of stay at home moms that teach Bible studies. And you know what? To me that’s just as important as a ministry where you travel because you’re breathing into the lives of women and hopefully encouraging them in being a mom, in being a wife. I feel like I need to encourage moms that stay home because a lot of times they think, “Nope. That’s it.” And it doesn’t have to be that way.
Did you find that scheduling was a strong point in your life to begin, or did you have to learn how to do that balancing act?
Oh, I definitely had to learn. I’m a very laid back person, and I don’t get my feathers ruffled too easily. I don’t get stressed out too easily. Which is a good thing for me being a mother of four, but it’s also a bad thing as far as getting things done. (Laughs) This is part of the reason I left Point of Grace and came home. I couldn’t balance it all anymore. I wasn’t doing any of it with excellence. My family and my husband, they deserve to have the best of me, not the worst of me. They weren’t getting the best of me. Nobody was. I was split in so many different areas, and it was really hard to function in a way that was honoring the Lord and honoring my family, which was the most important thing. I think sometimes we get those lines twisted, and they’re gray. But what’s the most important thing? Really when it came down to it, it was an easy decision because I know who deserves my attention. My family does.
It doesn’t matter whether you have one child, or four, or ten, it’s a balancing act. It just is. They’re going to be involved in something. You’re going to have to potty train. And you’re going to have to make meals, and be that mom that still has to get the house work done, do laundry, and hopefully have time to do your wifely duties and be that supporter for your husband.
I have a little Bible study group I do with some neighbors, some of which who aren’t believers. We’re doing a book called Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow, and it talks about finding that contentment in whatever circumstance you’re in. Whether you are working, in your marriage, or whatever. True contentment comes in your relationship with the Lord. Being with Him, and realizing your position in Him, is so important. There are so many women who struggle with depression, and struggle with anxiety and trying to meet the standards the world sets for them. Are my kids at the same level as everybody else? Are they as busy as everybody else? It’s a whole comparison game. That’s a very dangerous place to be. You’re going to always find somebody who you think is doing it better than you are. Every woman, believer or nonbeliever, struggles with contentment. And anxiety. This book is just coming from a Biblical standard. We’re memorizing Scripture and doing things like that together. It’s fun to be able to encourage other moms.
We were talking about our husbands, and one of the girls, I don’t think she’s a believer, she said, “I read somewhere that I should just say three things to my husband that are encouraging. Like, man you look hot!” (Laughs) You would think finding three things would be easy because there are plenty of things about our husbands, but your life is so busy that taking time to look at him and go, “Wow, I’m so thankful for you. You are such a good provider for our family.” She said this and I’m like, “Oh, man. I so need to do that.” Life gets so busy and our husbands get lost in the mix of trying to provide for the family as far as making their meals and doing their laundry and making sure they’re dressed and to school on time. Sometimes dad gets lost in it. He needs to be built up too.
What’s your favorite hymn of all time and why?
I tried to put hymns on this record that I loved and in some way ministered to me. One that I truly love is called “Man of Sorrows” and has the line “Hallelujah what a Savior”. The verses are very short, but they’re so rich. They talk about Christ and what he’s done for us. The payoff at the end of all these verses is that part everyone knows (starts singing) “Hallelujah what a Savior”. What else can you say but Hallelujah, praise you, what a Savior you are? That one moves me, puts me in my place, and gives me the right perspective of who He is and who I am in Him, and what He did on the cross.
I tried to choose hymns that were very, very old. Back in those days people were experiencing things that we couldn’t even begin to imagine. Persecution. These were the words they came up with in the midst of all they were going through. There’s something there. People don’t write that way these days. Every hymn has a story. The song “Rock of Ages”, I think it was from the 1700s, was written by a man named Augustus Toplady. He was traveling by foot from his home to another person’s home, and he had a ways to go. On his way a storm came. He was trying to find some kind of cover. He was looking everywhere and didn’t see anything. There were no trees. Finally he found this big rock, and in the midst of this big rock there was a little cleft, a crack. He ran and hid in the cleft of that rock, and while he was waiting out the storm he wrote the hymn that says, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. You think about stories like that and you think, “Wow, we don’t experience things like that!” There are storms we go through in life, but to be able to pen a song like that brings it back to who God is and what He’s done for us.
So there’ll be a Sweet Exchange II?
Oh, yes, there will be! For sure (laughs).
You’ve said before that “emotions go only so far in worship”. Could you expound on that a little bit?
Oh, certainly. You know, I love the whole worship movement. I’m an emotional person. Music does that to a person. When the music starts, the heart starts beating. Something just happens. But I think a lot of times it’s just based on emotion, and it’s not based on the thought part of it, the actual message of it. I’ve sat in worship services before and I have watched, and it’s like the minute the music starts, you haven’t even started singing the song, and the hands go up. And I’m thinking, “Okay. What are we worshiping? Is it the song? Because we haven’t even begun.” And of course the Spirit moves, and we get our emotions going, and I think that’s great. It does play a part. I’m all for it. I’m a hand raiser. I do the same thing. But I think it’s important for us to have that cognitive thought part of it. That we remember what we’re singing about, and we’re actually singing something of substance. We have to remember that worship is making God happy that He is God. Worship is us building Him up because He’s so awesome. We’re praising Him and we’re worshiping Him because of what He’s done for us in Christ. Because of who He is. It doesn’t have anything to do with us. We just give get to be the people who do it. What a wonderful honor to be able to do that.
A lot of times it just becomes emotional and the cognitive and emotional don’t meet. When they meet, that is true worship to me. When you’re singing Scripture and you’re singing words that are true about the Lord, and the music is matching that. That’s what brings the emotion, when the music, the beats, and the moving strings, and all these things combine. I’ve been to a symphony or even an opera where I don’t even know what they’re saying because it’s a different language . . . but the music is so gorgeous that I get tears in my eyes. I get that. Music moves you. But you have to know what you’re singing about. There’s this meeting when the mind and the heart join together and we’re truly worshiping our creative God for what He’s done for us. That’s a truly wonderful thing. That’s one of the reasons why we did the hymns and wrote some worship choruses to go along with them. So you’ve got the cognitive because those awesome words are there, and the rich doctrine and theology, and yet you also bring a little bit of that repetitive worship that brings that emotion. Because I don’t want it to just be based on emotion. I want it to be based on the meeting of both.
What message do you hope people come away with when they listen to this album? Is it this, that those two elements meet, or is there something else?
It’s something else. I hope that also happens, I really do, that’s my prayer, but honestly I really tried to choose songs that were very gospel, Christ centered. And I tried to update the music. I’m sure there are going to be naysayers who say, You’ve ruined "Rock of Ages"! (Laughs) Or “Holy, holy, holy” doesn’t sound the same! But I didn’t really change the melody lines. I just tried to bring it up to a more current sound. A lot of time in our churches today you see people who are either doing all hymns, or they’re doing all worship, but they’re not doing a mixture of both. The young people think the hymns are old, and the old people don’t like the new because it’s new. There’s this chasm, and I wanted to be the bridge that spans the chasm, where we can find something we both love. Joining the hymns with the worship and being able to please everybody and make everybody be able to worship together is my goal. In unity. But I wanted to make sure the lyrics were there.
The title Sweet Exchange obviously comes from the song “Sweet Exchange”. And that really is the core of the message of what I want to get across. My husband was preaching a sermon in Romans, and he was talking about Imputed Righteousness, which is kind of a theological term. A lot of times, and I’ve done the same thing, when somebody starts saying something theologically or teaching something theological that kind of feels over my head and I don’t get it—I turn it off. Well, my husband is a theologian, so I can’t turn it off all the time! (Laughs.) It’s part of his life, so it’s part of our family. He was teaching this wonderful doctrine, and he explained it by a letter that he read from the second century. We don’t even know who the writer was, but he’s explaining inputed righteousness in such a simple way. The phrase is: "O sweet exchange, O unsearchable operation, O benefits surpassing all expectation. That the wickedness of many should be hid in the single righteous one (that being Jesus) and would justify many transgressors." This was written in the second century! When I heard that, after the sermon, I go, “Honey, that was so good.” The doctrine of inputed righteousness can bog your mind down, but that makes it so clear, so simple. I wanted there to be a song that explained it in such a way that we would worship because of the exchange that happened on the cross, when He took on our sin and transferred to us His righteousness so that when God looks at us, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son Jesus. That has everything to do with our salvation! That is why I call the record Sweet Exchange. We tried to make it a modern hymn so it’s cohesive to the record, but really I wanted that to be the core. I wanted people to go, hmm... what’s sweet exchange? And then when they listen to it go, oh, wow. Thank you, Lord, for what you did for us.
It’s amazing how much that’s forgotten.
It is! Nobody talks about it. And it is the most important thing. It is glorious. Such a beautiful, beautiful sacrifice. What He did for us is so amazing. For us to forget that and to not praise Him because of it . . . we just need to be reminded. I think the song “Sweet Exchange” makes it very clear and honors the Lord in the process.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m a huge sports fan, a huge football and baseball fan. Before my husband and I got married I actually got the NFL package on DirectTv. (Laughs.) I wasn’t dating anybody either. I did it for myself!
Is your husband a sports fan?
He actually played college sports, so he’s a football fan. That was kind of the cherry on top for him! He married a girl who was a sports fan so he didn’t have to worry about me getting upset when he watches sports because I was sitting right there with him!
One other thing is I went from driving a little bitty sports car to driving an enormous Suburban. (Laughs.) I had a little red sports car, and now I have a big bulky Suburban, which I love.
Was one harder to drive than the other?
No . . . I like to drive fast. I’m kind of a lead foot, so I have to watch it. We’ve had the Suburban for awhile now, ever since we started having kids. I told my Mom and Dad the other day, because it has a lot of miles on it, “When this dies I will be getting another one because it has been the best car for us.” I love to drive it. I feel like I’m bigger than everybody, that I can beat everybody up (Laughs.) I’m the big car! I can beat your car up!
I loved my sports car too. It was a stick shift, and I loved feeling the power. I don’t know if that says anything good about me!
Did you ever drive your bus?
No, but one of our truck drivers let me drive our semi. It was parked in the parking lot, and I told him I wanted to learn how to drive it. His name was Spanky, and he drove the truck that had all our equipment and stuff in it. One day he let me get behind the wheel of the semi. I thought I was pretty big stuff.
You’re in line at Starbucks, what are you ordering?
I’m ordering a skinny Chai latte. I’m not a big coffee drinker.
You don’t really have to be a big coffee drinker when you go to Starbucks.
This is true. They have a lot of really good fru-fru drinks too. I like the caramel macchiato and all that kind of stuff, but pretty much every time I go I get a chai latte.
How much sleep did you get last night, and why?
Okay, let’s see . . . I got about six hours. Maybe five and a half. I’m kind of a late night girl. I always have been. My mom used to call me a night owl. That’s me. These days I have to get up early since I have kids to get them off to school and everything. I get to bed about twelve, twelve thirty. I get up about six.
You must tired!
You know, it’s amazing. There are moments in the day that I’m like, “Where’s my Diet Coke? I need an I.V to get the caffeine in my body!” But most of the time I’m okay. If I take a minute and sit down, then it’s bad. But if I keep going I’m good.
And with four kids that’ll happen, right?
Yeah, there’s no sit down time. Are you kidding?
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.