NOEL KING, HOST:

OK. Picture this. It is rural Oklahoma sometime in the early ’90s. There’s this little Baptist church. It’s Sunday, and inside everyone is wearing their nicest clothes, listening to the sermon. And then the pastor calls this kid, a little girl, up to the front to lead everyone in a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “AMAZING GRACE”)

CARRIE UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

KING: Carrie Underwood has very clear memories of this time. They inspired her new album, “My Savior.”

UNDERWOOD: These were just songs I grew up singing. I went to a very small Free Will Baptist church in my hometown of Checotah, Okla. We would file in and sit in the pews. And they’d say, open your hymnals to page whatever. And off we went. I can hear the congregation singing, and I can hear certain voices of people that, you know, I grew up with who would be behind my left shoulder or, you know, that one lady that always kind of slid around and scooped her notes all over the place and the people that would sing harmony. And, you know, it’s just – these are the songs that I hear in my head.

And when we started out making our list, it was a very long list of songs to sing. And I knew I had my pillars. I wanted to record “How Great Thou Art.” And “Just As I Am” was another one ’cause that was our altar call song. And that was always the song that ended church – you know, walked down the aisle to the front during the altar call to kind of declare myself a follower of Christ.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “JUST AS I AM”)

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt.

These were just songs that were rolling around. And as we started narrowing down the list – ’cause I couldn’t record, you know, 50 songs…

(LAUGHTER)

UNDERWOOD: …For this album, it kind of came down to ones that we could, you know, make sound different enough. But they were all kind of in the same family.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “JUST AS I AM”)

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Oh, just as I am – oh, I come. Oh, just as I am – oh, lamb of God, I come.

KING: Here’s something that actually I’ve been wondering about as I listen to your album. Do you think contemporary country, which in some ways is now very much associated with contemporary pop, does it still have a place for an album like this, which is just far more traditional?

UNDERWOOD: Well, I mean, I think myself and people like me who are making music like this, you know, I feel like we keep it relevant. We keep our place. We hold our place. I think the second we stop doing that and start talking ourselves out of it and say, oh, they won’t want us to sing these songs, oh, they’re never going to play them on the radio, that’s when it starts becoming less allowed. So I feel like there’s enough of us that can carry the torch. And we have such deep roots in gospel music. I definitely hope that’s not something that is ever lost or frowned upon because I feel like that’s who we’re singing, too. You know? I grew up in the Bible Belt, and I still live in the Bible Belt. And I feel like such a big part of our audience are Christians. And yeah – so I feel like it’s important for some of us who love that about country music to keep doing what we do and definitely not ever be afraid to do it.

KING: The timing seems important for another reason, which is that we’ve just had an entire year in which it’s been really hard for a lot of people to leave the house and to go to church. Talk to me about what went through your head as you realized, OK, I’m releasing this album of really traditional songs that are going to make a lot of people feel at home at a time when many people just can’t go to service.

UNDERWOOD: Well, I mean, technology is such a wonderful thing right now in that sense. You know, we spent almost a whole year watching church online (laughter).

KING: Did you? OK.

UNDERWOOD: And it wasn’t quite the same. You definitely miss – you know, you go to church, and you see the people that you always see at church, and there’s something very comforting in that. You know, it is a crazy time. There’s a lot of fear and an unsureness in people’s hearts. And for me, when you have that hope to cling onto and you say, I don’t know why the crazy things are happening, but I know that God is with us in the craziness, it helps.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “I SURRENDER ALL”)

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) All to Jesus, I surrender. All to him, I freely give.

KING: When you sing a hymn – when you sing a song from church and from childhood, do you feel a different kind of way than when you sing a country song or a pop song?

UNDERWOOD: Oh, definitely. I mean, I feel like my goals when I’m singing, you know, country music, when I’m onstage, I’m singing to the fans. And I’m also singing for myself, you know, because it’s – it just feels good to sing. I’m a bird. That’s how God made me. That’s what I do. It feels good to me, and hopefully it sounds good to them. But I’m singing for them. I’m performing for them. I feel like when I make this album, I’m performing for an audience of one. The whole time – I’m going to cry talking about it. But the whole time I was in the studio and, you know, any time I get to sing these songs, I close my eyes, and I’m the only person in the room. You know? It’s my heart for God. And I love that. It’s a – it is a different feeling. And it’s a – I don’t know. It’s happy, and it’s deep. And I feel like I’m making my relationship better and deeper with God when I’m singing these songs. So they’re just so important for my heart. Yeah. And that’s the difference – an audience of one.

KING: Carrie Underwood. The new album is “My Savior.”

Carrie, thank you so much for taking the time today. It was lovely to talk to you.

UNDERWOOD: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SOFTLY AND TENDERLY”)

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised.

I’m so sorry I cried all over our interview (laughter).

KING: Oh, girl, don’t be silly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SOFTLY AND TENDERLY”)

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) …For me. Though we have sinned…

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