(Photo: EMI CMG)
Christian singer-songwriter Matthew West follows his faith rather than the almighty dollar.
The acclaimed musician maintains it's tough maintaining a livelihood in this economy even as a Dove Award winner. All the same, he says he'd rather preach God's word than increase his net worth any day. Currently touring behind this year's Story of Your Life album, West hopes his new The Heart of Christmas release will remind listeners that Christmas belongs to Christ.
In an interview with The Christian Post, West talks about transforming Christian music for the better and remembering what matters in a season of materialism. As he sees it, this is the season to get spiritual and keep it that way.
CP: What's the hardest part of working as a professional Christian singer-songwriter?
West: The hardest part of doing this for a living is the traveling. It's not easy writing songs, but it's what I love to do. When you travel as a musician it's a different kind of travel. It's exhausting. I tell people I've seen the whole world and none of it. It's intense and it's all work, work, work. It's also tough being away from your family around the holidays.
CP: You almost gave up music after extreme vocal stress. What was that experience like?
West: Any time your dreams, goals or plans for your life are put on hold, it's a frightening thing. It's not news you want to hear.
It impacted my life in a big way. God pointed my heart back in the direction of relying on Him. It was difficult going through that, but we all face adversity and uncertainty about what lies ahead. The cool thing is realizing God has a plan and that we need to fall in line behind it.
CP: You're playing a role in the upcoming TV special "The Heart of Christmas." Is it harder acting or making music?
West: I kind of just played myself. I'm not an actor. I just didn't want to make a fool of myself. I was dragged kicking and screaming into that movie. I don't think I'll win an Emmy, but I know my mom enjoyed it.
CP: "The Heart of Christmas" features a child character suffering from cancer. What impact has that disease had on you?
West: It's a very moving story. With so many bad headlines in the news, it's a good story about how we can still have love and kindness in our hearts.
I lost my grandfather and my uncle to cancer. I've had tons of listeners write me about how their lives have been impacted by this disease in their daily lives. Cancer affects everyone in some shape or form.
CP: Some people complain that Christmas is becoming too commercialized. How do you feel about that idea, especially having made some Christmas songs for "The Heart of Christmas?"
West: My hope is that both this movie and its music will bring people back to the true heart of this holiday during the chaos of our modern commercial Christmas. The heart of Christmas is our savior and the gift of Jesus. If we lose sight of that we've taken the one essential element of Christmas out of Christmas.
I'm as guilty as anyone else of that. We carry a spirit of gratitude on Thanksgiving and leave it on that day. We have so much to be thankful for this season. God sent his only son to die for us on a cross for our sins. That's we should think about around Christmas time. We should give and share that gift.
CP: Your latest album is called Story of Your Life. How would you describe the story of yours?
West: The story of my life is that of a burned-out preacher's kids who got really talented at looking and acting like a good Christian. I knew how to say and do the right things to make people think my life was together. It was second nature to me. I wasn't pursuing a serious relationship with Christ, even when I was first a Christian musician.
Now I have a renewed passion and fire for Christ in my life. In some of the weakest moments of my life, I've been drawn closer to Jesus than ever before. I'm thankful for those moments of adversity and tribulation now.
CP: Some people say Christian Contemporary Music is just a knock-off of secular music with Christian themes. Do you agree?
West: Sometimes I agree that Christian music is like that. Where there's smoke there's fire. If enough people think that, there probably is some of it.
All the same, the mainstream music community has plenty of worthless messages that point people in the wrong direction. Our goal is to lead the way as Christians instead. Our music should be inspiring, innovative and carry a deeper message than the music of a fallen world.
I'm proud of the music I make and I'm proud to be part of this genre. There is a new breed of Christian music rising up that will make people say, "You know what? This music touches my heart." I hope I'm a part of that.
CP: The CCM industry has been struggling the past few years along with the economy. How has this affected your ability as an artist to make music and hold concerts?
West: Everything shifts in life. If I wanted to become rich, I wouldn't have decided to make Christian music. My faith is the guiding light of my life. I can't write music that doesn't display that. Whether the industry is up or down, I can't be concerned with that. People are still coming out to shows. No matter how much the industry changes, people still have the desire to become moved through music.