Matthew West, an artist known for his vivid storytelling and in-depth musical stories, chatted with The Christian Post to speak about his newest release, Into The Light: Life Stories & Live Songs.
After a series of life changing turns including a lost dream for baseball, an almost career-threatening guitar playing arm injury, and problems with his vocal chords; West has managed to find provision through God's favor and has pushed on.
Christian Post: Your newest release, Into The Light: Life Stories & Live Songs; why was it something you wanted to do as far as the CD/DVD combination?
Matthew West: Over the past few years, I've been on a mission to tell a story of a different kind. Instead of writing songs inspired by my own story, I have given people everywhere an invitation to tell me their stories and inspire my songs. Three years and 25,000 stories later, I have now recorded two projects inspired entirely by these peoples' stories. The live DVD was an opportunity to allow people to take these powerful stories home with them.
CP: Do you perform any of the songs differently live than you would on the album?
MW: Songs always take on a new form from the studio to the stage. There may be a song that is fully produced on the record that I decide to just play how I wrote it – with an acoustic guitar or piano. Some songs just translate better with a more intimate delivery, and others are received better by the crowd if the whole band is rocking. All in all, the show is like a roller coaster by design. I want it to rock a bit more than you'd expect from me, and still get just as personal and intimate as you might expect from a singer/songwriter.
CP: Can you please speak on some of the themes represented on the album, and how would you like people to come out of listening to the album?
MW: The overall theme of the record comes from 1 Peter 2:9. The scripture calls us a "chosen people." It says we are a "people belonging to God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light." The people who have inspired songs on this record are individuals who have bravely brought their story out of the darkness and into God's perfect light so that he might shine through them and bring hope to a hurting world.
There are stories of a broken marriage being restored, a victim of abuse who found God's healing in her broken past, a woman who learned the power of forgiveness from tragic drunk driving, and the stories go on and on. One by one, the common thread of God's redemption at work in peoples' lives comes through loud and clear.
CP: Do you think music is a good evangelism tool, why or why not?
MW: Music has a unique way of helping to unlock the doors of a heart and let that heart begin to feel again. Time and time again, I've seen how God uses music in someone's life who may never darken the door of a church, but will turn on a radio station or listen to a CD. God's voice is not limited to the confines of a church. With that said, I think it is important for Christian artists and songwriters to be mindful of the potential impact the music we make can have, and to make sure that the songs we write are real, authentic, and clearly communicate the message of the gospel.
CP: How hard was the decision to pick music over baseball and how do you think your life would be different if you chose the other way?
MW: That decision was made for me! I couldn't hit a curve ball and I didn't get one single scholarship offer. God used that experience though, to remind me that His plan for my life is ultimately better than any plan I could come up with on my own. I've learned that even if it looks different than we might have planned it, ultimately there is no better or more fulfilling place we could be than the center of God's will for each of us.
CP: How important do you think it is to find God's calling on your life and stick it through?
MW: It is essential. John 10:10 assures us that God has come to give us life to the fullest. But sadly, many of us miss out on a full life because we never fully surrender to God's dream for us.
CP: How have you evolved as an artist since your first release, and is there anything you wish you have done differently over the years?
MW: Well, I hope I've evolved for the better; better songwriting, better singing, more effective communicator from the stage. But more importantly than that, I do feel like I have greater clarity as to why I do what I do, and I don't take lightly the fact that this is not some singing career. This is a ministry. Every song and every show is an opportunity to tell someone about the God that can change his or her life. I'm more mindful of that now than ever. I have even started a non-profit ministry with my dad that offers prayer and counseling to people online and at my shows so that each person gets the chance to grow deeper in their faith and to know they are not alone.
CP: You've written songs for a number of artists. Who was your favorite to work with, and how do you approach writing a song for someone else?
MW: Writing with and for other artists requires an entirely different mindset than when I'm writing for my own projects. I just sort of switch thinking caps, and my whole focus is how to serve that artist and their platform. With Casting Crowns, Mark Hall knows exactly what God has laid on his heart to communicate. I'm just there for musical purposes and maybe some lyrical perspective.
Sometimes, it's about getting out of the way and being an encourager when needed. Songwriting can be a painfully isolated process. Many times, we don't need a co-writer to get the song written, we just need a cheerleader! Someone handing us a cup of water and cheering us on to the finish line. Sometimes I feel like that when I'm writing with another artist. Whatever role I need to be in, I try to ebb and flow to help the process and not hinder it.
CP: Anything else to add?
MW: My new book is called "Forgiveness: Doing the Impossible." Thomas Nelson was kind enough to let me write it, and this is another way people can experience some of the stories that I have read over the past few years. I hope people will check it out and be encouraged by it.
West has five albums since 2003, and has been nominated for eight Dove Awards, winning once for his 2003 album, Happy.
He is currently out on the Into the Light Tour with Jason Castro and Sidewalk Prophets.