Christian contemporary artist Matthew West sat down with NEO Music Scene Correspondent Egypt Ali, for an interview before the Winter Jam 2016 Tour Spectacular came in to Cleveland, Ohio.
Egypt Ali: If I could start things off by back peddling a little in time, how did you get your start as an artist?
Matthew West: Well I was actually interested in music all through my childhood. I grew up singing in church, but I was way more interested in sports. Sports were my first love honestly. Wasn’t really until college that I started really getting into it. I actually received a music scholarship and studied at a conservatory for four years. It really took my sports going away before I discovered my love and passion for music and song writing. That’s what took off, my passion for song writing and lyrics was what held me.
Egypt Ali: After the music and song writing really took off for you, you had your share of set backs including a health scare with polyps in 2006. How did you combat the illness and what was it like getting back to music with your album “Something To Say” ?
Matthew West: It was really quite a victory. My vocal chords actually hemorrhaged, and it was very serious. The doctors told me that there was a chance my vocals chords would never recover. I thought that I had possibly sung my last song. It was devastating and when you’re at that point and you’ve put all your eggs in that basket the thought that it might get taken away is a very scary. Coming back from that and the fact that I am still singing today is, well, I guess the word is gratitude. Through all of that, I know God isn’t done with me yet
Egypt Ali: Is that where the album title “Something to Say” came from?
Matthew West: Well that’s what’s ironic. I’d already decided I was calling the album “Something to Say” even before I lost my voice, which was pretty freaky. It turned out to be a pretty ironic title. I had to take a 9 month break and vocal rest where I literally had nothing to say. I even thought about changing the album to “Nothing to Say”, but it really turned out to be a learning moment. It showed me that even when I had no voice, my life had a lesson, my actions had something to say. Even when my voice was taken away I can offer something to the world. Boy, its those types of challenges that will give you lessons you can take a long way.
Egypt Ali: Upon returning to music it soon became apparent that you have one of the most notable music careers of any Christian artist, ranging from nominations and wins and the K-Love and Dove Awards and just about everything in between. Your live shows become more of experiences rather than just a performance. How do you make the live experience something to remember?
Matthew West: We never want to do the same show twice. That’s our motivation. Biggest thing for me is to connect. That’s my banner word for my career. To connect with the audience in a powerful way. There’s something special about a live concert experience. The chance to connect deeply with the audience through music and stories. That’s the other thing, All of my music is inspired by stories. You might get to hear the song, but you’ll also experience the powerful story behind and get ya thinking and feeling. Maybe even seeing your story in a different way. I’ve seen it first hand that these shows can be life changers and that’s what we want to do.
Egypt Ali: Just from prior experience with your live shows, you talk about stories quite a bit, and a large part of that is talking preaching to the choir. When did you realize that the choirs were the ones that needed preaching to?
Matthew West: I spent my whole life in the choir. Meaning I grew up in church. My dad is a preacher and I think that I’ve never doubted my mom and dad’s good work. Growing up and becoming a musician I think that a lot of people kind of, um, I don’t know, criticize Christian music was just for church people. What changed it for me was when I gave people the opportunity share their stories and bring them to me. That was a real big game changer I should say. I received over 50,000 stories on the website and more come in every day. When I started to read them and see that they dealt with abuse, financial struggle, and other hardships it hit hard. One was about the loss of their daughter in a drunk driver accident and I realized that we all have a lot of junk in our stories and everyone needs a story that shows our life is not over. I may be preaching to the choir, but this choir doesn’t have all the answers. Even the choir needs hope.
Egypt Ali: Do plan to keep your future albums and music about the stories that you receive?
Matthew West: You know, I think its become a part of my process to be honest with you. I love writing songs this way. As long as people continue sharing their stories, I’ll continue writing.
Egypt Ali: On a personal note, with the demands of a tour like Winter Jam, how do you keep your family and spiritual life a priority?
Matthew West: Its certainly a challenge. Everyday brings new demands and I think the challenge for me is even before my relationship with my family is my relationship with Christ. To do that I read my Bible whether I want to or not. Spending moments in silent. The band and I have devotions every night. If all I was doing was traveling around the country to entertain people, I wouldn’t be out here. Its not worth it. We homeschooled our daughters the last three years so that we could be together on the road as a family. That was a big change in our family life structure. Family first and everything else comes after that.
Egypt Ali: How did day to day life look with your full family on the road?
Matthew West: We’d do school work on the bus and go to the hotel and everyday was an adventure. Its fun. They loved it, getting to see the world. Imagine being an 8 year old on a bus traveling the world. It’s gotta be pretty cool! That’s why now, when we are apart everything becomes so much more important. We have to get our faith time in and our family time even while I am not home.
Egypt Ali: Do you have a favorite tour moment or memory?
Matthew West: Gosh, with so many amazing moments on just this tour its incredible. I guess I would have to see when I get to surprise the audience when I get to bring the person on stage who inspired the song. But my favorite moments aren’t the big arena shows. Last year I got to do a show on a Sunday morning in a maximum security prison. Most of the guys were doing life sentences. I brought the woman who inspired my song “Forgiveness”. Her daughter was killed in a drunk driving accident and both she and the person who killed her daughter came as well. The guy had done 11 years, but the lady had forgiven him and helped to get him released as a changed and new man. Now both of them are inside that prison with me sharing their story of forgiveness and all of the inmates were just crying and finally seeking that hope for themselves. It was powerful. That has to be my favorite moment.
Egypt Ali: That is incredible. If you could share one truth or lesson that you’ve learned while doing your ministry, what would it be?
Matthew West: One of my favorite bible verses is 2 Corinthians 5:17. It says that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come. That s a message I need to be reminded of every single day when my past tried to drag me down. When my failures remind me that I’ m not perfect, I can remember that the new has come and I am a new creation. Actually, to anyone reading this, know that my songs are about a new beginning. Starting over. That’s because that’s what God who loves us more than anyone else is offering is a chance to start over.
Egypt Ali: Thank you so much for your time and we look forward to seeing you on the Winter Jam Tour Sunday evening.
You can catch Matthew West on the 2016 Winter Jam Tour Spectacular in Cleveland, Ohio February 21 at the Cleveland Wolstein Center.