KCBI’s Artist of the Month for September 2017 – Matthew West
Several years ago, when Matthew West invited people to share their stories to serve as inspiration for an upcoming album, he had no idea it would be the start of an amazing journey that would forever change his music, ministry and life. Armed with more than 10,000 stories from fans all over the world, the floodgates of inspiration opened and West crafted a landmark album, The Story of Your Life. Suddenly people were given a voice and a chance for their stories to be heard. It started a powerful wave that continues with even greater momentum on West’s new album Into the Light.
“On every level it has been the single most fulfilling thing that I’ve had a chance to be a part of in my career,” West says. “It’s just the added element of emotion that I feel by having a chance to be a part of this person’s story and to share their story with an audience. Something really special is taking place and I’m along for the ride for as long as it needs to go. As long as those stories come in, I think I’m going to keep making these kinds of records.”
In writing the songs for Into the Light, West didn’t have the luxury of clearing his schedule and singularly immersing himself in the stories he’d gathered to work on the album. He was busy touring with Casting Crowns on one of 2011’s most successful tours. “I wrote every song on the road, all over the country. My songwriting retreat was the back lounge of the bus, the dressing room at the arena, every town and city that I traveled in,” West states. “I was writing all day and then I would hop on stage and sing in front of these audiences and get a good look at the faces of these people. I would tell them. ‘Hey, send your story to me if you want to’ and then I’d hop off the stage and go back to my dressing room and write more songs. It was a lot more challenging just because it was really hard to find that solitude. I was in 43 cities around the country writing songs all along the way. It was special in its own way.”
As West talks about the songs on Into the Light, his voice teems with energy and excitement as he shares the stories that informed the music. “There’s something that feels important when I sit down with the responsibility of somebody’s life story in front of me and I’m going to put that to music in some way,” he says. “It’s not important like, ‘Look at this awesome thing that I’m doing,’ but it feels important because this person has trusted me with their story and my responsibility is to them.”
It’s a responsibility West takes very seriously as evidenced by the powerful first single, “Forgiveness.” The song was inspired by Renee Napier whose 20-year-old daughter, Megan, was killed by a drunk driver over Mother’s Day weekend 2001. The driver, Eric Smallridge, was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Not only did Renee forgive Eric, she also petitioned the court to let him out of prison early. He’ll be released this fall, after serving 11 years, and will join her at speaking engagements warning young people about the dangers of drinking and driving and sharing about the power of forgiveness.
“This woman’s act of forgiveness continues to be felt by everybody involved,” West says. “Eric’s life has been changed because this woman said those words: ‘I forgive you.’ Eric accepted God into his life as a result. I feel like her story and, hopefully, this song can unearth some life defining questions that all revolve around the one word, ‘forgiveness.’ Is there a grudge I’m holding towards someone and it’s time to let go? Is there anyone in my life who I have wronged, and my pride has held me back from asking for forgiveness? And the most important question of all: Has my heart fully embraced the forgiveness offered to me by a God who loves me unconditionally? These are the questions that we all must answer, and in doing so, we discover that forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door to true freedom in our lives.”