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Matthew West Talks Double Album, Cross-Genre Collaborations: ‘Boundaries Are Dissipating in a Neat Way’

todayFebruary 16, 2023 11

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More than two decades into a career that has cemented Matthew West as one of Christian music’s most prolific singer-songwriters, with a dozen No. 1 Billboard Christian Airplay hits to his credit as an artist-writer, in addition to writing numerous songs for other artists, he is still finding new ways of challenging his artistry.

On Friday (Feb. 17), West will see the release of his first double album, the 22-track My Story Your Glory, via Provident Label Group. The album is divided into two portions—the first half brings continuity to West’s longstanding talent for spinning fans’ personal stories into intricately detailed, faith-building story songs, such as his 17-week Christian Airplay chart-topper from 2013, “Hello, My Name Is.” The second portion breaks new ground for West, who for the first time releases a collection of worship songs.

“I’ve always wanted to pave new roads and I’ve always felt limited somewhat creatively when it comes to putting out an album every couple of years that only has like 11 songs on it,” West tells Billboard, seated in a music venue just prior to an album preview event in downtown Nashville. “I looked around the industry in Christian music and I said, ‘I’ve never seen a Christian artist put out more than the standard number of songs on an album.’ I don’t think I even told the label how many songs I was working on. When I turned it in, I think literally my contract is for 11 [songs] and I handed them 22.”

West also took inspiration from the massive albums country artists have been releasing, including Morgan Wallen’s 30-track Dangerous: The Double Album, and Eric Church’s triple album Heart & Soul.

“I’ve gotten to know Eric a little bit over the past few years—our wives are good friends—and I was talking to him while he was creating Heart & Soul,” West says. “I loved how these guys wanted to create a statement bigger than chasing a hit single. At this stage of my career, I want to be about that, too.”

His song “My Story Your Glory” is at No. 11 on the Christian Airplay chart, following his five-week chart-topper “Me On Your Mind.” “You Changed My Name,” feels like an extension to “Hello, My Name Is.”

“In Christian music, there is this fine line between two types of songs—songs literally about worshiping God,” he says. “Then there are songs about life, but through a faith perspective. For most of my creative career, my songs have been in the latter category–writing about grief, but bringing in the hope of heaven. Telling the story of trying to be perfect, but truth be told, we rarely measure up [in ‘Truth Be Told’]. When it came to this album, I was relearning how to worship in my own life, and that impacted making the worship songs here.”

In writing for the worship portion of the album, West studied hymns both classic and modern, such as Matt Mahr’s “Lord I Need You” and Phil Wickham’s “This Is Amazing Grace.” He also turned to respected worship music writers including David Leonard, who appears on “Maker,” and Bethel Music’s Jenn Johnson, who is on “I Trust Jesus.”

“I was very intentional about sitting down with writers that I have respected how they approach the craft of writing,” West says. “I was finishing writing ‘I Trust Jesus’ with Jason Ingram and I knew I wanted a female voice on it. He mentioned Jenn and she loved the song and thankfully wanted to be on it.”

The collaborative and worship aspects of the project are both essential and timely, given the proliferation of worship-centered music from groups such as Maverick City Music and Elevation Worship rising on the charts. West says more worship collaborations could be on the way as a result of My Story Your Glory.

“I think more songs will come in that direction,” West says. “I was reaching out to people like Brandon Lake and Phil Wickham and we had talked about doing something together but never landed on something. I feel like there are still exciting things on some of these voice memos I have from artists and writers I respect.”

Another key message on the album comes on “Greatest Hits,” a collaboration with country artist Granger Smith that finds them focusing on deriving the greatest sense of accomplishment from family and relationships rather than career accolades. The connection came via a songwriting session between West and Spirit Music Group Nashville chief creative officer Frank Rogers, with whom West had previously written “The Waiter,” a song on Scotty McCreery’s Same Truck album.

“Frank knew Granger. I followed Granger’s story and started listening to his podcast where he is speaking into people’s lives. I had never met him but I just had a respect for him. When I was thinking about the theme of the song, it was important for me to find another artist who I knew it would resonate with—someone who had kiddos of their own and had a grip on not chasing celebrity. It has a bit of a country lean to it and I thought about pitching it, but part of the freedom of the way people listen to music these days and the freedom of a double album is the boundary is off on your own artistry. There are some songs that sound country singer-songwriter, and that’s part of what I am.”

The Smith collaboration is a timely and natural progression as country-Christian cross-pollinations continue with increasing frequency. West previously teamed with Carly Pearce for a rendition of West’s Christian Airplay chart-topper “Truth Be Told,” while Chris Tomlin teamed with Florida Georgia Line in 2020 for a project that included such country collaborators as Lady A, Thomas Rhett and Brett Young. Dolly Parton won two consecutive Grammy wins in the best contemporary Christian music performance/song category with her collaborations with CCM artists For King & Country and Zach Williams. Lady A’s Hillary Scott also won a Grammy for her CCM song “Thy Will,” and she recently teamed with CCM artist Anne Wilson on “Mamas,” a song from Wilson’s debut album. Carrie Underwood, who previously sang background vocals on “Something Greater,” featured on West’s All In album, released her own collection of classic hymns with My Savior, including a collaboration with CeCe Winans.

“I feel like boundaries are dissipating in a really neat way,” West says. “I’m excited to write more country music that has a faith message. Even artists I work with like Anne Wilson, she’s unapologetically country in her style and unapologetically Christian in her message. I see a lot of country artists saying they want to be bold in their faith. To me, some of the strongest Christian messages—‘Three Wooden Crosses,’ ‘Something in the Water,’ ‘Live Like You Were Dying’–these songs point you toward hope.”

Before he was a five-time Grammy-nominated artist, West launched his career in Nashville’s writing rooms, penning songs for other artists. He’s since become as in-demand as a co-writer as an artist, contributing to recent hits for Wilson (the Grammy-nominated “My Jesus”), and Tasha Layton (“Look What You’ve Done”). Last year, Nashville Songwriters’ Association International named West its songwriter-artist of the year, making him the first predominantly Christian artist to win the award in more than two decades, and joining past winners such as Luke Combs, Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan.

Through co-writing and his company Story House Collective, West has continued championing younger artists such as Wilson, who signed with Story House for management last year.

“Several years ago, I brought my management in-house,” West says of Story House’s origins. “I was reading Billboard and seeing artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift kind of foregoing the traditional management model and just surrounding themselves with great people. So with Story House, I wanted to bring my operation—music, touring, books—under one roof. Then, when the time was right, we would have the systems and vision in place to champion other artists.”

That long-term vision was truncated when he began writing with Wilson, who swiftly became one of CCM’s most-talked about new artists thanks to her breakthrough hit “My Jesus”—but who was also looking for a new management home as she geared up for her debut album launch.

“I hated to see her without representation during a crucial time. She was opening some shows for me and we were co-writing, so our Story House team helped her with the album launch while she went and had meetings with other managers. She took three months while our team helped with the album launch, and after taking meetings, she said she wanted Story House Collective to continue managing her. So at that point, Story House Collective became a growing startup.”

For West, Story House Collective is a natural evolution in a career that has seen him progress from songwriter to writer-artist to businessman.

“People also kind of looked at me sideways because I’m an artist myself and people want to put you in a category. It’s hard to see you as a manager, but I dealt with the same thing years ago when people saw me only as a songwriter. I’ve learned to be comfortable with other people’s discomfort about my career. I just keep my head down and try to do great work.”

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