With his previous two albums, Matthew West reached new career heights, including a Gold single and record-setting 17 weeks atop CCM radio with “Hello, My Name Is,” by collecting stories that were sent to him from across the globe—now over 40,000 stories–from everyday people with real world struggles, and translating those personal experiences into affecting, memorable songs of comfort and strength.
“I’ve seen billboards around Nashville that say ‘It All Starts With A Song.’ I’ve always felt like that’s true, but really, it all starts with a story,” West tells MusicRow. “People sending me their stories was a game changer for me. It showed me the power music has to build a trust through the radio that is unbelievable.”
With his latest Sparrow Records album, All In, out Friday (Sept. 22), West turns his songwriting talents on his own story, and in the process, has crafted his most personal album to date.
“I usually look for that one central theme that becomes the foundation for the whole record. The words all in kept resurfacing, and thought that felt like an album title,” he says. “I started thinking how for every one of us at any given moment, chances are we have at least one area where we could be living more fully, whether its our faith, our relationships with friends or with a spouse or kids. I just started to write from my own places of where I needed to go all in and I felt like I kept being redirected within the walls of my home.”
Scattered throughout the album are glimpses into West’s own journey, sewn into songs like “Becoming Me” (which features vocals from daughter Luella), and “Something Greater,” which traces his evolution from a young, ambitious dreamer to a family man trying to balance home life and career with lyrics like, Thought I was moving to Nashville/just to sign a record deal.
“I figured there might be a lot of people in Nashville that will smile when they hear that line—A&R guys and waitresses and UPS guys,” says West, who also counts Nashville as his home, with wife Emily and their two children, Luella (11) and Delaney (8).
West says the frank lyrics on songs like “The Beautiful Things We Miss” serve as a constant reminder of his priorities as a husband and father.
“That song stings a bit to sing but I’m glad I wrote it. I don’t want just good songs; I want important songs. By important, I don’t mean it will change a generation. I’m not that arrogant to think I can do that, but I mean important to me. If a song changes the way I look at something, chances are it will have that potential in somebody else’s life. That is one of those songs, an aching cry that says I don’t want to miss those moments right in front of me.”
That struggle to prioritize family time is a familiar struggle for most artists, in an era where streaming and downloading has dwindled the expected income from singles and album sales, forcing artists to make up the deficiency with more tour dates.
“You are asked to be on the road way more than ever. We’ve had to strike that balance. Our ‘all in’ was to decide to homeschool for four years so we could all be together. Now the girls go to an awesome school in Nashville. I’ve learned that I have to turn down some opportunities that might move my career forward, but I don’t want to look back and have regret about being absent as a dad. So that’s always front and center in my mind.”
On “The Sound of a Life Changing,” West chronicles the creative spark that initially led to him to Nashville, and to a career as a singer and songwriter.
“One of the things I’ve noticed about my songwriting is I’ll start with the idea being very personal, a little snapshot of my own specific story. In this case I had the title for a while, but I didn’t know how to write it. I thought, ‘What are some of the sounds of my life changing? What is my life soundtrack?’”
One song on that soundtrack would undoubtedly come while West was still a college student at the University of Illinois, sitting in Assembly Hall Arena, watching Steven Curtis Chapman perform his 1999 hit “Speechless.”
“I remember sitting there, this college kid, just crying. I felt like I was supposed to do what I just saw,” West recalls. Like many aspiring artists, with a heart full of dreams and notebooks stuffed with lyrics, West moved to Nashville shortly after he graduated from the University of Illinois. West was one of the few singer-songwriters fortunate enough to have a publishing deal in hand before he graduated college.
In the writing room, West’s early inspiration came full circle, as “The Sound Of A Life Changing” not only name-checks Steven Curtis Chapman, but counts the CCM superstar as a co-writer on the track.
“I called Steven and said I wanted to write a song with him. He was a bit late to the session; he forgot he had some interviews to do. Meanwhile, I was kind of having a moment like, ‘Here I am all these years later and the guy who inspired me is coming to write a song with me.’ I started writing about that, and I told him I had a song started and it had his name in it. He was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ It was neat to write a song about Steven but also to actually write it with him.”
West, who has long been signed with Combustion Music, is an artist and songwriter in equal measure, having written songs with and for Casting Crowns (“Already There”), Danny Gokey (“Tell Your Heart To Beat Again”), Scotty McCreery, Rascal Flatts, and more. Like he has done with many of his previous albums, West retreated to a cabin just outside of Nashville to pen the songs for All In.
“Before you move to Nashville you are typically writing by yourself and when you come to Nashville and kind of get put into the machine, where all of a sudden the pendulum swings to the other extreme and you wind up only co-writing. You can lose the confidence or the skill set to see a song from beginning to completion. Writing a song by yourself is not always as quick of a process. Nashville can be a town of high output. Nashville’s rare because it’s not just quantity, but it’s quality, too. So being by myself is sort of the antithesis of the fast-moving part of it. But when you fight through the mental battle that it takes to write a song by yourself, you learn to trust your instincts. But with this album, I knew I needed to stretch musically, so I co-wrote a lot of this project.”
Ironically, while most of the stories West translated into song for 2012’s Into The Light and 2015’s Live Forever were solo writes, nearly every song on All In was co-written. He continues to share some of the stories sent to him, most notably on tracks like “Power Love Sound Mind,” and “Never Ever Give Up.”
“When people shared with me their stories [on those previous albums], and on this album there are still some of those stories I told, I felt like they were opening the story of their life to me, and I felt like they trusted me and me alone. With this album I didn’t intend for it to become as much of a personal expression and journey and musical scrapbook. It just happened that way.”
West also gives credit to fellow Combustion Music writer AJ Pruis, who co-wrote all but two tracks on the album, for pushing him to become ever more transparent in crafting the songs for All In.
“I was sort of writing by myself, but with him in the room. He came from this very pop place working on the tracks, and he would hear the lyrics I was writing. Whenever I would touch on something personal that I was maybe afraid to write, he would be like, ‘That’s awesome. Don’t be scared of that.’ I had a lot of moments writing these personal lyrics. I’m not a crier, but man, I sat in this cabin and AJ would turn around and see me crying. I felt like certain doors of remembrance were being unlocked and opened that had been shut for a long time.
“With All In, maybe this time it’s my story that causes a ripple effect. Maybe my story as a dad who knows he’s got to do a better job causes a ripple effect for other dads, or for other husbands. How cool of a legacy would that be for this record?”
- CMA Honors Robert Deaton With Chairman’s Award - December 4, 2020
- Nashville Symphony, Nashville Musicians Association Reach Agreement - December 4, 2020
- Zach Williams’ “Chain Breaker” Is Most-Added On ‘MusicRow’ CountryBreakout Radio Chart - December 4, 2020