Matthew West is an accomplished musician, writer, and actor who has made a career out of encouraging people to overcome the particularly difficult times in their lives. As a singer, he's released five studio albums, and as a songwriter he's written for artists such as Rascal Flatts and Billy Ray Cyrus. Threading a needle through all of his work is the concept of striving for positivity in a world that can sometimes feel overwhelmed with negativity.
A unique quality for an artist of West's stature is the connection he's developed with his fans. Not only are they able to draw inspiration purely by listening to his music, but they can also know that they're more than just faces in a crowd to him. "My goal is to put some hope into the world," West told us over the phone. "Let people know that no matter how hopeless things might seem in their own lives ... someone whose dream doesn't come true, or they're devastated by bad news they've received. I've always wanted to put music out that more than anything just had a positive message that lifted the world up."
To do that on a personal level, West places a heavy emphasis on storytelling in his music, using actual stories fans have shared with him to write songs that are firmly grounded in reality. "I've collected over 40,000 stories from people all around the world," West explained. "All the songs that I've been writing over the last several years were actually inspired by somebody's personal story."
Of these songs, two have stood out to West because the stories that pushed him to write them are so intertwined: "Hello, My Name Is" and "Grace Wins."
"'Hello My Name Is' was inspired by a young guy named Jordan who wrote to me and said, 'Hello My Name Is Jordan, and I'm a drug addict,'" West said. "Jordan's story was ultimately a redemption story because he decided not to live his life as an addict, but to go get the help he needed to overcome his addiction ... that's what inspired me to write that song."
West then sang "Hello, My Name Is" on tour, sharing Jordan's story with thousands and thousands of people at concerts all around the country. When he got home, he found another hard-hitting letter from a fan that would become his inspiration for "Grace Wins," a song about rising from defeat and believing you can overcome anything negative that's happened in your life. This letter came from a young man named Robert.
"He said, 'My name's Robert. I was at your concert, and you sang a song and told a story about somebody battling addiction and it hit my heart because I'm just like that,' " West recalled. "Turns out this young man was addicted to heroin and he wound up at my concert sort of by accident, but all of a sudden something touched his heart and he decided he was going to reach out for help ... we were able to get on the phone with this young man and get him into the same recovery program that the other guy graduated from ... that's what made me write the song 'Grace Wins.' "
The line in the song, "I'm living proof that grace wins every time," sums up what West thought was so incredible about the connection between these songs. Quite simply, it means "I'm living proof that second chances exist," West said, and both of the men who these songs are based on perfectly embody that idea. "All because this one person wrote to me and told his story, well now there's another person who's finding hope in his life and his battle with recovery."
Although West's music is largely written and sung through the lens of his Christian faith, he doesn't want it to be pigeonholed as purely religious. "I really believe that the music I make is meant to go beyond the walls of any one church," he reasoned. "These are not songs about any one faith. These are songs about life."
That's why he encourages people of any faith to leverage the nonprofit organization he and his father have set up to gather the sort of stories that inspire his music, popwe. The site allows anyone to submit a story about the challenges they're going through and find a community of people and resources that can help them in their time of need. "My hope through the songs I sing, the stories I tell, and now this organization that we've started is just to help empower people to discover how their story could actually change the world," said West.
Watch the debut of the "Grace Wins" music video for yourself below:
Cover image: Matthew West via Vevo