Preview by Joshua Maloni
As a prolific songwriter, Matthew West is, no doubt, financially secure.
He doesn't need to tour, or record new music.
These days, West could just sit at home, sip a beverage, put his feet up and wait for inspiration. ... Or whatever new series is starting up on Netflix.
Instead, he's planning a trip to Buffalo.
And he's bringing along new music - not to mention Grammy-nominated singer Jeremy Camp.
Fresh from winning his first Dove Award (Songwriter of the Year), West chatted with NFP about "The Answer/All In" tour, which he's co-headlining with Camp. The artists are intent on sharing a message of hope as they perform a boxload of hit songs. They'll take the Eastern Hills Church stage on Nov. 2. Tickets and more information can be found at TheAnswerAllInTour.com
Fans can look forward to West staples such as "Broken Things," "Hello, My Name Is" and "The Motions," plus new track "Mercy Is A Song." Earlier this month, the Grammy-nominated artist released a special version of that tune, which includes a studio recording from his album "All In," plus an acoustic version and a live rendition accompanied by singer Jordan Feliz.
If you've been to a Christian music concert - or church, for that matter - there's a good chance you're heard West's work. He has 130 songwriting credits to his name, having crafted music for Rascal Flatts, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Casting Crowns and "American Idol" alumni Scotty McCreery, Mandisa and Danny Gokey.
While that's cool, it's a ministry he started with father that has West particularly jazzed these days. Working alongside Pastor Joe West, Matthew created popwe, a nonprofit devoted to helping others "craft, share and live a more meaningful life."
Learn more in this Q&A.
Matthew West addresses the media after receiving his first Dove Award. (Photo by Jamie Gilliam; provided by The Media Collective)
NFP: You'll now be playing as a Dove Award-winner. How does that feel?
Matthew West: Well, I mean, it's a little different now. I turned my Dove Award into a giant chain necklace.
Matthew West: I've decided to kind of wear that on stage every night. It's a little heavy, so it started giving me some back troubles. (Laughs)
No, I'm totally kidding. Nothing's changed, but it's funny, man, like the biggest thing that's changed is a little bit of funny history. I've been doing music for a long time, and a lot of people thought I'd already won Dove Awards before, for whatever reason. This is my very first Dove Award in my entire career. So it's a pretty neat honor. And, you know, my wife had already (won). She - for the length of our marriage - she had more Dove Awards than I did.
So, we've been married for 15 years. And when my first album came out, that album, it did win one Dove Award - but it was an award that went to the graphic designers and the creative directors who did the cover, because it was the (award) for packaging and design. And she was one of those people, so she actually got a Dove Award.
And, so now, you know, I can step on stage tonight knowing that our bookshelf is at least balanced. She doesn't have one up on me.
NFP: It's well-deserved award.
You and Jeremy are coming out here in about two weeks, and we're excited about that. I'm wondering how the first few shows have been going?
Matthew West: Man, it's been a blast. It's our first time doing a tour together. You know, Jeremy's written one hit song after the other. He's played so many concerts around the world. You know, we've both been kind of running parallel paths for a long time, you know, and I called him this summer just saying, "Hey, man, why don't you and I do some shows together." And he liked the idea, and we were off to the races booking it.
And the crowds have been incredible. We've had an absolute blast every single night. It's been unique and fun and special. So I'm glad we're going to be able to take this tour to New York.
NFP: Yeah, and it's funny that you say that, because I get all the press releases for all the shows. And a lot of times I'm like, "Well, it's not coming here." Right? Because, for whatever reason, we don't get a lot of the shows. Obviously we have Kingdom Bound, and that does tremendously well for us out here, but beyond that, we really don't get that many shows.
What made sense to you guys about coming and playing in New York?
Matthew West: That's a great question. I mean, sometimes it is like, it seems like some parts of the country, even our own tours, we're like, "Man - no offense to this city - but it feels like we've come to this area so many times." And then other cities just wind up being totally underserved.
I think you're right about Kingdom Bound. A lot of times, artists like myself, or Jeremy, we might come in to play Kingdom Bound and then, as a result, wind up not bringing our regular tours to that region, because it sort of feels like you'd be overplaying that area.
But I think, to your point, like you're totally right. I don't think any artist has played Syracuse, New York, too many times. So, I think, when we finally saw the routing of the tour, there were certain cities that I was especially excited about traveling to - and that was one of them, because of the very reason that you just said. I kind of get a kick out of traveling to some of the underserved cities and markets.
And I'll be honest, sometimes you go to those cities, and then you realize maybe why they're underserved, because maybe there's just not as much of an appetite for more than one major Christian festival in that city, or something. But then other times you go, and the people are so excited, because they don't normally get concerts, and they're just like, "Man, thank you for coming." And the energy level is just on another plane, you know?
And so we're hoping that's the case when we get to Syracuse, for sure.
NFP: The name of the tour is "The Answer/All In." When you have a tour called "The Answer" and "All In," I think it comes with a certain set of expectations. And, in fact, you're quoted in the press release as saying you believe it's going to be more than a concert, and that it would be an opportunity for God to show up in a big way.
So, first of all, what can you tell me about the dynamics of the show? Is it one of you performs and then the other one performs? Are you both up on stage together at any point?
Matthew West: Absolutely. You know, I mean, hopefully the title of this tour is not an indication of mine and Jeremy's level of creativity, because we literally just took both of our album titles and combined them together. His is called "The Answer." My album's called "All In." So, we said, "All right, it's 'The Answer/All In' tour."
But you know, for starters, I would say that one of the things that hit me the first night of the tour was hearing the crowd sing along - not just occasionally but from start to finish. Jeremy's had so many songs on the radio, and I've been blessed to have a ton of songs on the radio; and radio has been very good to both of us. And it's like, we could've called this "The Sing-along Tour," because it just feels like the crowds are singing louder than we are, from top to bottom; and that's really special.
So, some nights Jeremy and I actually walk out on stage together and just hang out with the crowd, apart from any lights or sound or band, or anything like that, just to kind of like warm up the night. And it's been super fun. He and I get along really well. And so, we want those kind of unique moments for the crowd.
And with the crowd in, we do break off. And we each do our own sets at a certain point in the night. And then there's a point in time where we're on stage singing together, as well. So, we've tried to really create what we feel is a unique musical experience.
But at the same time, you know, to your point about what I said in in our press release, just believing that it's more than a concert, we ultimately - that's why we tour; and that's why we take the stage. If it was simply just a concert, a night of entertainment, I think Jeremy and I both would be less excited about getting on stage every night.
But the fact that something special can take place, you know, and, in all reality, a lot of people come to our shows, and they're going through a tough time in their life. And nights like this can be a mountaintop experience, you know, just a time where you can set aside the problems of your life, but also be reminded who is with you during those problems that you're facing in your life. And that's really the ultimate message that our music points to, is where can you find hope in the midst of troubling times.
And, you know, I think our world needs that message right now. And we're proud to be able to carry that message night in and night out, every city, to hopefully lift people's spirits and remind them that they're not alone. And they're not without hope.
NFP: I guess that's sort of what I was alluding to. I know the tour's named for the two albums, but, at the same time, it does seem like, today, with what's going on in the world and in the country, that Christian artists are saying more and more to the world, "Hey, guys, you're really missing the boat here. It's time to get all in; it's time to find the answer." And yeah, I mean, obviously, it's a play on the album titles, but is that also sort of the message here - like you said, about looking for hope? Especially in 2018, is it about telling people, "What are you waiting for?"
Matthew West: Without a doubt. ... I think the world tends to highlight crazy people that, you know, come with a message where they're, you know, kind of beating people over the head with a Bible. You know what I mean? That's never been my style, and maybe that's why I've gravitated towards making music for a living, is I still have a desire to spread hope to the world. But I think music has a way of doing that, just in a way that moves people's hearts but doesn't beat people up, you know? And so, I'd like to think of our concerts as being a night filled with grace. A night that says all are welcome.
You know, one of my songs that we sing every night is a song called "Broken Things." And it says, you know, "Grace is a kingdom with gates open wide, and there's a seat at the table just waiting for you. So come on inside." I'd like to think that that's really the heartbeat of any concert that I do, as well as with Jeremy, is, you know, we are welcoming all; you don't have to qualify yourself to attend this concert. But likewise, you don't have to somehow be qualified to be embraced by a God who loves you.
And so, you're right, in a troubling time right now, where there's a lot of hurting people, we do believe that we're singing about the answer, and the hope in hopeless times. And we believe that's found in God. And so, we make no mistake about it, you know, our message is crystal clear. But we also think it's a message that is not disqualifying anybody, not pushing anybody out, welcoming all who want to hear it, and hopefully encouraging so many people on along the way.
NFP: A big part of your ministry and your career of late has also been - when we're talking about providing hope and healing to others -the popwe ministry. What you can tell me about that, and the difference that you've seen through that outreach?
Matthew West: Absolutely. Thanks for asking about that, too. I'm really excited about this nonprofit foundation that I've actually started with my father, which is kind of neat. It's a family operation. And basically, the way that this was born was, as a result of my music career kind of taking off to the next level, I just found myself in contact with so many people who really were asking for help, and I felt ill equipped to guide those people in the direction that they needed to go.
And so I'll give you an example: You know, several years ago, I sort of flipped my creative process upside down. And I decided to give people - my fans or anybody out there who wanted to share their story with me - I invited people to share the story of their life with me.
And 40,000 people and counting have written down their story. And they've sent me their testimony, as the church would say, or their story. And I've been reading thousands and thousands of stories from people all around the world. And then I write songs inspired by them.
And so, a lot of the songs that I sing when I get on stage are actually inspired by somebody's true story, which has kind of forged a really neat connection with my fan base. You know, it's not just me, a singer, telling my story to the world. A lot of my songs are telling your story.
Well, as a result of that, there were a lot of people that shared their story with me, and they weren't wanting a song; they were literally needing help. You know? There was Connor, writing to me about how he was severely being bullied in middle school and was contemplating suicide; there was Renee, whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, and she was dealing with just deep, deep bitterness in her life; there were teenagers writing to me about eating disorders; there was Rob, writing to me about his struggle with addiction and how he needed to get into rehab, but he couldn't afford it.
And I'm not just making these up, off the cuff. Those are actual people that I've read their stories and, now, because we've started this nonprofit organization, we finally created a way to be able to reach back out to those very people - instead of it being a one-way conversation.
We've been able to reach back out to the Rob's of the world and say, "Hey, we've got a great recovery program, we would love to sponsor you and send you there on behalf of our nonprofit organization." And today, Rob is two years clean and sober. And he comes to my shows and brings his kids with him.
And so that's kind of the full circle of, you know, I think you start making music for one reason, and you just say, "Hey man, I just want to make music." And then you realize that, man, life is bigger than music. And these people that are coming to your shows, man, they're going through the junk of life, just like everybody else. And they might be coming to the show, not just to hear you sing and buy a T-shirt, but maybe you could actually be there to help them when the lights go out and the show's over.
And so that's what our ministry is about. It's got a weird name, popwe, which is abbreviated for "population: we." And what that means is, like, if you drive into a city, you see a sign for which city you're driving into, and underneath that sign is the population. And it says population, and then there's a number.
And it's really what's the population of your world? Like, are you focused on yourself? Or are you part of a community? Are you helping other people? And that's really the question that I asked myself, and that's what made me start that organization with my dad.
"The Answer/All In" comes to town at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. Eastern Hills Church is located at 8445 Greiner Road, Williamsville. For more information, call 716-688-7165 or visit https://easternhillschurch.org/.
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Jeremy Camp and Matthew West will bring their tour to Buffalo in November.