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Matthew West

Matthew West has made quite the name for himself as a solo artist. He's been nominated for the GMA Song of the Year twice, and had a couple of number one Christian radio hits already. What you may not know, however, is that West has also written songs for country artists and other Christian performers, including Natalie Grant and Point of Grace.

Not only has his outside songwriting endeavors earned him and his family a new couch – true story – but these accomplishments have also earned him the respect of his songwriting peers.

Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I'd like to talk about your songwriting, and specifically about a few of the songs that you've written for other people. The Mandisa song that appeared in the Veggie Tales movie, "The Right Thing," were you commissioned to write a song that was kind of funky and soulful?

Matthew West: Yes, I was. They gave me a script to the movie and commissioned me to write a song that captured the heart of that script. So that's what I did. And then knowing what type of artist was going to record it, that sent me stylistically in a specific direction. So that's how the song came to be. And that's typically how it goes when I write a song for somebody else, I'll get in like an assignment mode with some parameters to work around. That's one of my favorite things to do, to write a song with a specific assignment in mind.

Songfacts: Are your kids at the age where they can appreciate the Veggie Tales, and have they heard your song in the movie?

Matthew: You know, I don't think they're impressed by much. At least not these days. (Laughs) But one of these days maybe they'll think it's cool what I do. But these days I'm just Dad. If I was Taylor Swift, I'd probably be really cool to them.

Songfacts: Tell me about the song "Other Side" for Billy Ray Cyrus.

Matthew: He was getting ready to make a gospel record, and I had written this song on an independent record of mine called Love Has No Walls. And he liked it and decided to record it, and that was pretty cool. Sometimes I've written a song for myself and somebody hears it and wants to record it. So whether it's country music or pop or Christian, I'm still who I am as a songwriter and as a person. I've had songs recorded by Rascal Flatts and Billy Ray and Montgomery Gentry and Jo Dee Messina, so it's fun to see where your songs land. I write songs about everything, about my life, about my faith, about my family, and if those songs strike a chord and be a part of some other artist's career, then I think that's a pretty cool thing, and something I really love to do.

Songfacts: Did you ever see yourself recording a country album?

Matthew: No. (Laughing) I don't. In some ways, country now is really not much different. It's like pop music with a fiddle. I'm just a fan of a good story and so I record story songs, they just don't have the country twang necessarily. So that's kind of what I do and if somebody wants to record a country song of mine, then they are more than welcome to do it. But I don't see myself putting on a cowboy hat and a belt buckle anytime soon.

Songfacts: How do you feel about the Rascal Flatts' version of your song "The Day Before You"? Is there a story behind how they got hold of that song?

Matthew: I actually wrote it for my wife for our wedding. My publisher had taken it over to their producer, and they loved it and wanted to record it. I thought that was pretty cool. My wife, I thought maybe she wouldn't like some other guy singing this love song I wrote for her, but she told me I should let them do it because they're going to sell a bunch of records and I could buy her a couch or something. (Laughing) I was very grateful. They sold a lot of that record and it definitely helped me to provide for my family, because Christian music isn't a genre where you're going to make a whole lot of money. So sometimes it's nice to be able to pay the bills.

Songfacts: So did you buy your wife something nice?

Matthew: I bought her a couch. (Laughing)

Songfacts: You really did?

Matthew: That's what she wanted, so I bought her a couch.

Songfacts: It seems like you got off pretty easy on that one.

Matthew: Yeah, well, she's still making me pay for it. We've been married 8 years. I try to take good care of her.

Songfacts: It's interesting that you've written songs for other artists. Is that something that you continue to do even though you've had a lot of success as a solo artist?

Matthew: Yeah. Even as a recording artist, I only get to release an album every 18 months or so. To get the chance to write more songs than that and have them see the light of day is a really cool thing. So I enjoy it and for me, I just want to continue to write songs, to try to be creative, and I just love it. Every day is a new song and you never know where it might land.

Songfacts: Have you ever had a song where you gave it away to another artist and then you wish you would have kept it?

Matthew: Never. I just believe that I'm going to write a new song tomorrow, so even if somebody records the song and if it becomes a hit for them, great. It always works out. I've written some songs for Casting Crowns on their new record, and even if they have a big hit, it's like I wanted to be a part of their ministry. And that's what drew me to the project. So I'm not really territorial like that. I believe that God has a plan and all of that, and each song will do what it's supposed to do.

Songfacts: I'm a big fan of Casting Crowns. Which songs of yours are on the new album?

Matthew: Actually, Mark (Hall) and I co-wrote 7 of the songs on the album including "Courageous," which is the current song on the radio. We really hit it off and had a great time writing songs together. He's an amazing, amazing writer. And I learned a lot from him.

Songfacts: Did you see the movie Courageous before you wrote the song?

Matthew: Yeah, we watched - it wasn't totally edited yet, but we got to watch kind of a rough screening of it as well as read the script. And that's how we wrote those lyrics.

Songfacts: Wow, because my life group at church went to see that movie together, and I was amazed at how well the song fits the movie. You did a great job. Are you satisfied with how that came out?

Matthew: Absolutely. Mark's a great singer, too. I mean, he really made sure that song sounded intense and it really carried the right sentiment. I loved it, man, I was really happy with it.

I just was happy to be part of it. Mark's the guy with really anointed, inspired ideas and I just happened to be in the room with him and had a chance to be part of it with him. I was honored to be a part of something very special.

Songfacts: When I listen to Casting Crowns music, when they're doing their best, they kind of remind me of a guy named Keith Green. I don't know if you're familiar with his work?

Matthew: Absolutely. Keith Green was a great inspiration to me from back in the day. He left this world too soon. But he really wrote songs that hit hard with the kind of in-your-face message of the Gospel. I think the Christian community needs that and Casting Crowns provides that.

Songfacts: That's great news. I'm glad that you mentioned that, because now I'm going to listen to the album more carefully and see if I can hear some of your style mixed in with Mark's. That's going to give me some homework to do.

Matthew: All right. Thanks, man.

Songfacts: It's been a real treat to talk to you.

Matthew: Absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and I hope everybody enjoys The Story of Your Life CD that's out right now, as well as my new Christmas CD that just came out. So I hope everybody enjoys it. It's called The Heart of Christmas. And I appreciate the chance to talk to you today.

We spoke with Matthew West on November 13, 2011. Get more at matthewwest.com.
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