Matthew West’s ‘Christmas’ Is a Hit on Radio, Stage and Screen
This holiday season will always be a memorable time for award-winning singer/songwriter Matthew West. He made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry this week, his new Christmas CD is climbing the charts and 'The Heart of Christmas,' a TV movie inspired by one of his songs, is the highest rated show ever on the Gospel Music Channel.
"I just learned that I just need to keep my expectations wide open, because really neat stuff keeps showing up beyond what I even thought was going to happen," Matthew says. "I'm just having a lot of fun for sure."
One of the recent accomplishments that means the most to him is getting to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. "Just when I thought this year couldn't get any better, I get the opportunity to stand on stage at the Ryman and be part of the Grand Old Opry for the first time, " Matthew tells GMC. "For years my grandmother would ask me when I would be on the show, but I never thought it would happen since I'm not exactly a country singer. I only wish she were still with us to see her dream for me come true. But I know she was watching."
Matthew is one of the Christian music's most consistent hitmakers and also has fans everywhere, including Vince Gill who is a special guest on Matthew's new Christmas album, 'The Heart of Christmas.' Vince sings and plays guitar on 'Leaving Heaven.' "That song is special to me and one of the reasons is Vince Gill came into the studio with me and did a duet. That was just awesome! He played electric guitar and sang with me," Matthew says. "The perspective of that song is different. It's Jesus talking about how it's been real nice living up in heaven, but he can't stay long, [saying] 'I'm leaving heaven today.' The chorus goes on to say how He's trading in the streets of gold for a broken earth and then by the end it says, 'if you ever wonder how much you're worth, you're the reason why I'm leaving heaven.' It's a reminder of why God sent His son to earth and why we celebrate Christmas."
'The Heart of Christmas' is Matthew's first Christmas album and includes a mix of original songs and classic Christmas favorites. Yet even before recording his full-length project, he released Christmas tunes in the past, including a duet with Vince's wife, Amy Grant, titled 'Give This Christmas Away' that served as the theme song for Operation Christmas Child. Last year, the video for Matthew's song 'One Last Christmas' became one of the most viewed clips on YouTube.
"It's the true story of a little boy who was a St. Jude's patient and lost his battle with leukemia at the age of two," says Matthew, who lives outside Nashville with his wife Emily and two little girls. "The song tells the story about how after the doctors told the family there was nothing left that they could do, they went back home to Illinois and they were trying to figure out how to make the most of the time they had left with their son. It was coming up on Halloween and their son loved Christmas, so they decided to skip the Halloween decorations and go straight to the Christmas decorations. The neighborhood caught on to what they were doing and it became this really special outpouring of support from the whole community. They put Christmas decorations up in this neighborhood instead of Halloween decorations. Word began to spread throughout the whole town, throughout the city and throughout the state. Pretty soon people were sending pictures online from all over the country with their Christmas decorations up in honor of this little boy."
When Matthew's video became a YouTube phenomenon, he was contacted by a producer in Los Angeles. "They wanted to make a movie inspired by this story, so they started working on the script and they asked me if I would read the script and consider writing a new song that would serve as the title of the movie," Matthew says. "Instead of it being a specific story song like 'One Last Christmas,' it needed to be a song that captured the whole essence of the film and the other stories that were going to go along with the script. After reading the script and realizing that one of the main characters is this mom who has a couple kids, is working two jobs and trying to make time for everything, when she's really missing the heart of Christmas, that's how I came up with the song idea. Everybody liked it and decided to put it in the movie and call the movie 'The Heart of Christmas' as well."
Matthew also has a small role in the movie, which is airing this month. "I played the friendly neighbor of this family who was dealing with this difficult time. He and his wife were the ones who have the idea to help decorate in honor of their son. I had three lines and I was so nervous. Hopefully I didn't ruin the movie. There's not any Oscar buzz or anything like that. I'm not going to quit my day job," he laughs.
Matthew is passionate about his day job and not only writes for his own albums, but for other artists too. He's had songs cut by Rascal Flatts, Casting Crowns, Point of Grace, Mandisa and Billy Ray Cyrus, among others. His 2010 album, 'The Story of Your Life,' was written after he asked fans to submit their stories. Her received more than 10,000 emails and letters from all over the world and the responses also inspired a book that was published last summer.
"It's been the most fulfilling season of my life and my career, he says. "The more you develop in your music career, you start thinking it's all about what you have to say and my life has been continually turning in this direction of realizing that it's not about me and if it takes me writing songs about other people's stories, then so be it. I'd be happy to do this for the rest of my career, if that's what it takes. These stories really sparked new life in me too."