A contemporary Christian recording artist has become the consummate storyteller through his songs about real life and real people.
Matthew West will perform at the 2013 Winter Jam concert set for 6 p.m. March 2 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Others set to perform include TobyMac, Red, Royal Tailor, Sidewalk Prophets and Jamie Grace.
In a telephone interview, West, 35, discussed Winter Jam and his music.
Q: What can fans expect from you at Winter Jam?
A: What's neat about Winter Jam is there's so much different music and different styles that there's really something for everybody. I'm a storyteller, so I kind of joke that I'm the Mr. Rogers of Winter Jam. It's still high energy, but right in the middle of my set I kind of break it down. My goal is to sort of bring some true stories to life for the crowd. ... We kind of show some stories from the actual person that inspired the song that I'm about to play for the crowd. ... Hopefully it's an inspirational time for the crowd to maybe take a look at their own life and realize that they've got a story worth telling as well.
Q: In 2010, we talked about your album “The Story of Your Life.” You have released another album “Into the Light” (Sparrow, September 2012) since then. What inspired you to write the songs for this album?
A: Most singers and songwriters, you first begin to write songs just as a way of telling your own story. ... For me, I've been kind of on this different path over the last three years. I've been collecting people's stories, just giving people the chance to share with me about their life. ... I've received over 25,000 stories from all across the country and 20 countries around the world. It's pretty incredible, the thing that has begun. ... I am making records that are inspired by the true stories of people's lives. That's what “Into the Light” is about. It's 12 songs about 12 people who have all brought their story ‘into the light' in the hopes that it would encourage other people to do the same.
Q: Is the song “Into the Light” inspired by a woman who was abused?
A: People are writing to me about the good, the bad and the ugly of life, and I've kind of learned that every one of our lives is going to be touched by its fair share of all three. Yes ... the album's title cut was inspired by a woman who wrote to me about how she had to finally fight for her family and she had to escape from a domestic violence situation for the safety of her two young sons. ... She used the reference ‘out of darkness and into the light,' and I just really felt like that was a fitting metaphor for really what happens when we fight for our lives and when we step out of the darkness.
Q: What response has the song received?
A: It continues to be a humbling experience. I've made five albums, and this was my first album that was nominated for a Grammy Award (Best Contemporary Christian Music Album), as far as like an album in its entirety. We didn't win but it was really awesome to be nominated. Obviously more important than stuff like that is the people's stories that they send to me. I have a song on the CD called “Forgiveness” that was the first radio single, so all across the country, this message of forgiveness has been pumping through the radio all because of this lady in Florida who wrote to me about how her daughter was killed by a drunken driver. She wrote to me about her journey and how she really found freedom in learning how to forgive the young man who was imprisoned — just how it changed not only her life but the young man who was in prison. ... It's been pretty neat to hear how a song about forgiveness has helped people resolve a conflict with a family member or helped them set free a grudge they've been holding onto against somebody for a long time. ... These songs, they're not just fun little pop songs. They're actually kind of making a statement about different things that are going on in society.
Q: Talk about your nonprofit organization, Population We.
A: We're just getting it started. ... It has a mission to cultivate a community of storytellers — to encourage people to recognize the power that lies within their own story. ... The website is going to have many of these stories that I share on my record. Maybe people will be inspired by a song or they will be touched by a story that they've heard and want to get help. They can reach out to our nonprofit because we are making the commitment to help connect them to the resources that guide them onto a new road for their story.