Brand New

Brand New

“I've made a handful of albums by this point, and I guess I would be considered a veteran in the music industry,” Matthew West tells Apple Music, more than two decades into his tenure as an approachable Christian storyteller. “And yet, I still have the same passion and excitement to make music and to do it in a different way and to continue to find fresh approaches. I'm not tired, I'm not worn out, I'm not frustrated with the business or jaded.” If anything, West is more invested in every side of his career. Before making his eighth album since the early 2000s, he changed labels and launched his own imprint and management company; built a home studio, the Story House; and welcomed new collaborators Leanna Crawford and rising writer-producer AJ Pruis, who helped him merge his Adult Contemporary inclinations with the trickier rhythmic cadences of current pop. “Everybody talks about Billie Eilish and her brother FINNEAS; AJ was definitely my FINNEAS on this album,” says West. “There's nothing like working with a 24-year-old on your music. You start feeling brand new again, too.” Here, West tells the stories behind each of the brand-new songs on Brand New. Intro “The album begins with the hymn that was playing in the background while I was sitting on the blue couch praying to Jesus for the first time.” Brand New “When I was 13, there was a moment in my life where I was sitting on a blue couch in my living room in my childhood home in Chicago. I was sitting on that couch one day like I always did, turned on the TV looking for a baseball game like I always did. But one particular day, I stumbled across a Billy Graham crusade, and it had a profound impact on me. Normally, I would change the channel when a preacher was on TV, because that's what any kid would do. Plus, my dad was a preacher, so I felt like I had gotten enough preaching in my life. But that particular day I just couldn't change the channel. My mom was doing laundry nearby. She comes over, puts the laundry basket down, sits down next to me and asked me if I wanted to pray. And she could just tell something was going on. Sometimes in my personal life, I feel like I'm a long way away from that feeling that I had as a 13-year-old kid. So ‘Brand New’ lays it out: ‘When you close your eyes, do you go back there/To a bended knee and a “Lord, I need you” whispered prayer/Remember the moment you let Jesus in/Would you give anything to go back there again?’ But it starts to talk about the choices you make and the mistakes you make and how your mind starts to tell you you'll never get back to the innocence you once felt as a child. And that's where I was writing from, and that's where I long to go back to in my life.” What If “I was playing on references from my childhood. There's lyrical references of a DeLorean, which comes from one of my favorite childhood movies, Back to the Future. The lyrics talk about ‘I can't go back in time, I don't have a DeLorean,’ kind of a little tongue-in-cheek, little subtle references to back when I was a kid. I need songs like that to keep me making the most of the time that I have.” Walking Miracles “Some stories come looking for me, and that was one. William came to a concert. His parents got him tickets to come backstage to meet me and a couple of other artists, and this kid just ran up to me and told me, ‘I know you like stories, because I've listened to your music. And I want to tell you my story.’ And he just launched into what happened in his life and how he survived a stroke at three weeks old and the doctors kept telling his parents that he'd never walk and he'd never talk. I saw this kid who felt empowered. He listened to my music. And a lot of my music's about the importance of how your story can have significance and matter to people. And when you tell your story, you can impact somebody else. And this kid did it. He didn't know it, but I was already scheming: I immediately had this idea for a song called ‘Walking Miracles.’ I flew to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he lives, and we spent the day at his house and played his song for him. I don't care if that song was a hit. I know it was a hit in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This kid was memorizing every word, and he couldn't believe it, and he was calling his buddies, and we were FaceTiming with his friends. That song was for William. The definition of success gets reframed in a really special way.” The God Who Stays “‘The God Who Stays’ is a song that's sung in first person, very much a song that I needed to hear myself. But that song is definitely a song that goes out to one of the main themes that people share their story with me about. I did a Q&A online and somebody just submitted a question that summed up a lot of stories that I receive, and it was ‘Is God done with me?’ I wrote that person back on the side with a little message of encouragement. ‘The God Who Stays’ is a song that speaks to anybody who's at a place in their story where they're wondering the same thing. Because I've wondered that myself. I just needed that reminder.” Grace Upon Grace “Where we sing ‘nothing but the blood’ as a lyric in the bridge, those are just moments where the old is new again. And what's funny is we're living in a world right now where everything comes back around. Why are vinyl sales back up? Why are cassette sales up 100 percent? It's just funny to think about old becoming new again and how that ties into the theme of this record, but also just how some of the meaning of those hymns that I learned as a kid, I want those to feel new again. And that was kind of my way of revisiting them.” Not Today “‘Not Today' is a great example where AJ's pop approach really shines. I've put in my 10,000 hours as a lyricist and melodic guy, but I've got my limitations when I pick up my guitar. And AJ is the kind of guy that if you pulled up the top playlists and the top charts, he could sing you every single hook. He's just a student of pop music. And so I think his work really shines on songs like ‘Not Today.’ You can hear his influence combined with my unquenchable thirst for big anthems. And he kind of brings me back from that sometimes, because we're not living in the age of huge choruses as much. Sometimes the choruses sneak up on you, like a Billie Eilish song. It's just fun to work with those different perspectives.” Why I Make Christian Music “Basically, that's just a little spoken word: ‘People ask me all the time, “Matthew, why do you make Christian music when you'd reach more people if you were mainstream?” Here's my answer.’ And then it goes into the song.” Love on the Radio “‘Love on the Radio’ is my thinking about the beginning of my career when I signed to a record label and they told me, ‘Hey, we're going to take you mainstream. Your first song's going to be a hit at Christian radio. And after we got a hit there, just like Switchfoot, we're going to take you mainstream.’ And that never happened. Sometimes people, I think, look at Christian music as this safe route or something like that. And I've just had this perspective gained over the years of reading thousands of people's stories and singing for people like crazy, and sometimes getting discouraged, going, ‘Maybe I would reach more people if I wasn't labeled a Christian artist.’ But gosh, I go sing at these churches, and sometimes you think you're preaching to the choir, and then you read the stories from the choir and you realize that the choir's just as messed up as the rest of the world.” Truth Be Told “‘Truth Be Told’ is a really special song to me on the album, because it's kind of a reminder. It's just about coming back to before you knew how to perform for people—brand-new authenticity. At what age did I start to realize how to put a face on for people and make sure they all think I've got it together? And how dangerous is that in life, and how long have I done that as a preacher's kid and now a professional Christian singer? What's the most authentic version of me, and how can I start working on that more?” The Me You Made “That's really about self-esteem and about my insecurities—the skinny-jean-wearing dad, and then looking at my daughters growing up and seeing how the world can mess with you and your view of yourself. But the song's about returning back to the promise that you were made in God's image and he wouldn't change a thing, so you can rest in that and be that today.” Looking Up “My dad's a really big figure in my life, and he travels with me and we have a nonprofit organization together. And I just had him on my mind as I was writing about my faith. He's been one that's really shaped my growth and what's important to me and how I raise my kids.” Without You “‘Without You’ actually features a new artist, actually the first artist that Provident and Sony let me sign with the joint venture that we did together. Her name's Leanna Crawford. I wanted to feature Leanna on my record because I really love her voice. And I felt like this song kind of has this soulful thing to it. It's a little bluer, a little more soulful than I normally show off vocally. She's the same age as AJ, 24 and just starting her career. So I definitely want to use my platform to help the world discover her music, too.” Too Young Too Soon “I would file that song in the category of songs that I wish I didn't have to write, because I wish it didn't happen. That song's inspired by my daughter's classmate, sadly. The first week of sixth grade, he took his life. And here we are in Nashville, Tennessee, in the Bible Belt, nice little community, nice little Christian school that our daughters go to. This sweet kid, who I talk about it in the song, I remember him in the Christmas play, and we were trying to get my daughter's attention. I was just being an annoying dad waving and trying to embarrass my daughter. And he looked up, he thought I was waving at him. And he had this big grin on his face, and that's my picture of this boy Sam. But little did I know he was struggling with some serious depression. I felt like I needed to write that song for my daughter's class, honestly, and anybody else who's out there struggling. These stories I experience kind of bring me back to a brand-new appreciation for how short life is and how important it is to treat people with kindness around this.” Hope Returns “AJ had that little musical hook at the top of the song, and it just was so beautiful that I was like, ‘I have to write something to that.’ I started to think of it like brand-new hope and talking about just those situations where you're in your life and you feel like all hope is gone. And it's returning to promises of God, and brand-new faith, and brand-new view of yourself.” The Man Who Needed Grace “I almost called the record The Man Who Needed Grace. And then it wound up being the send-off, the last song on the record. But I was listening a lot to this singer-songwriter Alec Bailey—he just lives in this land of fingerpicking guitars and his voice is really soft, almost like Simon & Garfunkel where the choruses never get big, it just draws you in. So this sort of blends my desire to be a chill singer-songwriter with my unstoppable urge to write a massive song that we could sing at the top of our lungs at a summer festival.”

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