Recording Artist Matthew West Writes a Song that has Inspired a Movie

Recording Artist Matthew West Writes a Song that has Inspired a Movie

Sat, 12/03/2011 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm

Matthew West

Provided photo 

Join host Robert Hammond as he talks to Grammy nominated recording artist Matthew West about his new holiday CD, “The Heart of Christmas,” and a song he wrote that’s inspired a movie. One song on the new album that has already developed a life beyond this CD is “One Last Christmas.”

“This is a true story of a little boy who was a St. Jude’s patient and lost his battle with leukemia at the age of two,” Matthew says of Dax Locke. “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 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 city and the state. Pretty soon people are sending pictures online from all over the country with their Christmas decorations up in honor of this little boy.”

West created a video last year for “One Last Christmas” that generated a viral hit (750k views in only 23 days) on You Tube and inspired a new movie, slated to debut on GMC Dec. 4. West was asked to write a new song for the project and thus “The Heart of Christmas” became both the title of the movie and his new album. The movie stars Candice Cameron Bure (Full House), George Newbern (Father of the Bride, Justice League) and Jeanne Neilson (Faith Like Potatoes).  West also makes an appearance in the film as the Locke’s neighbor Mark Hurtgen.

It’s hard to separate memories of Christmas from the ever-present music that courses through the holidayseason. Everyone has favorite songs that become the annual soundtrack of their Christmas celebration. The challenge for any artist who loves the season, and what it truly means, is to add something both substantive and entertaining to the vast repertoire that has been growing for hundreds of years. Leave it to Matthew West to record a collection that more than meets the challenge.

The Heart of Christmas is simultaneously fresh and original, yet possesses that classic feel that will make it a perennial favorite in everyone’s Christmas music collection. The 12-song project features a mix of compelling originals alongside evergreen favorites. West breathes new life into such standards as “O, Holy Night,” “Jingle Bells” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful” as well as stunning new tunes such as the buoyant opening track “Come On, Christmas” and the poignant “Leaving Heaven.”

“It was a longtime dream for me,” West says. “Ever since I started my career, I always thought a real benchmark would be to make a Christmas record. Some of my favorite artists have been those that are synonymous with Christmas like Amy Grant, so it was always something that I looked forward to doing.”

West admits he’s never been one to confine Christmas music to December. “I’m a fanatic. I listen to Christmas music constantly. I’ve got it on my iPOD and it’s not uncommon for me to just pull out Bing Crosby CD in the middle of summer. It drives my wife nuts,” he says with a laugh. “As a songwriter, I stored up these ideas for Christmas songs throughout the years. I’ve written a couple along the way, had a few on radio the last couple of years, so I knew it was going to be sort of a bit of an eclectic mix of songs that I had written as well as some of my favorite classics.”

In recording such beloved tunes as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” West knew exactly the approach he wanted to take. “I’ve always felt like there were two ways of recording a Christmas song,” he explains. “You can make the song come to you. In other words, spruce up an old classic. You can try to bring a modern twist to an old classic, or you can go to the classic and let the song be what it was originally intended. For me, that was my goal. I didn’t want to have people listen to my record and go, ‘Oh! THAT’S an interesting take on that classic song.’ I wanted it to be the music to put on while they are opening their gifts at Christmas time. I wanted it to preserve that traditional warmth that I associate with some of my favorite Christmas songs.  There were some songs we did where I was a tuxedo away from doing my best Harry Connick Jr. or Bing Crosby. We definitely tried to keep that old school Christmas feeling.”

West reveled in the opportunity to record with horns and strings, and to try some different things vocally. “As a singer, you just get in your style and you do what you do,” he says, “but this gave me a chance to just explore even more as a vocalist some of the types of music that I love and not really worry about it.  I don’t really care about what’s not cool or whatever. To me, Christmas is the one time of year where it is cool to become a crooner.”

In addition to West’s expressive voice, The Heart of Christmas also includes a few special guests. Vince Gill lends his distinctive talents to “Leaving Heaven” and his wife, Amy Grant, joins Matthew on “Give This Christmas Away.” American Idol alum Mandisa duets with West on “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” “I actually wrote that song a few years ago when she was getting ready to make a Christmas album,” recalls West. “We were joking about how we should do a duet together and all of a sudden we were like, ‘That’s not a bad idea! Let’s do a duet.’ So Brown Banister produced that song on her record. I just love how it turned out so much, and I love Mandisa so much that I wanted to put it on my record as well.”

West admits the title might seem a bit unusual. “It’s a title that might make you say, ‘What’s that about?’ But the pay off of the song is that it talks about tears of thankfulness, tears of hope and tears of joy because we know there’s peace on earth. It’s definitely one of those songs that tugs at your heartstrings. It’s one of my favorites to do live.  Mandisa and I are doing a Christmas tour this year and so we’re going to get to sing that duet together every night.”

‘Leaving Heaven’ is another standout track. “Vince Gill came into the studio with me, and did a duet. That was just awesome,” West enthuses. “Give This Christmas Away” has already become a holiday favorite. A duet with Amy Grant, the song was included on Veggie Tales’ “Saint Nicholas---A Story of Joyful Giving.” The tune was also used as the theme song for Operation Christmas Child, which provides needy children special gifts at Christmas. 

Produced by Pete Kipley, who worked with West on his previous album, The Story of Your Life, The Heart of Christmas captures the GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter’s love for the holiday season. “Come On, Christmas” opens the project and sets the tone for the celebration with a joyful sound. Surprisingly it was not written in a festive locale. “It’s funny, I wrote that song on the beach,” West says with a smile. “ That’s why I said, ‘Come on, Christmas’ because it wasn’t here yet. It was the middle of summer and we were a few weeks away from going into the studio and I kept having this idea. This song describes how much I love Christmas and how much I can’t wait for it to come. The lyric talks about how I left the lights up all year long and it says, ‘Hurry up Santa Claus! I’ll give you my number just in case those reindeer get lost.’  It’s just fun. I’ve got two little girls now, so when I start thinking about Christmas music, I couldn’t help but think about them. This is the perfect time to make a Christmas record because I’ve been able to rediscover that childlike wonder.  Getting to see it through the eyes of your kids, it just makes it that much more exciting all over again.”

The Heart of Christmas features 12 songs that capture the true spirit of the holiday. “I hope it encourages people that need to be encouraged at Christmas,” West says.  “My hope is that these songs will help somebody rise above the hard times at Christmas, if they are missing somebody this Christmas or whatever they might be going through.  Our hearts are never more open than at the holiday season to feel something. I wanted to make a record that had emotion in it, that made you feel something even if it’s sadness or remembrance or joy. It’s good to feel something.”