“For me, it was a blue couch and it was a Billy Graham crusade in my living room, and I was 13 years old,” says recording artist Matthew West. “I was looking for a baseball game, and I stumbled upon a Billy Graham crusade instead.” It was West’s brand new moment, which he defines as “the moment when you first gave your life to Christ and your passion for God was so real and tangible.”
Even a Dove-award winning, Grammy-nominated Christian artist can feel distanced from that moment, which is largely what inspired West’s new album Brand New, set to release February 14, 2020, where he addresses the question every believer asks at some point on his or her Christian journey: When I feel far away from my brand new moment, can I go back to it?
“The answer,” West assures, “is yes. …These songs are written from that desire to return to the truth of God’s grace, and a return to the fresh fire I felt as a kid.”
Along with a brand-new vibrancy in his faith, Brand New represents a theme of newness in West’s life and career. The album will be the first to release on West’s new imprint Story House Music, a division of West’s management group Story House Collective and a joint venture with Provident Label Group. In addition to the new management business and a new label, West also built a new recording studio.
“I’m writing new songs in a new space and feeling this new inspiration all around,” he says. “Sometimes those changes of scenery can be incredibly inspiring.”
The energy on Brand New is exactly that—new. West collaborated with new voices, dug into difficult topics, experimented lyrically and created a 14-song collection of anthems, ballads, pop-inspired tracks, and songs for the church to sing. It is one for every listener and is clearly resonating with West’s audience and beyond.
A stripped-down and honest track, West says he wrote the song one night sitting at his piano. At first, he says, he began writing on autopilot things he felt like he should say, then he asked himself, “What do you really feel? Say that.” And the first lines poured out: If I were you, I would have given up on me by now / I would have labeled me a lost cause / Because I feel just like a lost cause.
This song, among others, represents West’s desire to have more simple moments on the album. “There’s power in sitting down at a piano and seeing if a song is good enough with everything else stripped away,” says West, “…making sure that you can hear the heartbeat first and foremost.”
West worked on the song the next day with Jonathan Smith (Matt Maher, Zach Williams), Bryan Fowler (TobyMac, Chris Tomlin) and A.J. Pruis, who produced and co-wrote on every song on the album. The chorus returns the listener to the truth of redemption: You’re the God who stays / You’re the one who runs in my direction / When the whole world walks away.
This idea that it’s never too late and you can always go back is heard throughout the album, whether it’s a ballad like “The God Who Stays,” the upbeat, nod-to-Springsteen “What If” or the title track itself. As West explains, “While the album is called Brand New, and you would think that’s looking forward, I’ve seen this common thread of the album being about returning.”
“Brand New” inspires listeners to return to their blue couch moments, asking, When you close your eyes / Do you go back there? / To a bended knee / A Lord, I need you whispered prayer?
Then, echoing 2 Corinthians 5:17 (“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”) and Philippians 1:6 (“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion”), the chorus declares, He’s making you new / He’s healing your heart right where you are.
Many of the tracks on this album strike a balance between addressing the pain and reality of life while offering hope. They bring a message that West has been writing since the beginning of his career. As he explains, “I sing songs about what I know I need, what I know I don’t deserve and what gives me hope to wake up in the morning, and that’s one word.” Grace. “You’re going to hear songs about grace on all of my albums because for the preacher’s kid who beats himself up all the time, I’m singing songs that I need to hear too.”
West also strikes a balance between personal songs based on his faith experience and songs written in response to others’ stories. West’s discography includes albums written exclusively of each, but Brand New is a mix.
For example, “Walking Miracles” tells the stories of William and Veronica. William’s doctors said he’d never walk / but now he walks / they said he’d never talk, but now he talks. Veronica with the sign in the second row / Said, “Even cancer couldn’t stop me from coming to your show.”
While “Walking Miracles” is a song of victory, “Too Young Too Soon” is one of lament, telling the story of Sam who tragically lost his life to suicide. West, whose family knew Sam, says, “There are some songs you wish you didn’t have to write. This is definitely one of them.”
At shows, in letters, emails and social media messages, West has collected stories from fans for years that have inspired his work: “If you were to sum up my albums, it would be ‘my story, your story, our story.’ All three of those—that’s what I do now. … I get to paint with more vibrant colors than if I closed up shop and only wrote about my life.”
While West has written entire albums on his own, he said he’s realized together is better when it comes to creating the best song.
“I always love collaboration and want to champion great songwriters by working with them,” says West, who has written two No.1 hits with Casting Crowns this year, including “Nobody” and the GRAMMY® -nominated “Only Jesus.”
For Brand New, along with A.J. Pruis and Jonathan Smith, West worked with Ran Jackson (“Reckless Love”) on “What If,” the up-tempo, pop track that encourages listeners to live the life Jesus talked about in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
Collaborating allowed West to focus on clever lyric-crafting on this track and others, including an allusion to the time-travelling vehicle of Back to the Future fame: See I refuse to be a shoulda woulda coulda been / I can’t go back in time / I don’t have a DeLorean.
Energetic songs like “What If” mixed with more contemplative worship songs and stories that resonate with anyone in the audience have made West the successful touring artist he is today. “I think when my concerts are at their best,” West says, “the crowd is laughing, they’re crying, they’re cheering, they’re worshipping, and they’re leaving reminded that God deeply loves them.”
West will hit the road with Casting Crowns right after the album releases in February and will headline a tour in fall 2020. Fans can expect what West’s shows are known for: a solid message of grace and truth put forth in a fresh, new way.
“I almost feel like a new artist,” West says, “but with the experience of a veteran. I think that could be a recipe for being in a sweet spot in any field—to have the fire of the new and the experience. …I like to think that I’m getting closer and closer to the most authentic version of me as a communicator and me as a songwriter, but hopefully most of all, me as a person.”
Brand New perfectly captures the experienced and newly inspired Matthew West, but more importantly, it will inspire listeners and reassure the ones who are asking, “Can I return to my brand new moment?” The answer is yes.