Famed Christian singer Matthew West has made it his mission to turn fans' compelling stories into inspirational music that positively impacts the masses. In fact, every one of the songs on his past three albums has been inspired by real-life stories of triumph and struggle.
Consider Josh, a former inmate who worked diligently to turn his life around after serving time in prison. West told TheBlaze during a sit-down interview last week about Josh's story and how the man came to be the subject of his recently released song, "Day One."
"Years ago, [Josh] was a convict in prison, because of mistakes he made with drugs he had gotten involved in," West said. "And he found jailhouse religion, but as he was getting out of prison he said, 'I don't want to be the same person I was. I want to prove to everyone that I'm a changed man."
Josh struggled, though, as no one was willing to give him a chance — that is, until he met a couple who owned a pizza shop.
"At his lowest point, this nice Christian couple who owned a pizza restaurant took a chance on an ex-convict," West said. "And he wrote to me to say, 'You know what? I committed to my change and God helped me — he got me that part time job, I worked my way up and today I'm the general manager … I feel like I'm proof that God can change your life.'"
Listen to West share Josh's story — and his own journey making Christian music — below:
It's that message that resonated with West and led him to turn Josh's story into a song. But he didn't tell the man that he was the subject of "Day One," which released earlier this year, until two weeks ago.
West called that same pizza restaurant and asked to speak with the manager, claiming that he had a complaint about his pie. But when Josh came to the phone, he was in for a major surprise, as West introduced himself.
"He's like, 'Are you punking me right now?'" West recalled Josh saying. Then, West asked, "Hey, have you heard my new song on the radio?"
Josh responded that he had heard it and then Matt delivered the big reveal.
"I said, 'It's your song.' And he started crying," West told TheBlaze.
West said that the next thing Josh told him still gives him the chills when he thinks about it: Josh said that every time he heard the song on the radio before West revealed that it was about him, he would tell his wife, "I feel like he's talking to me."
Josh is only one example of a fan who has shared his story with West before seeing it become the subject of a Christian song. The singer's unique way of crafting lyrics started six years ago after doctors told him that his budding music career would be potentially coming to an end.
"The doctor said there's a chance I had sung my last song," West said.
In the wake of a very serious vocal cord surgery that required West to remain completely silent for two months, he found himself doing some major soul searching, as he wrote in his journal and pondered what would come next.
Having experienced musical success already, the startling prospect of not singing again was most certainly on the table. But as West waited to see if his voice would come back, he found himself wondering how he might use his talents in a different way than he had in the past.
As he continued seeking God, he said that a key question came to mind: "How could I use my voice to give other people a voice?"
While many singers write and perform songs that are predicated upon their own experiences, West decided that he would begin to use his fans' personal stories as the inspiration for his music if and when he fully recovered.
Eventually, West's voice was restored, his two months of silence ended, and he resumed his singing career — but with an entirely new outlook. He began asking the public to share their stories of hurt, pain and recovery — the very raw and personal details of their lives.
And they complied.
Over the past six years, West has read through 40,000 stories, using selections from the massive pool of heart-wrenching personal tales to create the contents of his last three albums, including his latest release, "Live Forever."
"It's important for me personally to read the stories because people are trusting me with some of the more raw … stories," West told TheBlaze.
West directly responds to some of his fans' stories and, in select cases, he actually uses them as the basis of his music. From stories about overcoming addiction — to prison conversions — to bullying, he said that there are a wide variety of issues that his fans have faced.
"Every now and then a story will just pop out at me," West said. "I feel like the story just picks me."
"Every single song I've written in past six years is based on someone's story," he said. "I was blown away and really humbled by how honest people were willing to be."
West admitted that he had his concerns when he first decided to change the way he makes music, inviting the public to not only share their personal stories, but to also become his inspiration for the music. But in the end, it appears that the interactive method has more than paid off.