How does it feel to have your first album out on your own imprint?
It’s very exciting. I had a wonderful opportunity to work with [Capitol Christian Music Group] for nine records together, and we had a great relationship. I wound up having some great meetings with Sony and Provident and they were really excited to partner on a larger scale, which not only involves my records, but also allowed me to bring artists to the table that I believed in.
Have you signed any other artists yet?
We signed our first artist who our management company has begun to develop. Her name is Leanna Crawford and her first single ["Funeral"] has just released. I met this college kid singing at a songwriter conference that I was speaking at and I was just blown away by her. I really feel there is a shortage of female artists in the Christian music industry, and the reason I really notice that so much is because of my daughters and what they are drawn to. We did an independent EP and I brought her out on the road. She sold about 15,000 copies of that EP and started to build her story a little bit and then as we began this joint venture with Provident and my company, Story House, everybody was super excited to make her the first—or I should say the second artist—on that roster.
Your video for “The God Who Stays” already has over five million views. What inspired that song?
I wrote that song for me because even though I’m a good little professional Christian singer I tend to get involved in too many one-man fights and it’s me beating myself up for falling short of perfect. I’m just wondering, “God, why aren’t you done with me? How come you still use me in spite of me and how come you still love me?” It’s awesome to be reminded that even if it feels like nobody else is in our corner, He’s the God who stays. I’m glad to see that that is resonating, and it’s gone to No. 1 on the Christian charts.
You’ve always had a reputation for not only writing songs that capture your journey, but also what other people are going through. Songs on your The Story of Your Life album were written from stories fans shared with you. Do you feel a responsibility when you make a record to tell other people’s stories not just your own?
I wouldn’t call it a responsibility. I get excited about the possibility of that. It’s become something that is woven into the fabric or fiber of my whole creative process. If I didn’t do that, I would feel maybe somewhat less than creatively fulfilled, but more importantly there is something special that takes place when I’m writing a song inspired by one person’s story. It shifts my focus because so many of us are trying to write songs for the masses because the more people that it connects with, the more it sells and the more people you reach and then the more people come to your show. Your focus then becomes so broad and sometimes you can work so hard to appeal to everybody that you wind up appealing to nobody. Something about writing a song inspired by one person has always succeeded in shifting my focus and narrowing my focus. Instead if I’m writing a song for William and if it makes William’s day, then that right there is exactly what it is intended to do. That there is a victory and that’s a special thing.
On the new album, “Walking Miracles” was written for a guy named William, wasn’t it?
Yes, this kid came to my show and he was so excited to tell his story to me. After a stroke at three weeks old, the doctors told his parents he wasn’t going to survive, and he did. Then they said, “Well he’s never going to talk,” and he began talking. Then they said, “He’s never going to walk,” and he slowly began walking and then the doctors said, “Well, he may walk, but he’s never going to run.” And he said, “Matthew, I told my story on Easter Sunday in front of 900 people and when I got to the part about how the doctor said I would never run, I dropped the mic and I ran a lap around my church.” He said they all started cheering… This kid had so much to overcome and yet he has this giant smile on his face.
I want to put another smile on his face. So I came back to Nashville after hearing that story and the first line of his song says, “Let me tell you about William.” A few weeks ago, we flew to Las Cruces, New Mexico, and showed up at his house. Only his mom and dad knew that we were coming. We ordered pizza and hung out and we filmed a music video. He helped direct it. He held the camera. It was such a special day.
There’s a song on your new album about a boy in your daughter’s school who committed suicide. That must have been difficult to write.
Sam was a sixth-grade student. The whole school was just stunned. He used to sit in class with [my daughter] Lulu. It’s a nice little Christian school in the Bible belt of America. Depression doesn’t know limits. Depression doesn’t discriminate. This sweet boy was fighting a battle and he couldn’t see his way out of it. It’s a heartbreaking story. . . Usually the most exciting part I get to do is play a song that I wrote for the individual or family who I wrote it for, but this song about Sam, I’ve been more scared to do that because of the topic it deals with and the loss this family has endured. I’m hoping [his parents] will see it as part of the legacy that their son has left behind.
What are your tour plans for 2020?
We’re going to do 30 cities [with Casting Crowns] across the country in March and April. We had a duet together this year, “Nobody,” that was a really special thing and it was a big song this year for us. Then I’ll be touring throughout the summer playing festivals, but in the fall we’re doing our own headlining tour that we’re putting into place right now. Leanna Crawford is going to be opening.