As a songwriter, Matthew West has often considered it his mission to make his music as relatable as possible. Yet West takes a different approach on “Something Greater,” and his personal revelations spill from the song’s lyrics to the poignant video, premiering on Billboard today (Sept. 12).
“It’s my favorite on the record, because it shares more of my direct story than my songs tend to do,” West says. “This song illustrates a change in my creative process. A lot of times my inspiration will be deeply personal, but then as a songwriter I’ll try to reach out and grab this universal message, so I’ll take this direct inspiration, but then try to write it in a way that everybody could relate to it. That’s part of my job as a songwriter, to write relatable songs.”
“Something Greater” is more personal because it comes straight out of his own narrative. “I moved to Nashville with one goal in mind, getting a record deal,” he recalls. “Seeing all that my life has become, I’ve realized that God did have something greater in store all along. Instead of me jumping real fast to whatever universal lyric would have been, I dared to sort of stay there in that personal frame of reference, and literally talk about how I thought I was moving to Nashville just to sign a record deal. I’m trusting that my fans could take that journey with me if I wrote lyrics that were more personal.”
Moving to Nashville brought West more than he ever imagined. Not only does he have a thriving career — four Grammy nominations, a Billboard Music Award, an American Music Award and chart-topping hits such as “Grace Wins” and “Hello My Name Is” — West also found the love of his life. He and wife Emily have been married 15 years and have two daughters (Lulu, 12, and Delaney, 9), and the video features personal footage of special moments in his life. Naturally, turning his music video into a compilation of home videos makes it a bit of a tear-jerker for the singer.
“The video shows little clips of my earlier performances and my wedding day, just letting people see that bigger picture, how God does bless it and how he does see a bigger picture than what we can see,” West suggests. “I also feel like the song is the story of every artist that comes to Nashville. We move to Nashville with a goal in mind, and then life happens. Some of our careers take off and some of us find other careers. We get married. We have kids. We realize that while music is important to us, if it’s the only thing that defines us, then we’ve missed that bigger picture. I wanted the video to give people all the feels that the song gives me.”
While the video’s director, Patrick Tohill, had a neat filming location in mind — an old building with an industrial look, setting up shop in one of its rooms for the full video — it was West’s idea to include his own family videos. “What I didn’t realize is I gave myself a bunch of homework, because then I had to go scour through all my old video tapes and iPhone videos and send them all to the director,” he quips. But it was a rewarding assignment, as he’s beyond happy with how such a simple video conveys his message: “It doesn’t distract from the song. It just stays in that moment.”
One person that really connected to “Something Greater” was Carrie Underwood, who hopped on the track for harmonies. “I’ve always loved him as an artist, and sometimes people just ask,” Underwood says of her decision to record the song with West. “They’re like, ‘Hey, would you ever be interested?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ ’cause I really like his voice and I like his music. It was kind of some glorified background vocals, but it was a really cool thing to be a part of.”
West is appreciative of Underwood lending her voice to the song, and he credits his publisher, Combustion Music president Chris Farren, for initiating the collaboration by forwarding the track to her manager. “The next thing I know I’m in the studio waiting on her arrival,” West remembers. “She came in and just sounded like — I was going to say a million bucks, but sounded like more than a million bucks. She’s Carrie! She just stepped up to the mic and I couldn’t believe she was singing on a song that I wrote. It was really neat to have her be a part of it.”
“Something Greater” is on West’s 2017 album All In. Though it’s not a formal single, he knew it was one he wanted to make a video for.
“I was having a conversation with one of my artist friends, and he said something that really stuck with me — ‘We’re not just artists, we’re content creators.’ I feel like we’re all putting on that hat now more than ever, and that honestly is where the idea for the video came,” West says. “I believe in this song. This song needs a moment, needs it’s chance to see the light of day. And if it’s not going to be via radio, how else can we make sure this song doesn’t just get lost deep in a record that people may or may not find? That’s been my motivation behind putting visuals to songs even if they’re not a radio single. They should see the light of day because they need to. I feel like there’s some magic to this song. It always felt special to me, so if it’s not going to be a radio single, let’s give it a visual and get it out through different channels and see how it speaks to people.”
Obviously West is hoping others find meaning in “Something Greater,” but regardless it will always be special to him and his family. “It definitely got both [me and Emily] and made us kind of choke up. And of course, the kids liked the video because it shows dad with his bad hair days. They get a kick out of that kind of stuff,” West says with a laugh.
“It reminds me of that scene in Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold is trapped in his attic and he puts on the old lady’s mittens, scarf and hat to stay warm then he stumbles upon some old reel to reel tapes,” he continues. “Ray Charles is singing in the background, and there’s this montage of Clark Griswold watching old family videos up in his attic and he’s weeping like a little baby. This is that for me — I’ll always have this little video to look back on and it will tug at my heart every time I see it. It’s this little snapshot of this season of my life, and hopefully will help me remember what really matters when I get caught up in the business, career or my artistry. That’s how God seems to work. Sometimes my songs come back and remind me of something I need to learn myself.”
West is touring this fall with Jeremy Camp on The Answer/All In Tour and will embark on Compassion LIVE’s multi-act The Roadshow Christmas Tour this winter. Click here for all tour dates.