Q&A With ASCAP Christian Music Award Winners, Matthew West and Alexis Slifer Butcher
Last week, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) held their annual Christian Music Awards on social media to honor the most performed Christian music of the past year.
Music Connection reached out to ASCAP’s Christian Songwriter of the Year, Matthew West, and co-writer for ASCAP’s Christian Song of the Year, Alexis Slifer Butcher (for “Famous For (I Believe)”), to learn more about their music and faith, how the intensity of the world affects their creativity, and what keeps them writing and making music.
Music Connection: As a Christian artist, what has been your biggest accomplishment through your music?
Matthew West: From a career standpoint, I would probably point to longevity. At the beginning of my career, I was scared to death of being a “one hit wonder.” It’s one thing to come to Nashville. It’s another thing to stay in Nashville. So, I’m very thankful to have had several years of making music that I hope resonates with people. But more importantly than any career accomplishment, I would hope the greatest accomplishment would be that people found hope for the hard times, grace for the guilty times, and strength through the weary times whenever a song of mine occasionally came across their radio.
Alexis Slifer Butcher: I believe being nominated for a Grammy would be my biggest accomplishment. We lost out to Dolly Parton and Kanye West!
MC: How have the past few years and other intense life experiences changed your music?
MW: I heard someone once say that songwriters love rainy days. In a way, our world has had more than its fair share of rainy days in the past couple of years and, strangely - or maybe not so strangely? - I’ve found inspiration in the “rainy days.” I’ve always felt like it’s my job as a writer to extract the hope from what may seem on the surface like a hopeless circumstance. I feel like I’ve been seeking out hope and writing about hope more than ever, maybe because I’ve personally needed to remember that not all hope is lost.
ASB: Writing, for me, hasn’t always been a safe place. I felt the pressure to impress and be someone who always had the next perfect lyric or melody. Living through a pandemic, cancer, and traumatic childbirth has made me see the truth in what matters, I no longer feel afraid to “fail.” I have the freedom to say what I believe matters most. I want my life and music to be a legacy of truth and vulnerability.
MC: What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a songwriter/artist?
MW: I grew up in church. I was a preacher’s kid. Everyone always told me I was a good singer, so I would always get called upon to sing at weddings, church services and special events - but all I had to sing were these songs that other people wrote. I remember thinking, ‘I would be a lot more excited to sing if I was telling my story.’ So, my senior year of high school, I got my dad to buy me a guitar and with every chord I learned, there was a new song written along with it. Playing a song that wasn’t just a cover, but part of my life and part of my heart on a page, that’s when music came to life for me. Seeing people respond to my stories when I sang my own original songs - that’s when I knew my future.
ASB: My mom says I’ve always been an artist. At three years old I told her I wanted to “travel and sing for Jesus.” Three-year-old me would be so proud of the last 16 years. I began touring and writing at 13 with a girls’ band - The Rubyz - and haven’t stopped since.
MC: Did your music or your faith come first, and how does one affect the other?
MW: My faith came first, but I remember having a defining moment in my faith at the age of 13, where I truly felt like, ‘okay - this is not just something my family believes, I believe it too.’ Going away to college really was another pivotal time for the development of my faith, being out from under the umbrella of my family and my home church. I found that my faith really was going to be the driving force of my life. Therefore, it always felt natural for it to be the driving force of the music I made too. I don’t only write songs about faith. I write songs about life, but from a faith perspective, if that makes any sense? The lens by which I see the world is a deep belief that God has me here for a reason, and I want to make the most of the one life I get. Among other things, that - for me - means trying to bring encouragement to people through my music.
ASB: I believe they are intertwined. From a young age, worship was my favorite pastime, and I woke up every morning singing. When you live for Jesus, music and worship are second nature in your expression of love to Him.
MC: Which of your songs do you find the most powerful to perform and why?
MW: Well, lately the song "Truth Be Told” has been a powerful moment each time I get to play it for an audience. I think there’s just something about the acknowledgement in the lyrics that so many times we try to pretend we’re okay, when deep down we might be really struggling. I think about the quote that says something like “Be kind, because everyone is fighting a hard battle.” As the crowd sings that song with me, I use it as an opportunity for us to look around and realize that you just never know what the person next to you might be going through, or how you could be the one who shows that little bit of kindness that goes a long way. Freedom to be honest about our struggles is a freedom rarely found.
ASB: “Famous For (I Believe)“ because, even the day we wrote it, I knew it was bigger than me. I was ready to release it into the world to call a generation up into walking in miraculous faith. When I lead this song, it feels like my deepest prayer in song.
MC: Which of your songs makes you feel closest to God and your faith?
MW: I would have to point to a song that is literally about the closeness of God. The song is called “The God Who Stays” and, while I thought I understood the meaning of the song when I wrote it, the lyrics took on a whole new meaning as a pandemic hit our country and we were instantly dominated by words like “separation,” “stay at home orders,” “six feet apart,”(and) “mask up.” All of a sudden, we were separated from the things we love to do, the places we love to go, and the people we love to see, and - wouldn’t you know it? – “The God Who Stays” was on the radio at just that time! A song reminding us that even though we may have to experience social distancing, there is a God who promises that he is close to the brokenhearted and that we can experience a spiritual closeness no matter what.
ASB: “Only One In The Room” has impacted my heart and nearness to God in a large way because I want to live and worship for God like He’s the only one watching.
MC: How has your music impacted your life overall?
MW: It’s hard to put into words. Making music has brought me so much joy. It’s given my family and I a truly blessed life. It’s allowed me to go to work every day absolutely doing what I love. A friend was over at my studio the other day for a podcast interview and he mentioned getting back together to write a song to which I eagerly responded “yes!” I didn’t realize it, but my friend said he saw my eyes light up at the precise moment that he mentioned songwriting. It really is a happy place for me - a moment when anything is possible. Words and music that I have never met can be introduced and then, who knows, that song just may make it out into this dark world and have the chance to shed a little light? It’s a beautiful thing, and I get to do it every day. Answering this question even now reminds me not to take it for granted - thanks.
ASB: Music is my life. I cope through the piano - I cry through the keys. Even in difficult seasons, I find myself clinging to worship with my hands on the piano as I cry out my emotions. Music is the nearest I ever feel to the Spirit. Music speaks and screams when I don’t know what to say. Music is therapy and connection. I wouldn’t be the same without it.
This year was West’s fourth win as ASCAP Christian Songwriter of the Year, this time for his work on songs “Keep Me in the Moment” (Jeremy Camp), “Love Moved First” and “Start Right Here” (Casting Crowns). The recipient of AMA, BMA, K-Love Fan and Billboard Hot Christian Songwriter of the Year awards, West’s work includes credits for Rascal Flatts, Scotty McCreery and Amy Grant, as well a very successful solo career. See his award acceptance speech here: youtube.com/watch?v=xIP3jKX5GSE.
Butcher’s ASCAP Christian Song of the Year, “Famous For (I Believe”), performed by Tauren Wells and Jenn Johnson, is also Grammy and Dove-award nominated and spent 54 weeks in the charts. See Butcher perform the song here: youtube.com/watchv=xx6Tcf80sJY.
For a full list of all the winners, see: ascap.com/christianawards21
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