Last year, the Christian singer-songwriter decided to follow up by asking fans to tell him their stories. He posted low-key invitations on his Facebook and Twitter accounts - and was astonished by the response.
"I asked people to send me their stories and I got 10,000 stories in the mail from all over the country and from 20 different countries around the world, and it was an absolutely incredible experience," he said in an interview.
Mr. West, who will be in concert Friday in Adrian, spent two months in an isolated Tennessee cabin reading every one of those 10,000 tales. In most cases, he said, people bared their souls about their most troubled experiences. "The harsh reality that I received when I was in the cabin was that when you ask somebody, 'Hey, what's your story?' they might be more inclined to share with you a story of something difficult that they had to go through in their life," he said.
There were stories about divorce, abuse, cancer, "and just the heartbreak and the trials that people have faced or are currently facing in their lives," he said. "There were times where I wondered if this would be the most depressing record ever made."
The 33-year-old pastor's son, who grew up in Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, Ill., said he turned a corner when he realized that despite the suffering, people were holding on to hope. The reason they poured out their hearts was "in the hope that maybe what they've been through and the difficult time that they've had could encourage somebody else in their difficult times if I were able to write a song inspired by it."
With that in mind, Mr. West said, "I felt this tremendous sense of responsibility. People were trusting me with these fragile pieces of their lives and allowing me the chance to see inside what they've been through."
The stories of hope in the midst of the storms inspired 36 songs, and Mr. West started on 150 more. He pared them down to the 11 that made it to his new CD, "The Story of Your Life," released Tuesday on Sparrow Records.
He expects to be telling the stories for a while. "I just scratched the surface here and I feel like I could probably do a couple more of these types of records just because I really felt like it turned into something special," he said.
The first half of the concert on his tour features fan favorites from his first three albums, including his biggest hit, "The Motions." After intermission, the band "brings the cabin experience to every city" as it focuses on material from the new disc.
Matthew West will perform 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Christian Family Centre, 1800 West U.S. 223, Adrian, Mich. Tickets are $23. Information: 517-263-6232.
- David Yonke