The chart-topping Christian rock band is back after hiatus, focusing on new direction
By ZACK HAROLD
DAILY MAIL LIFE EDITOR
Not too long ago MercyMe, arguably the biggest Christian band in the world, came very close to breaking up.
Since the release of their chart-topping single “I Can Only Imagine” in 2001, the band has spent months on the road, playing concerts to sold-out crowds. They made best selling albums that climbed to the top of both Christian and mainstream album charts.
But that success came at a cost.
Bassist Nathan Cochran said members’ families were “hanging on, sitting on the sidelines while we were doing this MercyMe thing.”
“You start realizing you’re missing out on life a little bit,” he said.
The band was unraveling.
“To be perfectly honest, we reached a point . . . we said, ‘We need to change some things up or let this die.’”
So they hit the brakes.
After years of turning out a new album every year, they took 2013 off. They also took a break from their rigorous touring schedule. And they started taking stock of their hearts.
The band started having deep discussions about their faith.
Cochran said some members of the band, and particularly lead singer Bart Millard, had allowed MercyMe to overtake their identities as people and Christians. It took a while to overcome that idea.
“You can easily let this career be what defines you in every moment,” he said. “MercyMe is not who we are. It’s a part of who we are.”
That realization led the band to record “Welcome to the New,” its first album in two years and what might be MercyMe’s first concept record.
“It’s about identity, front to back,” Cochran said. “We’re trying to talk about who we are in Christ.”
The music is a little harder than MercyMe’s previous efforts, sounding more like mainstream pop than ethereal worship music.
The album’s first single “Shake” is heavily influenced by Motown records from the 1960s, and reflects the theme of identity: “You gotta shake like you’re changed, brand new looks so good on you so shake like you’ve been changed.”
Cochran said the band made a conscious decision to change their sound, but the changes come from an honest place.
“We’ve never written songs sitting around saying ‘Let’s write a song about love today,’ or ‘Let’s write a song that would be good to play at funerals,’” he said. “If we wrote a song that wasn’t genuine it would be pretty obvious.”
For instance, Millard wrote “I Can Only Imagine” after the death of his father. That song became a No. 1 hit, not just on Christian radio but the adult contemporary charts as well.
Then there’s “Bless Me Indeed (Jabez’s Song),” released on MercyMe’s 2001 album “Almost There.”
The band wrote the song at the urging of their record label, in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Bruce Wilkinson’s best-selling book “The Prayer of Jabez.”
“We didn’t want to do it, we didn’t want to do it, then we finally did it and it’s one of the worst songs we’ve ever done,” he said.
MercyMe has made other changes, too.
In an effort to spend more time at home, the band has cut its touring schedule by more than half, going from 150 shows a year to around 70.
Cochran said that decision has consequently made MercyMe shows better.
“We want to make this the best we can for these 60 or 70 shows. It creates a different mindset.”
MercyMe comes to the Clay Center this Friday at 8 p.m. with opening acts Citizen Way and the Bible Center BandTickets can be purchased at www.theclaycenter.org or by calling 304-561-3570.