Last updated: 12/26/2011 10:00:00 AM
It’s been quite a year for MercyMe. Their INO Records debut, Almost There, rocketed up the charts within weeks of its August 2001 release, propelled by the success of their mega-hit single, “I Can Only Imagine.” The record-breaking disc was certified Gold in less than a year, is nearly platinum now, and was the best-selling debut of 2001 in the Christian industry. MercyMe was also honored by the industry with three Doves Awards (for Song of the Year, Pop Recorded Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for MercyMe frontman and “Imagine” scribe Bart Millard). Then there was that cover of their hit song included on Amy Grant’s recent Legacy project. And even as they prepared for the October 2002 release of their much-anticipated follow-up, Spoken For, you could still find Almost There on the Billboard Top 200. In fact, both albums are in the Billboard Top 200 now, and they’re currently nominated for 5 more Dove Awards, including Song of the Year, Pop Album of the Year, Group of the Year, and Artist of the Year.
Not bad for a bunch of guys who were just hoping their album would allow them to continue while supporting their growing families. 1.5 million records later, they’re looking back and can’t believe how far they’ve come.
It’s true. When asked about recent milestones, lead singer Millard doesn’t talk about Gold records or singing with Amy Grant or seeing their song played on the video loop at Target and Wal-Mart stores nationwide. Instead, he mentions his new son, Sam, as well as band mate Nathan Cochran’s new baby boy William, the importance of family and the responsibility to remain real. Not that the success of Almost There didn’t translate into some college funds for the kids, but the band is much more excited about their expanding ministry.
“ The shows, the opportunities to play, and the crowds have gotten bigger,” Millard admits. “It’s been amazing…It’s kept us grounded because we’ve been given such a blessing and we don’t want to mess it up.”
After eight years as a band, they’ve learned how each member plays an important role in who MercyMe really is. Guitar player Mike Scheuchzer met Millard when he was in the Florida youth group Millard worked with. After graduation he pulled him on stage and they’ve been playing together ever since. Then there’s Robby Shaffer, drummer and financial wizard. He’s in charge of the band’s finances and is known as “the responsible one.” Bassist and new dad Nathan Cochran is the quiet one of the bunch so when he does have something to say it’s usually worth listening to. Then there’s Jim Bryson, a keyboard player whose technical expertise has been called on frequently in the past to repair the band’s bus. He also has a huge heart for kids.
It’s that genuineness and the band’s obvious affection for each other that audiences respond to. And they’re responding to the new music as well. The band had been performing “Spoken For” for a year before the album’s release, and students were always asking when the song would be available on disc. That kind of response was a real confidence builder as the band headed back into the studio with returning producer Pete Kipley, feeling a little pressure at the thought of following up their previous success.
Not that they needed to worry.
While Almost There was a compilation of songs written over a seven year span, Spoken For has allowed the band to deliver a timely message that reflects where they are at right now.
So while the popularity of “I Can Only Imagine” may have put the pressure on, it’s only pushed the band to be their best. And looking back, Millard has only good feelings about the song, written for his father who died of cancer while Bart was in his late teens.
“ I couldn’t pick another song I’d rather have be with me the rest of my life because of what it meant to me,” Millard says, adding “Imagine will always be a part of us and we’ll play it every night.”
But MercyMe is also looking with excitement toward the future.
“ It’s a new season and I shake with anticipation at letting people know where we’re at and what we have for them now.”