Nov 11, 2008

MercyMe: The story the band never imagined

by Amanda Baker

 “Mercy me! Why don’t you get a real job?”

Bart Millard’s grandmother didn’t know it at the time, but her playful admonition would soon serve as inspiration for the name of a multi-platinum band that created well-known hits such as “I Can Only Imagine” and its latest single, “You Reign,” which was on the latest album release, “All That is Within Me.”

“MercyMe has been around since 1994, which is like 84 years in band years,” Nathan Cochran, the bass player for the band, said in a phone interview.

MercyMe performed for Liberty and the surrounding community at Thomas Road Baptist Church on Halloween night. Bebo Norman opened for the band, accompanied by his “one-man band,” who played backup guitar, piano and hammered dulcimer.

Between acts, Norman and Millard shared an opportunity with the audience to participate in Compassion International, a child sponsorship program.

MercyMe took the stage after a 10-minute intermission, and created a unique experience by constantly interacting with the crowd.

Midway through the performance, the band recreated a laid-back “unplugged” jam session with acoustic guitar, bass guitar, banjo and accordion. They also held a question and answer session with the audience, allowing Norman to run with a microphone so people could ask questions. Audience members got a deeper look into the lives of MercyMe members with the variety of inquiries.

“Nathan (Cochran)’s favorite restaurant is Starbucks,” Millard said. “And my favorite song of all time would probably be Bebo’s ‘Nothing without You.’”

“There’s a song on our album ‘Spoken For’ called ‘There’s a Reason.’ That … is one of the most special songs to me because we were all going through interesting season of our lives losing loved ones, and that was a song that we wrote that reached out to ourselves,” Cochran said.

A highlight of the question and answer session included Ethan, a little boy clad in a Spiderman T-shirt, asking keyboardist Jim Bryson so what his favorite instrument was. When Jim answered that his favorite instrument was the accordion, Ethan said, “My favorite instrument is the triangle,” eliciting chuckles from Norman, the audience and the band.

MercyMe also took the opportunity to sing “Happy Birthday” to a 50-year-old man, who was experiencing his first Christian concert.

In terms of the band’s spiritual life, Millard emphasized the importance of constantly being in the Word of God.

“Concerts are an overflow of our spiritual life,” Millard said. “We hired a road pastor to keep us accountable, and we also keep each other accountable.”

Cochran also commented on MercyMe’s spiritual side.

“Seeing the way people react to our songs, it’s not all about us. We haven’t gotten to the places that we are at by anything we have done. It’s pretty obvious that God’s doing something with us,” he said.

MercyMe acknowledged that many of their songs have come out of painful seasons in their lives, but that God has used those experiences to minister to others.

“We’ve had a lot of tragedy and loss within the band, and that’s played a part in the songs we’ve written, such as ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ Because of that, we’ve had a lot of people that have found comfort and hope in the songs that we’re writing, so it’s been really fulfilling,” Cochran said.

The band’s latest album, “All That is Within Me,” was recorded with Cider Mountain Recorders in the back woods of Idaho. It was an interesting experience, according to Cochran, because they were “on a bit of a time crunch.”

“We came into this last record not at all prepared. It was great for us to get away and focus on what we were doing,” Cochran said.

“It’s one of those things where we had to throw our hands up and say, ‘God, you’re going to have to do something because we ain’t got nothing.’”

The All That is Within Me Tour continued to Maryland and will come to a close June 2009.


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