Oct 10, 2006
Audio Adrenaline and Mercy Me: the thoughts behind their music
by Mandi Corbett
For the average Liberty student, Christian musicians have not become much more than the familiar voices we hear 10 times a day on Spirit FM. Rarely do we have the opportunity to see beyond airbrushed pictures on CD booklets and into the hearts that have been inspired to write the songs we love. Jim Bryson, who plays the keyboard for Mercy Me, and Ben Cissell, drummer for Audio Adrenaline, took time out of their preparation for Saturday night’s concert to kick back and share their thoughts.
“Right when we start to think we’re rock stars, God finds a good way to remind us of who we really are,” Cissell said as he recalled one humbling incident that took place at Liberty during Winterfest. “Dr. Falwell wanted to introduce us to the crowd and we were really excited. What an honor, you know? It’s Dr. Fal-well!” Cissell said.
However, the second Falwell told the crowd, “These boys graduated from Liberty years ago…,” they realized someone had mistakenly told him that dc Talk was about to perform. As the crowd grew more and more excited that they were about to have a surprise reunion with dc Talk, the curtain went up and Audio Adrenaline took the stage. “We were quite a disappointment,” Cissell said, laughing. “It was all right in the end though — the crowd warmed up and we had a great time.”
Cissell confirmed rumors of this being Audio Adrenaline’s final tour and says he has already begun mapping out his life after the band. Cissell plans to become the director of Rocket Town, a skate park in Nashville. “It’s really cool for me because the kids that hang out there are just like me when I was in high school,” he said.
Cissell revealed his heart to reach out to teenagers who might not look like someone searching for God. “I don’t think anyone would respond very well if you told them they’re going to hell because they have a tattoo,” he said. “God is showing me that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Some of the teenagers with the most amazing hearts for God are the ones who might make you consider crossing to the other side of the street when you see them walking towards you.”
In its first years, Audio Adrenaline dealt with a lot of flack from those opposed to the concept of “Christian rock.” “Ten years ago, people thought our music was pretty scary.” Cissell said, “But now, we’re probably one of the least scary Christian rock bands out there.”
Cissell believes that rock ’n’ roll is “a huge tool for the kingdom” of God. “If you walked up to a kid and asked him to listen to ‘a great new polka band,’ I’d say the chances that he’d listen to it aren’t very good. Rock ’n’ roll is a great way to reach out to kids with something they can relate to,” Cissell said.
Cissell believes that true ministry is reaching out to people on their level, and he applauds those who live out their Christian faith counter-culturally as opposed to sub-culturally. “It takes a lot of bravery to really step outside of our comfortable Christian bubble,” he said. “Audio Adrenaline has a comfortable little niche playing for Christian audiences, but I would love to play in secular environments even though it might be scary.”
One afternoon, Mike Scheuchzer, lead guitar player for Mercy Me, thought he overheard someone say, “So long self!” He later realized what he had actually heard was, “So long Jeff!” However, this got Scheuchzer thinking about the concept of a song about dying to self. “We decided catch people off guard with a Beatles style,” Bryson said.
“So Long Self” has certainly surprised listeners with its unexpected tone and goofy twist. “We liked the idea of playing up that cliché break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me,” Bryson said. He explained that the energetic new style was an attempt to capture who they are in a live setting.
There is no denying God’s influence in the unusual amount of radio play of Mercy Me’s first hit single, “I Can Only Imagine,” which rapidly climbed music charts within months of its mainstream release. “Someone requested it to be played on a station called Wild 100 in Dallas,” Bryson said. The station claimed the ability to play any song ever requested. Surpris-ingly enough, one of the producers at the station had the album in his car.
“Within 15 minutes of the song being played, the phone lines were filled with people calling to thank the station for playing it,” Bryson said. Eventually, station managers across the country decided to give the song a chance — they too received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. “It took quite a bit of convincing before some stations would play a Christian song,” Bryson said. “But we asked them to play it one time and if they didn’t like the response, they never had to play it again.”
Bryson explained that meeting with station managers all over the United States allowed them to develop positive relationships. “It was good for them to meet us and see that we’re normal people and not the pope,” he said, laughing.
While it is clear that Mercy Me has been richly blessed, they have had plenty of obstacles to overcome, heartaches to work through and sacrifices to make. “God will test you to see if your heart is really in it,” Bryson said. The band members went through a series of months in which they suffered the loss of several people very close to them, including Bryson’s parents. “From a selfish standpoint, I would still like to have them around,” Bryson said. “I would love for them to see my children and see what God has done for Mercy Me, but I can see how the situation positively affected our music and allowed us to minister to those who are suffering loss. You don’t want to mess with even what God has done through tragedy.”
Bryson views the reshaping of worship styles over the past decade as a way for generations to connect. Because Bryson grew up in a conservative Baptist church, the closest thing he had to praise and worship were chorus books called “Sing and Celebrate.”
“It has been such a great thing to watch my parents raising their hands in worship after singing only hymns for 43 years,” Bryson said. “I don’t believe that hymns should ever be replaced, but I do feel it is important to expand our traditions and to change with culture in a way that reaches people.”
Bryson advises students who feel called into full-time ministry to pray about it, pray about it and pray about it some more. “Make sure you aren’t just getting a warm fuzzy from a mission’s trip — ‘summer camp high’ is what we call it. Make sure this is what God is really calling you to do,” Bryson said. “Focus on whatever it is God has put in your lap for right now. Don’t belittle anything that He has asked of you. You never know what kind of impact you are having.”
Even in the midst of chaotic travel, less-than-adequate cell phone service and the beckoning of hectic schedules, both Cissell and Bryson’s desire to follow hard after God is undeniable. As they continue to create just as God has created, audiences will no doubt continue to be blessed, strengthened and encouraged by their music.
Contact Mandi Corbett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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