MercyMe: Bart Millard talks about the Texas band's 'All That Is Within Me' album

Sunday 3rd February 2008

Tony Cummings reports on the Texas rock worship band MERCYME who are back with another CCM hit


America's MercyMe have surprised the CCM industry with the sheer excellence of their new album 'All That Is Within Me'. But then this veteran team of pop rock worshippers from Greenville, Texas are used to surprising the Nashville suits. This is a band who after six independent albums found a re-recording of a song originally on one of them, the glimpse-of-Heaven ballad "I Can Only Imagine", nestling at number one in the US singles chart in 2002. So maybe the big Christian marketplace sales enjoyed by 'All That Is Within Me' shouldn't come as too much of a shock. Certainly the band, Bart Millard (vocals), Jim Bryson (keys), Mike Scheuchzer (guitar), Nathan Cochran (bass) and Randy Shaffer (drums), are convinced that this, MercyMe's 12th album, is their best ever. Bart Millard spoke to journalist Stan Friedman about the project. "This is probably the first time we really sat down as a band and started asking questions like, 'What is MercyMe good at? What is it we are called to do? Where is our place in the grand scheme of things?' We realised that for whatever reason, our call is to reach out to the hurting, to help people get through difficult times, and if possible, to be part of the healing process. We just decided this is who we are and what we are called to do. This is all of who we are and all of what we do. We want to give all of ourselves to God."

Bart was not really aware of the theme when he started writing for 'All That Is Within Me'. "I had the title for it even before (2006's) 'Coming Up To Breathe' album. Originally I first thought the CD was going to be like a full-blown Third Day-style worship album, where part of it was cover tunes, and part of it stuff we've written ourselves. It definitely would have been a lot easier to do that way. Our biggest goal was to write songs that the Church would be singing long after we're gone. Two weeks before we went in I was thinking if I can just get five songs done, then we can cover the other half. But then when we got in the studio, the songs started coming, and everybody got into the zone. It got to where I didn't want to do covers for the other half of the album. I just wanted to keep writing, and the next thing you know, we had a whole album. We even had to cut a couple of songs because we wanted to keep it at 10."

One of the most powerful songs on the album is "Finally Home". Bart is happy to admit that it is a sequel to "I Can Only Imagine". Millard told Deborah Evans Price, "With everything that has happened to us and all the success that we've had, the one thing I wish we could change is my dad could see all of that. He passed away in 1991 right before we started the band and people always say he's probably looking down from Heaven which I don't think is the truth. I think he's got better things to do than stare at me, but there will be a day that I finally get to see him and talk about all of this."

He admits it was an emotional song to record and he had second thoughts about including it on the album. Said Bart, "[Producer] Brown Bannister started bawling and I started bawling along with him and I was like, 'Maybe it's too sappy or maybe I shouldn't go there, and he was like, 'Are you kidding me?' So we pushed it through and I'm really glad we did. I love the way it turned out."

Recording the album had its fair share of pressures. Said Bart, "We had plenty of time to write the album, but we were on tour with Audio Adrenaline this year, and every day with them is like being with the circus. We just never got anything done on the tour because we were having so much fun. The next thing you know, the tour's over and we've got three weeks to get into the studio. We didn't have a single idea or a single note. So we were freaking out to say the least. We got into an old Sunday school room and started playing some jam sessions. I would take it home that night and see if there was anything to write lyrics to. So when we went in to the studio, we only had one song finished and a couple others where we had some possible ideas for a chorus. Yet we were pretty stunned at what came out of [the recording sessions]. It was totally a God thing, because there was no chance for us to make something this good in that little time."

MercyMe: Bart Millard talks about the Texas band's 'All That Is Within Me' album

The need for instant creativity put pressure on producer Brown Bannister too. "We'd show him what we had in the studio - four chords that might be good for a chorus and me humming something without any words. He's like, 'That's all you got?' and we said, 'Yeah, it's going to be great.' And he's about to pass out, saying, 'I've never done anything like this in my life!'

Bart was asked recently whether he felt trapped by "I Can Only Imagine". "No pun intended, but I couldn't imagine not singing it in a show. You know, it's still special when you can see on people's faces that maybe they're hearing it live for the first time, or that they're being touched by it because of something that recently happened in their lives. I don't think we'll ever feel trapped [performing it]. If there ever was a dilemma with 'Imagine', it was that it went mainstream. It was so blatantly Christian, yet it blew up in the mainstream, which all logic says shouldn't happen. But then we were in kind of a weird place because we weren't sure what to do next as a band. You do kind of get hungry for mainstream radio once you've tasted it, and you start wondering, 'Can we do this again? Can we get on Leno again?' We had to go through 'Undone' and 'Coming Up To Breathe' to get to the point where we don't care whether we get on Leno again or not. We sing about Christ in a bold way - this is what we're called to do and what we're most proud of."

So is the band on a journey of self-discovery? "No question. Absolutely. This is the time we realised that there's no reason to make apologies for what we're doing. So in that way, it was like a light came on for us. It was liberating - for the first time we were comfortable in our own skin. A friend was showing me [in a review] where someone had written that our new song 'God With Us' sounds just like every other MercyMe song. If it sounds like another MercyMe song, it's because it's the same exact band. It is us. This is who we are. This is what we excel at. That used to bug the heck out of me, but that was exactly what we were going for on this record. We deliberately wanted it to sound like MercyMe. We do want to push the envelope and we want to be creative, but this is who we are." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


Reader Comments

Posted by Brittney in CA @ 02:14 on Mar 13 2009

Hi my name is brittney and I need to contact mercyme for a PSA Public Service Anouncement I am working on. Its for a good cause and its about Hunger in San Diego County and my group and I were wondering if we could use "Open the eyes of my heart Lord" for our video. Its for a competition of the San Diego County iVIE Innovative Video in Education its a Public Service Announcement. I attend a school in San Ysidro, Im in 6th grade and I was wondering if you could help me in any way to contact mercyme. Thanks so much!!! 3/12/09 Please contact me as soon as possible Thank you!!!

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