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MercyMe Breathes Again

By Jennifer E. Jones
CBNmusic Producer

CBN.comNashville, Tenn., - Life can get awfully warm under the spotlight, and MercyMe should know. Ever since "I Can Only Imagine" hit the radio waves in 2001, Bart Millard and his bandmates have been everywhere including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and unwittingly became the poster children for Christian music.

When every album with the exception of one goes at least RIAA certified Gold (Almost There going Double Platinum), you’d think these guys would feel a little bit of pressure walking back into the studio. After all, how do you top Undone?

"If we felt pressure it was probably self-imposed," bassist Nathan Cochran says. "This time around we spent a lot more time writing songs before we went into the studio. We took a lot more time in the studio – a good three weeks. We locked ourselves away to work on the record which we’ve never really done before."

MercyMe spent their days of musical solitude in Allaire Studios in New York – the same studio that hosted the likes of Tim McGraw and Norah Jones. According to Millard, it was time they used to literally eat, sleep and make music. The result of their reclusiveness is Coming Up to Breathe, their fifth album.

“We’re kinda taking a left turn stylistically,” Cochran continues. “It’s definitely a bit edgier. It’s always what we wanted to do.”

They liken their new sound to what it’s like to see MercyMe live in concert.

“We just try to keep things on par with the different arenas we’re in now,” Cochran says.

Those arenas include some pretty high-profile names such as Fox & Friends, E! Online, and nearly every major newspaper. Such mainstream success might cause some bands to water down their gospel message but not MercyMe. If anything, the diverse audience and increased attention fueled the band to make the sort of album that defines them not only as musicians, but as Christians.

“I don’t know if I’d say this is our Joshua Tree as much as it’s our Achtung Baby,” says guitarist Mike John Scheuchzer. “[We’re] trying to grow a little bit musically and step out of what we’ve been in the past or what people expect of us. It’s still very much MercyMe, but it’s definitely a turn.”

It’s a welcomed turn for many reasons. The experiences that lead to them writing the songs for Undone, which mostly comprised the death of close family members, took a lot out of them spiritually and emotionally.

Millard said, “Making the last record was so intense. We had so much tragedy we had to deal with. It was just a very draining experience, and in the next year or two we were kind of reliving that through the live show and explaining what happened. It was very exhausting.”

So Coming Up to Breathe not only shows a new side of MercyMe but also lifts the heavy burden of the past. While the themes resonate deeply with the band, the question is: will it strike the same chord with fans? They certainly hope so.

“We didn’t go through a lot of the heavy things that we went through on ‘Homesick,’” Cochran says. “As we were writing this album, life was just good. This album has a lot of joy in it. There are songs like 'Hold Fast' and 'Bring the Rain' that are answers to what we’ve gone through in the past. [It says,] I have to go through these times sometimes to glorify Christ.”

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