A loved one diagnosed with cancer. Another killed in a car wreck. A parent gone too soon. During the making and subsequent release of 2004’s Undone (INO), it seemed to be bad news on top of bad news for the guys in MercyMe. They’ve become a sort of poster band for loss, heralded by their signature, culture-impacting ballad, “I Can Only Imagine,” and its sequel, “Homesick.”
But life’s different now. Though some struggles remain, it’s spring, both spiritually and literally, on the day we meet up in Dallas near the band’s home in Greenville, Texas. Guitarist Mike Scheuchzer says that “after all those things, right now it seems everything’s pretty good. [Front man Bart Millard’s] father-in-law is still having some health problems, but it seems like they can come up for air right now. And I think that comes across on the record.”
With the success of their first three albums (selling four million copies and counting), the band has earned the right to stretch a little on its newest, and the guys are eager to talk about making it. The difference is instantly noticeable but measured. It’s an evolution and extension of their first three albums but not a huge departure.
Returning to Their Roots
“We were a rock band when we first started,” Millard says, “and finally everything lined up” to do an edgier record. “The label was saying, ?Here’s your chance. Everything’s going a little heavier these days.’ The best quote from the label in the middle of mixing was when Jeff [Moseley, INO’s president] said, ?Hey, maybe the guitars need to be a little hotter.’ And we said, ?Yes!'” [Laughs]
The result, Scheuchzer says, is “fun music. I think we’ve captured who MercyMe is live better on this record than we have in the past. It’s a little more organic.” He says being away and having nearly a month to focus solely on recording spurred their creativity. [See the “Coming Back to Rock” sidebar.]
Having had a respite from the road, they’re eager to get to play the new material live. Scheuchzer says, “As men you feel like you’re supposed to be doing something to support the family and be working, and, for us, our [touring] is that. So we’re kind of itching to get back to work. We have the greatest job in the world.
“We’re able to tour for the love of it,” says Millard. Most artists depend on touring for income, seeing little money from CD sales. But MercyMe’s record deal is different: “We’re more in a partnership. Our biggest risk was the first record [Almost There]. We paid for the budget, and they [INO] paid for the marketing.” The album’s wild success has allowed the band to cover future recordings and splurge a little on its shows.
“We’re able to put more into [concert] production — video screens or whatever. We take great pride in putting on a great show,” says Millard. “Our motto is, ?We ain’t jumpin’, so you might as well watch something else.'”
The members of MercyMe may love touring; but given the choice, there’s nothing like the haven of home. Though they could be kickin’ it in Christian music’s mecca, Nashville, they’ve remained 600 miles to its west in Texas, staying focused on family and away from “The Biz.” As we sit down, Scheuchzer quickly informs me that “every one of us would rather be at home playing with our kids” than doing a photo shoot — or an interview.
For the Love of Sam
Millard says he spends as much time as he can with his three kids. Though life’s calmed down quite a bit, it’s not all been easy. Sam, his 4-year-old son, was diagnosed two years ago with diabetes. “I think the one blessing from all of that is that you have no choice but to be involved. In every aspect, Sam is a huge part of my life,” says Millard.
Part of the challenge is a strictly regimented schedule of meals and snacks, blood sugar checks and insulin injections — a lot for a 4-year-old and his parents. “You get up and check his blood sugar. If he’s low, he gets 15 grams of carbs (usually candy); and you wait 15 minutes and see if he’s normal, which is about 150 for his age. Anything below 80, it’s low, and he gets candy. You’re trying to get it above 80 and below 300. If it’s high, you give him a shot.”
That process continues all day, with scheduled snacks mid-morning and afternoon, meals of precisely 45 carbs and careful checks of his blood sugar. He also gets shots in the morning, midday and evening. “He gets at least three [shots] a day. And it doesn’t stop there. At midnight we check him, and at 3 [a.m.] we check him. Every night,” he says.
Those requirements make it hard for him to try out new foods. “If he takes a bite and doesn’t like it, you’ve got to figure a way to count what he’s eaten; and it’s got to be spot on. Anything can be fixed with insulin, but you’re trying to avoid that as much as possible.” To that end, Millard says he’s learned the number of carbs in just about everything.
Copyright © 2006 CCM Magazine, Used by Permission
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