Band performs Saturday in Rochester
By Joshua Maloni
In February, MercyMe - the band that brought the world "I Can Only Imagine," one of the biggest Christian pop-rock songs of all time - dropped a single wherein the band basically said, "You know what? Sometimes life sucks."
Yup; that happened.
The act, which has sold more than 9 million units, charted 28 No. 1 multiformat Christian radio singles and was named Billboard's Artist of the Decade (Christian songs/Christian adult contemporary songs) in 2009, was telling the faithful that, sometimes, life is kind of crappy.
"But how can that be?" you ask. "A famous, chart-topping band with songs of faith sung by tens of thousands of people in churches and around the world, how could life possibly stink for MercyMe? Surely, these musicians are pillars of faith, immune to life's problems."
Yeah; not quite.
Songwriter and frontman Bart Millard, who penned "I Can Only Imagine" following the death of his father, has openly told concert audiences he struggles with the fact his teenage son, Sam, is a diabetic with severe food restrictions and considerable insulin requirements. Millard has spoken of his frustration with people coming up to him and saying they're praying for his son's healing. He has said these people have good intentions at heart but, really, it's not like he hasn't had that thought or said those prayers a thousand times himself.
Sometimes life isn't fair or kind to people - and Christians are no exception. But it's for that reason MercyMe produced "LIFER," and the song "Even If," in particular.
"I think we realized early on that people realize that we're just trying to be honest about what we're doing," bassist Nathan Cochran said in a recent phone interview.
In the band's bio, Millard said, "The whole point of the song for me is the change that Jesus made in my life is so real and so life-transforming that, if he went dark, if he went silent from now on, he would still be my greatest hope because of what he has already done.
"Basically, there's not a single circumstance, I pray, that can derail me from what Christ is to me and who I am because of Christ."
Even when life's circumstances are miserable.
Cochran shed some additional light on MercyMe's new single in a Q&A.
Q: "Even If" is a song I'm enjoying listening to, but it's not necessarily the message, on the surface, that people would expect from a band that's been as successful as your band. Tell me about that song, and what it means to you, and what it means to the audience, as well.
Nathan Cochran: I'm glad you got that out of it. (Laughs) That was the point. You know, sometimes I think people either share our world view, or, if they're outside of our world view, I think sometimes people think that, if you say that you're a person of faith, or if you say that you believe in Christ, that all of a sudden that means that you think life is always going to go your way. You know, things are always going to happen exactly as you want them to. And, you know, there are some folks up there that kind of preach that. But we have never found that to be true in our life experience. We certainly don't find that to be true from scripture - that we're always going to get what we want.
And so, during the making of our record, "LIFER" ... we don't really do concept records, but we kind of think about what we want to say ahead of time. "LIFER" was always about living in expectation of ... we kind of use the word "victory," which is a little weird to throw around, but all that really means is that we believe that what Christ has already done for us has accomplished something that's bigger than anything we're going to go through in life.
In the middle of making that record, we all had some days that really sucked, and we wanted to address that. "Even If" came out of us taking a moment to say, "You know what, this isn't always going to go the way we want it to go, but even if it doesn't - even if the bottom falls out - we realize that what we've really placed our hope in is Christ. And that doesn't change, regardless of what we're going through.
I hope that, when people listen to "Even If," they're not going, "Oh, yeah, it's kind of an excuse for me to say God overlooked me," or "Oh, this is just the hand I was dealt. This is how it's going to go." That's not us saying that. It's, again, us saying that, no matter what happens, our hope is set on something bigger."
Q: When you have a song where you talk about the fact that there are some days where life does suck, I'm sure you get a couple people that say, "Oh, my gosh, you can't say that. You're a Christian band. What are you doing?!?" But I'm sure you get so many more people who are like, "Yes, thank you. This is exactly what I'm going through. This is the encouragement that I need."
Nathan Cochran: For the most part, it's been positive. Some of that, I think, has to do starting with the record before this, "Welcome to the New," which is kind of, not a game-changer for us, but a little bit of a reinvention. It was us rearranging our priorities and our intentions a little bit. And when we started that record, and we released that record, we started having a lot of conversations about, you know, I think people have some expectations of how we should act; what we should do. And I mean this broadly - not just us as a band. But, you know, how we should act; what we should do. "Because, therefore, if I act that way, that means God loves me." Or, "If I act that way, that proves that I'm a Christian" - or something like that. And, you know, that's not how the gospel works. That's not how grace works.
We went through a bit of a learning curve doing that, on that first record, "Welcome to the New." And so, coming into "LIFER," releasing "Even If," I think there were a lot of people, like you were saying, that were waiting to go, "Yes!" You know? "I'm tired of acting like when things are bad that I have to pretend like they're not bad" Or, "If I admit they're bad, that somehow means that I don't have enough faith," that kind of thing.
And, again, we have always tried in the songs we write to be honest about what we're going through. And I don't think we have any reason to be afraid of having doubts and fears, because, if God is who we believe he is, then he's big enough to shoulder all of that.
"Even If" spent 19 weeks at No. 1 in Billboard's contemporary Christian music category. And, on Tuesday, at the 48th annual GMA Dove Awards, MercyMe took home Artist Of The Year, Pop/Contemporary Album Of The Year for "LIFER," and Songwriter of the Year Artist (Millard). The awards show will air exclusively on TBN at 9 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 22.
"We always love coming up to the area," Cochran said. "There's a little bit of a hunger, I guess, because bands don't get up that way as much as we probably should. People are always really excited when we come. Some of the best shows we've had are right there in your area."
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