Contemporary Christian band Mercy Me to headline show at Mohegan Sun Arena
Mercy Me has had a big year, and the multi-platinum-selling band is bringing its music, its message and a few of its friends to Wilkes-Barre Township.
On the heels of its latest, Grammy-nominated album and in anticipation of the release of a film based on its most popular hit, the contemporary Christian group will headline an evening of music that features Tenth Avenue North and special guest Tim Timmons and begins at 7:30 p.m. March 9 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The celebrated outfit traces its roots to 1992 when guitarist Michael Scheuchzer met singer-songwriter Bart Millard through Scheuchzer’s youth minister. Before long, the pair was making music together.
“We started writing songs that, in all honesty, were horrible,” Scheuchzer said in a recent phone interview, following the statement with a reflective chortle. “We were not skilled song craftsmen at that point, but we had a lot of fun and wanted to try to avoid real jobs by making music.”
Twenty four years after officially forming the band in Greenville, Texas, the now-Nashville-based group no longer performs with co-founder James Bryson, but their songwriting chops have improved. Mercy Me has won multiple American Music and GMA Dove Awards for their songs and performances, and last year’s “Lifer” continues that trend.
The band took home three Doves; they were nominated for an AMA; and they received Grammy nods for best contemporary Christian album and best contemporary Christian song for lead single “Even If.”
But as honored as the group is by the recognition, Scheuchzer said, the creative intent hasn’t shifted since its formation.
“It’s always been for us to be entertainment that would point back to Christ,” Scheuchzer said. “We want to make albums that feel current, would be accessible to people, and would not be so weird or out there that it would alienate listeners.”
That goal, Scheuchzer said, was accomplished, but not always necessarily in the right way.
“We were putting more into the gospel than was there,” he said. “We were saying, ‘Jesus loves you … and make sure you’re serving the kingdom. That’s just more than the Bible says. Those things come naturally in a relationship with Christ. When you realize what he’s done for you, it becomes a natural overflow. We forgot that and felt we needed to work harder.”
Scheuchzer describes the last two albums as a “reset” for Mercy Me, beginning with their 2014 release.
“With ‘Welcome to the New,’ we got back to, ‘he loves us, no matter what.’ ‘Lifer’ is the sequel to that: ‘Now that I realize he loves us, I’m in this for life,’” he said.
The album’s hit single, “Even If,” is an extension of that philosophy.
“He can pull us out of this fire, but if he doesn’t, I’m still not going to bow down to some other god,” Scheuchzer said of the song’s message. “He is our only hope.”
Another album cut, “Happy Dance,” finds Mercy Me at their most silly.
“It’s easy to be a faith-based artist and have a serious persona,” Scheuchzer said. “We’re talking about the pains in life people go through, and we realize that’s part of it, but we’re also supposed to be filled with the unsurpassed joy that comes with the life of a believer.”
The funk-infused pop tune is accompanied by a video, in which band members dance in ways Scheuchzer gleefully said was initially just meant to embarrass their children, and has caught on with audiences.
“It’s so much fun watching people cut loose. Half of us grew up Southern Baptist where you don’t dance … because it leads to card playing,” he joked. “It’s OK to have a good time in the church.”
On a more surreal note for Mercy Me, a movie based on Millard’s life, titled “I Can Only Imagine,” is slated to hit theaters on March 16 and stars Dennis Quaid.
The song of the same name, written about Millard’s father, who was an abusive man until his battle with cancer and his new-found faith changed his perspective and the way he treated others, was created on an early, independent Mercy Me record. Gleaned from a statement made by Millard’s grandmother in the wake of his father’s death, the tune marvels at the prospect of what Millard’s father must be seeing in heaven and has grown to become the band’s most recognized anthem, prompting fans who’ve been moved by its words to share stories with band members.
“To see a song that was basically an afterthought of a record have a lifespan that has literally gone around the world and changed people’s lives is absolutely crazy,” Scheuchzer said. “Now that it’s becoming a movie, people will be seeing the other part of it. Bart’s dad was horribly abusive most of his life. The gospel changed him when he was dying of cancer, changed him from an abusive monster to a man Bart wants to become. He’s always said that. Dennis (Quaid) portrays the role so well.”
Scheuchzer said the tour, with old friends Tenth Avenue North and Tim Timmons, has been thrilling for Mercy Me.
“It’s like a family reunion on the road,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable experience to stand side stage and watch them perform and then go on stage and sing to audiences.”
After 24 years of making music, Scheuchzer said he’s thankful at his good fortune to be able to share his creativity and his faith with crowds on a regular basis.
“I can’t say enough of this attitude of gratefulness I have with God still allowing us to do this,” he said.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Mercy Me and Tenth Avenue North with special guest Tim Timmons
When: 7:30 p.m. March 9
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Township
Additional information: Tickets start at $30 and are available at the arena box office, online at ticketmaster.com and by phone at 800-745-3000.