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MercyMe - Celebrating 10 Years Since "I Can Only Imagine"

Exclusive interview with Mike Scheuchzer

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Kim Jones with MercyMe - Vision 2009

Kim Jones with MercyMe - Vision 2009

© 2009 Kim Jones Photographer - Brian Jones
Updated February 27, 2009
It's been 10 years since Bart Millard, frontman for MercyMe, sat down to write a song about his dad's early death and how he was coping with it. "I Can Only Imagine" wasn't written for an album or in a songwriting session with the band. The song, and the sentiment behind it, was Bart's way of healing because imagining his dad's entrance into Heaven made the pain of the loss bearable.

Once the song was written, Bart shared it with his friends and fellow band members in MercyMe. The guys loved the song, but didn't see how it would fit on the fifth independent project (The Worship Project) that they were in the process of recording. Guitarist Mike Scheuchzer explained. "We were trying to do a worship record, you know, verses and chorus, verses and chorus. You put it up on PowerPoint and everyone sings it over and over. We didn't see how "Imagine" could fit into that but we felt like it needed to go on the record because it meant so much to Bart." He continued, "It was literally the last song to go on the record."

The First Time "I Can Only Imagine" Was Played Live

The Worship Project was released with little fanfare, as most indie projects were in the 90's. The release did not mark, or even hint at what would come; sales of almost three million units and charting on Top 40, AC, Christian and Country charts alike. In fact, the song itself wasn't even played live at MercyMe's shows for over a year. Mike said, "The album released in '99. We didn't play the song live until that next summer at a camp. One of the counselors asked us to play it and we huddled in the back room, trying to remember what key it was in. We played it that night and we've been playing it every night since."

A year later the band included the song their INO debut, Almost There and it became a hit with Christian fans and radio alike. 2002 saw "I Can Only Imagine" win the Dove Pop / Contemporary Song of the Year and Almost There get certified Gold by RIAA. Those were big events, but the biggest was yet to come.

The Floodgates Open

In 2003, Dallas radio station 100.3 Wild-FM's morning show "The Fitz Radio Program" played the song after a caller requested it. "I Can Only Imagine" quickly became one of the most requested songs at the secular station and its popularity spread like wildfire across the country. Before long the song was being played on Top 40, AC, Christian and Country radio and the album went Platinum in July of that year.

The band was both amazed and humbled by the response. "We had no idea what God was going to do with it," Mike Scheuchzer said. "It was so far out of our view of where it was going to go."

Mike continued, "There are songs that I grew up with that have stuck with me my entire life. It's so amazing that a whole generation is growing up with our song stuck in their heads for the rest of their lives. It blows my mind."

To this day, the song remains a favorite on radio playlists nationwide and Spoken For has almost reached triple platinum status. To mark the 10 year anniversary, MercyMe will be releasing 10, a new CD/DVD set that showcases 12 number-one singles and videos that span the their career, on April 7.

A New Tour

This isn't a band content to sit on their laurels, basking in their accomplishments though. They're still making great music (receiving a GRAMMY nomination in 2009) and trying to help people. With the economy at such a low point, this band that could easily charge big bucks for ticket sales is dipping into their own pockets to make concert tickets affordable. Kicking off next month (March 17), the "Rock & Worship Road Show" will feature MercyMe, Jeremy Camp, Hawk Nelson, Tenth Avenue North and Addison Road and tickets are a mere ten bucks at the door.

Mike Scheuchzer talked about the tour and why the bands are doing it. "The way that the economy is, we figure that it's a perfect time to do the $10 a ticket show. People just can't afford $35 a ticket and we want them to be able to come without breaking the bank. We'll be on the west coast and out there, $10 won't even buy you two gallons of gas, so we're trying to help out where we can."

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