Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

MercyMe: Riding on the Wings of Imagination

  • Updated May 17, 2002
MercyMe: Riding on the Wings of Imagination
Here's your chance to learn a little history about one of the big winners at this year's Dove Awards, MercyMe, and their instant classic, I Can Only Imagine.

J MAN: Let's start from the beginning. How did you guys meet, and how did the band form?

Jim: We met in 1994. There was a ministry called All Star Ministries. I met Bart through that; he was in their praise band. At the same time, Mike was playing for the youth band at Bart's church in Florida. Bart and I went out on a conference with this ministry, and we liked it so much we thought we'd try it full time. Bart talked to Mike about it, we prayed about it, and then they relocated to Oklahoma City, where I was. Then Robby came on about five-and-a-half years ago and Nathan about five years ago.

J MAN: You were a successful indie band before the deal with INO Records, right?

Bart: We'd been doing it six to seven years when we met the guys from INO. We had settled with the idea that we weren't going to sign since we were doing so well. We didn't want to fix something that wasn't broken. But we started getting burnout by doing everything ourselves, and our ministry was suffering because of it. So we reevaluated and realized that what we do on stage in our ministry to students is the most important thing.

We called Jeff Mosley from INO and asked him for advice because people had told us he probably wouldn't work with us. The next thing you know he was asking about everything we did. Little did I know his wife was on the other line praying with him about who to sign next to the label. . . . We sent him a CD on a Thursday and the following Tuesday he was at the house offering us a record deal.

It's a great relationship, but more partnership. Creatively we have all the say we want and it's been working great.

J MAN: When anyone mentions MercyMe, they automatically think of I Can Only Imagine. What's the story and inspiration behind the song?

Jim: Which song?

J MAN: I Can Only Imagine.

Jim: Oh, yeah. That one.

Bart: My father passed away in '91. For years after that I would write the phrase "I can only imagine" on anything I could get my hands on. What did my dad actually physically see as he stood in God's presence? It gave me a lot of peace and hope knowing that my dad had strength back more than he could fathom. In '99 we were writing for an independent album, and in a journal I was writing in, I had "I can only imagine" written down. So then I expounded on what I had been thinking about for years. I wrote it in about five minutes.

J MAN: You mentioned the song was special but did you think it would have this much success?

Jim: We previously released it on an album called The Worship Project, and we had a pretty good fan base at that point. They ended up getting the CDs to a few radio stations, and by fan request it got into heavy rotation. The listeners voted for it as "Song of the Year" in several markets. We saw that the potential was far beyond us, and we wondered what would happen with the right marketing and distribution. So after Jeff Mosley got a hold of it, we're still amazed at what it's doing.

[NOTE: This interview was conducted before Imagine won the Dove for "Song of the Year."]

J MAN: You think it'll win the Dove for Song of the Year?

Bart: No idea. We have our picks and none of them are our song. It's a great year to be up for it.

J MAN: Because of its success, is Imagine your favorite track?

Bart: For me it is. I mean, for a song to be your career song, I'm glad it's this one. We give Audio Adrenaline a hard time 'cause we're like: "It could've been Big House!"

Jim: I think for me it is too, because it was my mom's favorite on the record and we were able to play it at her funeral. And also to watch the response of the people and how they react, it makes you cherish it even more.

J MAN: You've been singing worship music since you began. Why do you think there's such a desire for it now?

Bart: I think there always has been a desire for it, just now Nashville and the music industry has caught on. Worship has been going on forever. I think that some like to call it a bandwagon or a trend, but it's not that. I think we're kind of evolving into what we are created to be: worshippers. Worship is the only ability we'll take with us when we leave this earth.

I think the reason we worship is that it's a desire to be a part of something bigger. People worship other things before they come to Christ to fill that void where God belongs. Until we find that He is the only one who can fill that void, we'll never be satisfied. I think we have no choice, we have to worship something.

J MAN: When someone comes from a MercyMe experience, whether it's the CD or a concert, what message would you wants them to walk away with?

Bart: That they had a positive worship experience and personal time with God. And also that they didn't necessarily remember the show or what we did, but they remember their personal experience with God that they had that night. More than even the album, we'll do whatever is necessary to usher people into the presence of God.