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Published August 28, 2010, 12:00 AM

Band sees God’s hand in success

Crossover buzz wasn’t planned, guitarist says The lyrics seemed out of place on mainstream radio.

The lyrics seemed out of place on mainstream radio.

“Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you, be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing ‘Hallelujah!’? Will I be able to speak at all?”

But MercyMe’s passionate pop ballad “I Can Only Imagine” crossed over the sacred-secular divide and went to No. 5 on the adult contemporary chart in 2003. It hit the country singles chart, too.

The tune became the band’s signature song to be sure, but they’ve continued dropping successful albums since, including 2010’s “The Generous Mr. Lovewell.” It has topped the Christian Albums chart and made its mark on the Billboard 200, too.

MercyMe will offer up material from its new disc as well as some of their more seasoned tunes Friday in Fargo when they play at the kick-off for the this year’s Homeless & Hungry event. H&H is a youth-centered effort that raises funds and donations for area shelters.

MercyMe guitarist Mike Scheuchzer spoke with The Forum earlier this week from “somewhere in Texas” as the band made its way back from a show in Kentucky the day before.

Scheuchzer mused about worship, creativity and crossing over into the secular music world.

On their best-known single “I Can Only Imagine:”

They didn’t try to write for crossover success, says Scheuchzer, a father of three.

“And so when that happened it was just an absolute shock to all of us. We were amazed that it did as well as it did on Christian radio … But then for it to cross over and … to literally just go nuts in mainstream radio and us getting phone calls from DJs that would never darken the door of a church, who are like, ‘This song has done more for our station than anything that we’ve played for the last three years’ is unbelievable. And it’s humbling, too, to know that we didn’t make any effort to make that happen. Our record label didn’t make any effort to make it happen. It’s just something that God made happen and we happened to be a part of.”

On why “I Can Only Imagine” appealed to a secular audience:

“We all have thoughts of what the afterlife will be. Even if you proclaim to be an atheist, you still have questions of what happens afterwards because no one really, truly knows. I mean we believe and we have faith and we feel like we know what happens, but we still have questions … Will I dance for him? Will I fall on my knees in awe? You know, we don’t know. And I think it’s a question everyone asks.”

On worship music:

“I have a different definition of what worship music is, I think. I don’t think worship music is pigeon-holed strictly to what fits on PowerPoint on a Sunday morning. I think there are some amazing hymns that aren’t necessarily as sing-alongable as something we might sing (at a contemporary worship service) that are every bit as worshipful … I think there are U2 songs that are moments of worship. I think the truth belongs to the Lord, and it doesn’t matter who’s singing it.”

Is MercyMe a praise and worship band?

“I think ultimately, yeah. That’s what we started out as and probably, for a while, we thought we wanted to be something else but kept being drawn back.”

On faith and creativity:

Scheuchzer expressed concern about creative laziness. And he says, “We worship a very creative God, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the most creative musicians out there.”

He says, “I don’t think that you sacrifice truth for the sake of art, by any means, but I think that art can be a way to describe the truth.”

On music that he’s listening to: >/strong>

Raconteurs, Thad Cockrell, John Mark McMillan.

“My kids won’t let me go far in the car without listening to Family Force 5,” he says.

About the new MercyMe album “The Generous Mr. Lovewell:”

Scheuchzer thinks there are a few moments that sound like “classic MercyMe,” but “For the most part, it’s a fresh step for us, I would say.”

“We tried to make a lot of the songs just fun. As Christians, we proclaim to have this eternal joy, and, yet, sometimes we are very, very boring to the outside world. And there’s nothing wrong with us having a good time.”

On what he finds encouraging in today’s Christian music:

“It seems like there are a lot of artists who are trying to cross over and are doing a successful job of it. And their intention isn’t just to be rock stars. Their intention is to be who they are to a lost and dying world. Like the guys in (alt-rock outfit) NeedToBreathe, I love those guys. I’m a huge fan of their music ... I think truth is reaching pretty far these days.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

If you go< /strong>

  • What: Homeless & Hungry kickoff event featuring Christian pop rock band MercyMe

  • When: 7 p.m. Friday

  • Where: First Assembly of God, 3401 25th St. S. in Fargo

  • Info: For tickets, visit ticketmaster.com, call (800) 745-3000 or stop by Family Christian Bookstore at West Acres, Melberg’s in Moorhead or the Rainbow Shop in Fargo. Go to >http://www.homelessandhungry.org