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MercyMe emerges from pandemic with stronger faith and friends

The Christian rock band will perform at the Fargodome on Friday night, April 22.

MercyMe 1.jpg
MercyMe, from left, is Nathan Cochran, Barry Groul, Bart Millard, Robby Shaffer and Mike Scheuchzer.
Contributed / CMA Media Promotions
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FARGO — When the coronavirus pandemic prompted a shutdown of regular life in March 2020, MercyMe was just a few weeks out from an early April show at the Fargodome. After a rescheduled show was also postponed, the contemporary Christian rock band is making good on a promise to come to town with a Fargodome show on Friday night, April 22 — two years later than expected .

Founding guitarist Mike Scheuchzer says the time off the road rejuvenated fans and the band.

“We are seeing bigger crowds, more excited, more involved and singing louder than ever before,” he says from his home in Tennessee.

In early 2020, the quintet — Scheuchzer, singer Bart Millard, percussionist Robby Shaffer, bassist Nathan Cochran and guitarist Barry Graul — was already behind schedule to record its 10th studio album, but once the pandemic shut things down, they realized they finally had time to head to their studio. The project had as many as 12 working titles, but as they settled in, they knew the project had to reflect the time.

“It felt a little tone-deaf not to write new songs about something we were all going through together,” he says.

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“We wanted to remind people that there is still joy during this time,” he says, describing the album as, “songs that get you caught dancing at a red light.”

A handful of songs set to be recorded were scrapped for newer material.

Among those that needed a reminder of the joy in life was Scheuchzer himself.

“I lost my mind a little, to be honest. I was definitely dabbling in depression,” he says. “I was putting hope in circumstances more than hope in Jesus. The hope you put in Jesus, that doesn’t change.”

Even the final title of the album, “Inhale (Exhale),” was a reminder to take a breath and relax.

“In the absolute chaos, we wanted people to stop and take a breath. I was checking COVID numbers three times a day. I was consumed by it. I, more than anybody, needed to pause and take a breath and trust that there’s a God in control of all of this.”

The guitarist caught the virus early on in the pandemic and had a mild case.

The group was able to work at its own pace in their own space, having just finished renovating an old cabin into a new studio. That allowed the group to bring in friends like Rascal Flatts singer Gary LeVox, who sang on “A Little Love.”

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LeVox had just come by to visit during the session.

“He’s absolutely one of the funniest people on the face of the earth,” Scheuchzer says.

They asked if he’d be interested in singing and LeVox nailed the part immediately.

“His vocal gymnastics are amazing,” Scheuchzer says.

The project was pushed in a different direction when another notable vocalist contributed her part.

“It’s a disco song. There’s no way around it. We didn’t want it to be schtick,” Scheuchzer says of the track “Brand New.”

The group was talking in the studio and someone suggested Gloria Gaynor, best known for “I Will Survive,” would sound great on the tune. Millard sang backup on a Gaynor gospel album, so after a few texts, the disco queen was on board, recording her tracks from a studio in New Jersey.

A third guest vocalist came from closer to home. Millard’s son Sam Wesley had shown his dad a song he’d been working on, called “On Our Way.” Millard showed it to the group’s record label which insisted MercyMe record the song. Wesley obliged and the group had him sing the song on the album, and on tour.

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“It’s weird. I was there at the hospital when he was born,” Scheuchzer says.

With a lot of outside help for a MercyMe album, Scheuchzer says perhaps the real sixth member of the group was the new studio.

“It saved our lives and our marriages during the pandemic,” he says. “It’s the biggest gift.”

The relaxed vibe of the home studio can be heard on an acoustic track, “The Moment,” featured in a midshow acoustic set live.

“We can’t bring our fans to the fire pit, so we decided to bring the fire pit to our fans,” the guitarist says.

The group is reworking some of the tunes left off “Inhale (Exhale)” for a future record, but Scheuchzer says the members haven’t even started planning for the band’s 30th anniversary in 2024.

“We are horrible planners,” he says with a laugh.

Instead, they are more likely to organize a big vacation with all band members, crew and family to celebrate

“It shouldn’t be happening. Bands don’t last this long and still like each other,” Scheuchzer says.

If you go

What: MercyMe, with openers Rend Collective and Andrew Ripp
When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 22
Where: Fargodome
Info: Tickets range from $27 to $152, plus fees ; ticketmaster.com

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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