MercyMe combined their zeal for compassion and The Beatles in one man, Mr. Lovewell.
"We were trying to come up with the concept for our next record," frontman Bart Millard says. "For some reason, the words 'love well' got stuck in my head.
"We're very good, as a nation, at loving well when a massive tragedy takes place — when Katrina hits, or whatever. We all of a sudden become very unified, which is a great, great thing. But on a day-to-day basis, we pass up opportunities. We look the other way, or we try to ignore. So the idea of loving well is almost a kind of 'pay it forward' that revolves around the cross."
So, the band was about to name its most recent album Love Well, which Millard says, "would have been a very MercyMe way of doing things."
Never miss a local story.
Then John, Paul, George and Ringo started functioning as muses of sorts on Millard and Co. The music the band was recording for the album became quirky and different. The nice, straightforward title didn't seem to fit.
"We said, what if we made this person or character that sort of sets the example," Millard says. "He's the guy that does it all."
He's The Generous Mr. Lovewell, the title figure of MercyMe's 2010 album. But that's just where it begins.
Mr. Lovewell — a man with a long coat, a bowler hat and a heart-shaped balloon — got a Web site (Mrlovewell.com). He got a Facebook page (Facebook.com/mrlovewell) and a Twitter account (Twitter.com/#!/mrlovewell).
People would leave notes like, "Just met MrLovewell in a parking lot. He helped me change my flat tire," and "witnessed MrLovewell paying for someone('s) groceries this evening. It was awesome."
"It's been an interesting, cool thing the way the fans have taken off with it," Millard says.
The concept of loving well came in a band trip to the Dominican Republic, where Millard says the MercyMe members were inspired by the resilient spirits of people living in desperate poverty.
The project has added another signature piece to the band which has one of contemporary Christian music's signature songs in its catalog, the 2001 hit I Can Only Imagine.
Before creating their Sgt. Pepper-like character, MercyMe ended up having another Beatle-esque experience commemorating the 10th anniversary of the writing of their big hit.
"We decided to re-record it for our greatest hits album, 10, so we went to London to Abbey Road Studios to record it with the London Symphony," Millard says. "We thought, if ever there was a song that deserves something like this, it would be this one."
Millard describes being in Abbey Road as "a religious experience" and recounts sneaking into The Beatles' Studio B and, "we embraced the, Hey Jude piano."
But the key moment for the band was in the large studio, where the orchestra played. The group was on a catwalk over the orchestra when the clock struck noon, and the musicians started playing I Can Only Imagine.
"It just stole the oxygen out of the room," Millard says. "I instantly started weeping because, it's so overwhelming. I'm in Abbey Road Studios with the London freaking Symphony and they're playing the song that I wrote.
"We always said we wanted to write songs that would be around longer than we are, and I think with that one we pulled it off."
Mr. Lovewell might stick around for a while, too.