For MercyMe, 2018 wasn’t the most successful year in the band’s 25-year career ... but it was pretty darn close.
Nothing will probably top the wave of popularity that hit the Christian pop-rock group when it released its transcendent crossover single “I Can Only Imagine” from its major-label debut album “Almost There” back in 2001. But lead singer and songwriter Bart HIllard, Michael John Scheuchzer (guitar), Barry Graul (guitar) Nathan Cochran (bass) and Robby Shaffer (drums) ended up getting a second shot from the song’s success when a film of the same name starring Dennis Quaid based on the song’s creation and success was released in 2018 and became an unexpected winner at the box office.
“It’s cool to have a song that’s going to outlast us,” Cochran said. “That’s awesome.”
In the same year, MercyMe, which comes to perform at Rupp Arena Thursday, garnered its sixth Grammy nomination for its single “Grace Got You.” The song, which was from the band’s 2017 album “LIFER,” was nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song while also being a hit on Christian radio, a place familiar to the band responsible for smash singles like “Word of God Speak,” “Here With Me” and “Homesick.”
Even though MercyMe is one of the most popular bands in contemporary Christian music, it currently sits in a unique place in its quarter-century career, enjoying its continued relevancy while being able to reflect on the band’s music and success survived a changing musical landscape and even may have been responsible for slightly shifting the Christian music genre.
“It is a unique perspective to be doing this long enough to where we can watch trends change,” Cochran said. “In our industry, it seems like we were willing to release a couple songs to the Christian radio format that didn’t fit the, I don’t know, kind of stock format of Christian radio. Maybe that changed things a little bit.”
As MercyMe hits the road during the Imagine Nation Tour with tourmates Crowder and Micah Tyler, Cochran said he and his fellow band members are ready for a change of their own. The band is revamping much its setlist to pull some newer songs into the mix while still playing some of its most popular hits with fans. After the band takes a break from the road, it will record a new album for the first time in its own studio space it constructed in Nashville.
“We can leave our coffee cups sitting around and nobody cares,” Cochran jokes.
When the band records its latest album, Cochran said the group’s tendency to dabble in multiple genres and the constant input from its members can cause the musical direction of an album to change course several times. But as the band has grown and matured, it has settled onto consistent lyrical content that tends to take the grand scale of their faith and make it more personal.
“It can be difficult to figure out what we write about because if we are really talking about a God that is infinite, we run out of language to describe it,” Cochran said. “We came to a decision a few years ago that we were just going to be honest. And that means writing about our relationship with Christ.”
As the band embarks yet another phase of its career, MercyMe continues to find itself surprised with what has come its way and it continues to create songs that are less about hooking listeners with a catchy chorus and more about leaving behind a lasting impression.
“People who have stuck with us appreciate what we do really because of what we have to say,” Cochran said. “We tend to like the ideas that have some legacy behind them. That’s kind of the big hope, but yeah, we’re always trying to look at the bigger picture.”
MercyMe, Crowder and Micah Tyler
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $29.50-$169; (859) 233-3535; rupparena.com