A single song can make a career. That’s been the case with contemporary Christian band MercyMe, and its signature hit, “I Can Only Imagine.”
The 2001 single launched the band’s career, becoming according to multiple news accounts, the best-selling Christian single of all time. It has sold more than 2 million copies and crossed over to the adult contemporary chart. Last year, a movie of the same name, inspired by the song, was an indie hit. The Dennis Quaid vehicle grossed more than $85 million worldwide.
The song was almost a throwaway, MercyMe guitarist Michael John Scheuchzer said in a recent interview.
“Just shows what we know about music,” Scheuchzer said.
The band returns to the valley on Sunday, to headline a triple-bill at Berglund Coliseum, for its “Imagine Nation” tour.
The song is well-known to MercyMe fans as one that the band’s singer, Bart Millard, wrote after his father died of cancer. Scheuchzer, in a phone call from the band’s cabin headquarters in the woods near Franklin, Tennessee, said that the song was essentially an “afterthought” on the band’s independent 1999 album, “The Worship Project.”
“The song didn’t really fit with the rest of the songs, but we felt if we were gonna sell our CD for $10, it ought to have 10 songs on it,” Scheuchzer said. “We felt like it was a therapy song for Bart. He just needed to get that thought out. So let’s put it on there.”
The band practically forgot about it, and didn’t play it again for the following eight months, he said. Then a youth minister running a church camp the band was playing asked MercyMe to perform it for the kids.
“We kind of worked it out backstage and played it, and have literally played it every night since then because of the response that night,” Scheuchzer recalled. “I think we were kind of naive to think that Bart was the only one who ever lost somebody he loved and was processing through in that way. Gosh, in hindsight, we have all faced loss of some kind, where we just want to know that we’re not alone in it, and that’s what that song is.”
The band continues on a steady stream of success, including recent album “Lifer” and its singles “Best News Ever,” “Grace Got You” and “Even If.” MercyMe prides itself on writing songs that sound different from each other, and making albums that don’t follow a pattern, the guitarist said. Even “I Can Only Imagine” was reworked — specifically for the movie’s closing credits — and now the act plays it that way.
“Instead of being this introspective ballad, it became this more upbeat, joyful response, which was kind of a cool new take on the song for us — not just musically, but I think the spirit of the song kind of shifted a little bit,” he said.
The band is excited to be touring with Crowder and Micah Taylor, he said.
“Crowder is one of our all time favorite people to tour with,” he said. “We love him. He’s one of the best storytellers in the world. His band are some of the best guys. It’s always an easy hang back stage. ... We’re a fan of their music, for sure, but we just want to have good people that we like being on the road with.”