By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
Published May 27, 2010
It’s not every day that a fictional character comes to life. But through MercyMe’s latest release, “The Generous Mr. Lovewell,” one does just that.
About a year ago, lead vocalist Bart Millard had the idea to create a character and use it as a way to promote a “pay-it-forward” and Christlike mentality. So he had a concept for the character, Mr. Lovewell, but nothing else. Millard said after a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit a child the band sponsors, the songs on the album began to take form.
Millard said joining the fictional character concept and the message of love was not very difficult once the band sat down to write everything. “We wanted a creative way to influence. It’s about knowing your neighbor enough to know their needs and those type things,” he said of the album concept. “(Loving people) is really not asking a ton from people, but it’s a big task that’s worth it.”
And loving people is the message of all the songs, said Jim Bryson, MercyMe keyboardist. “It’s pay it forward but based around the cross. It can be simply mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor or buy someone’s meal,” he said. “You can leave a note with a Bible verse or tell them why you are doing it.”
There are even “Mr. Lovewell was here” business cards available at www.mrlovewell.com. Mr. Lovewell also can be found on Twitter (twitter.com/mrlovewell), offering real-life advice about how to “pay it forward” and love people in Christ’s name.
On both Twitter and the website, the band members hope people will share the good deeds that Mr. Lovewell has done either through them or for them. “We are just trying to create conversations,” Millard said of using the website and Twitter.
Characters and good deeds aside, the new album also has a different sound than previous works by MercyMe. While this album has the usual worship-style songs that the band is known for, it also has songs that are more upbeat. Millard said the band wanted to get out of its comfort zone a little with the sound of the music, so it brought in Dan Muckala, an award-winning producer whose resume includes working with CeCe Winans, newsboys and Backstreet Boys. What resulted are songs that reflect the personality of the band members.
While all the songs have a serious message about Christ, loving others and living a Christ-filled life, not all of them are slow melodies. Some of that is intentional. Bryson said when MercyMe debuted its first album “Almost There” in 2001, the members were still trying to figure out who they were as men and musicians.
With Bryson on keyboards and Millard singing lead vocals, the two started playing together in June 1994, when they traveled to Switzerland to lead worship for a camp. When they returned home, they decided to pursue music as a full-time ministry.
A hometown friend, Mike Scheuchzer, joined the band as guitarist, and the three of them returned to the camp the following year officially as MercyMe. Nathan Cochran (bass), Robby Shaffer (drums) and Barry Graul (guitar) later joined the group. MercyMe eventually signed with INO Records and released their first album in 2001, which included the song “I Can Only Imagine.”
So with this project, they felt the freedom to play around and not be limited to one sound. “The longer you do music, the more you learn how to put your personality in the music,” Bryson said. “We do this for the love of music, and today I’m more patient and I know more than I knew even eight years ago.”
Also on this album is probably one of the shortest songs the band has recorded. At one minute and 36 seconds, the last song on the album, “This So Called Life,” is a dramatic song that speaks of good deeds without Jesus being completely in vain.
Millard said he wrote the songs’ lyric first as poems and then the band worked on the music so they didn’t really think about how long, or short, the songs were going to be. He simply felt as if everything that needed to be said had been said in this case.
“I think the success of the decent songwriter is showing restraint,” he said, noting “This So Called Life” is everything he wanted to say. “It’s very powerful. I hope it keeps people coming back for more.” Already it seems people are listening to the music and the message.
“The Generous Mr. Lovewell” has given MercyMe their highest debut on both the secular and Christian charts. It’s No. 3 in the nation on Billboard’s Top 200; No. 1 on the overall Contemporary Christian chart; No. 1 selling record at LifeWay Christian Stores; and No. 1 iTunes Christian album. Both Millard and Bryson said they are excited about the success but stress the mission of the band is the same today as when they founded it 16 years ago — for people to know Christ.
Copyright The Alabama Baptist 2010.