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MercyMe: All That is Within Them

By Chris Carpenter Program Director

CBN.comWith more than four million records sold, concert attendance totaling more than two million people, multiple Dove awards, a Grammy nomination, and several number one hits over the last eight years, you would think MercyMe would take some time to step back and reflect on all of their accomplishments.

So, why did the six member band find themselves under severely intense pressure to write and record an entire album in three weeks earlier this year?  And why did Steven Curtis Chapman need to get involved?

The answers may surprise you. Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with MercyMe frontman Bart Millard to find these answers as well as to discuss why they decided to record their new album All That is Within Me in Idaho, and why this may be the band’s most introspective project to date.

The new record is called All That is Within Me.  What is the concept for the record and how did it all come together for you?

I came up with the title a couple of years ago.  I don’t know why but I have always done that. I also start writing songs around it.  We kind of knew coming into this album that it was time to make a record that had a little more of a corporate worship vibe to it.  We had a couple of songs that kind of went in that direction.  We tell people, well, you know this current album is just where we are right now.  It is who we are right now.  If this is really what we are saying I just want the title to kind of relate that a little better.  It is also just trying to say everything that is in me just wants to worship God and glorify Him.  We just want to thank Him for everything He has blessed us with.  That is where the title came from.

You mentioned All That is Within Me is a corporate worship album and that it is for the church.  Did that change how you guys approach your songwriting and actually making the album as opposed to just doing an album for more of a general audience?

It does a little bit yeah.  When “I Can Only Imagine” went mainstream and things kind of went crazy, everybody thought that it was such a fluke that they felt we had to write something that made us fit in a little more.  It became a big pressure because you would write songs and let record label people hear it and they would say, ‘Maybe if you said this or didn’t say this.’   It is really frustrating as a writer.  On this one, I remember sitting down with the record label and everyone involved and saying, “You know what?  No offense to the mainstream audience but it has nothing to do with this record.”  The greatest moments we have had in our career are those times that we have been able to worship with the body.  We just want to write something that is important to the church.  We are going to try to reach the hurting whether they darken the door of a church or not.  This is where we came from.  This is the language we speak.  This is who we are.  I never want to be told, “Well, you are reciting scripture.  Maybe you should tone it down.” 

From what I gather, you wrote and recorded this album in only three weeks.  That is not normal.  What happened in the lead up period to recording this record?  Perhaps it is normal.

We were told that we had to go into the studio this past May.  And we were like, “Ok, that’s cool.”  We were told several months before.  We were out on tour with Audio Adrenaline in the fall and into the spring of 2007 and we really thought we would carve out some time to write some new songs for the new album while we were out on the road.  It never happened.

We had nothing.  Normally, you have a song or two that you are sitting on that kind of gets the whole thing going.  We had absolutely nothing.  You hear people talk about being sick to your stomach when you are about to spend a lot of money.  That is the feeling we had.  The label was freaking out and so we locked ourselves in a Sunday school room for two weeks and just hit record on a laptop computer and we would just play music for hours and hours and hours.

By the time we got to the studio and went in we had one song.  We had a chorus to a song and then we had five or six – this would be cool for a verse, or this would sound good for a chorus type of groove.  That is all we had.

Some people thrive on that type of pressure.  It creates some warped sense of an adrenaline rush.  Do you feel like this added sense of pressure helped or hurt the project?

I think it makes it very real.  When looking back there will never be room for doubt or questions that this whole thing was completely of God.  I know that is what you are always supposed to say but then there are moments when you realize, “Man, I don’t know what just happened here?” I just remember it went so fast.

God showed up in a huge way.  We even got to be fans of His work.  We would just sit there and watch because it was just amazing how it all came together.

It is incredible how God works.  So, you recorded the album in Idaho of all places.  Who goes to Idaho to make a record?  I shouldn’t speak negatively of it because I have never been there.  What was that experience of being in such a remote location like?

We had heard about this studio up near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the mountains where there is elk and moose and all this other crazy stuff.  We were blown away.  I am sure we will do more records there – just because of the whole vibe.  It is kind of a log cabin sort of vibe.  Everything was awesome for us.  We are more mountain guys than beach guys anyway so it was perfect.  It was really, really inspiring during a time we needed inspiration desperately.

Anytime you can put everything aside and just focus on what God has called you to do, there is no other place that I would rather be than someplace like that.  You just think more clearly and you are focused.

If you don’t mind, please take me through a few of these songs?  The first single which is on radio now is called “God with Us”.

This was the one we had the chorus to before we went into the studio.  It is a corporate worship song.  We look back at all of our concerts from years past and the moments we love in all those shows is that moment when the crowd is singing and we step back from the microphone.  It has always been our favorite.  We have one song on each record that would be similar to that, that we keep playing.  I was like, “Man, why aren’t we focusing on that more?”  So, “God with Us” was kind of the kick start to that of just writing a song that the Church can sing.  It’s really, really special to me.

Another song which I suspect is highly emotional to you is “Finally Home”.  Please tell me what the song is about and how it came together.

It came out of a lot of conversations I’ve had with my wife and the guys in the band.  We talk about it every night during our shows.  We started the band in 1994.  We signed our record deal in 2000.  Then “Imagine” blew up and we have been along for the ride ever since.  It has been a dream come true up to this point.  But if I could change anything I would love for my dad to be here to see it all.  He would certainly be proud of this.  My parents divorced when I was three but my wife and I are celebrating our tenth anniversary this month.  We have three amazing kids.  I think that is the stuff that he would be so proud of.  We get people all the time who come up to us and say, “Hey, your dad is looking down from heaven.  He knows.”  I’m like, “You know what?  He doesn’t know.  There is no scripture that says he does that.”  My dad has more important things to do in heaven than to watch me – and that is worship.  So, I really don’t believe that at all.  I do believe there will be a day when I finally get to heaven and I am able to tell him everything that is going on.  I don’t know.  The song is about what that day might be like.  When this is all over and we finally make it home, it is the way I kind of envision it going.  I hope it is going to go that way. 

I must confess.  When I received the advance copy of this album, I was trying to figure out what the cover was all about.  Your previous album covers made perfect sense to me.  The patio theme on Undone or Almost There with the gas gauge.  But you know what?  After I listened to the entire record it all started to click into place for me.  What was the inspiration for the cover?

We went through about 50 or 60 album concepts.  None of them were right.  We couldn’t get settled on it.  There was a lot of ‘I guess this will work’ and our label was really great about not pushing us into anything.  They said, “It’s not a guess it will work.  It’s got to be the one.”  At the very last minute, with the artwork was due that evening, I called the record label and said, “Look, I have an idea.  I need one week.  All I want to do is give each guy in the band a disposable camera and a week.  I want them to take pictures of whatever they think consumes them.  It can be corny, funny, serious, just whatever makes them up and who they are.”  So, the guys agreed to do it.  They had to use up a whole roll of film whether they were in focus or not.  So, taking these cheap disposable cameras, the guys left. We didn’t want to see the pictures until the art work was done.  We didn’t want to see what the others had taken.  What is funny about it is I have never had an album cover be stared at by more people because of the way it is done.  I guess we accomplished what we set out to do.  Everybody that I have ever showed it to just trying to figure out what every picture is.  Then when they finally do they ask, “What does all of this mean?”  I just tell them that it is us.

What is God saying to you these days?

God is telling me to just take it in, soak it in.  We tell people all the time when they ask us, “Hey, we want to do what you do.  How do I get there?  I want to be in a band like you?”  We have always told them, “Don’t treat where God has you right now as a stepping stone to something bigger or He will never bless you.  If it is 10 people you are playing in front of right now or 10,000, this could be the very moment God created you for in the first place.”  Even though we said it, there has been a little bit of trying to figure out what’s next and trying to get ahead of ourselves.  The whole process of making this type of album for the church and not caring what anybody thinks and not trying to change our churchy language and all that kind of stuff.  That has been us enjoying right now and what we are doing. 

After people listen to All That is Within Me, what do you want people to get out of it?

MercyMe has this niche.  I guess what we have been called to do and I guess if we are good at something, it is the fact that we reach out to the hurting.  We try to somehow be part of the healing process and get people through hard times.  For whatever reason, we have experienced quite a bit of that.  The songs are no different.  There are moments of corporate worship but there also songs like “My Heart will Fly” that are basically still trying to get people through.  If I don’t know anything else about anybody, the one thing I always know we will have in common is the fact that we all hurt.  Instead of trying to figure out who we are or what we should be next, we pretty much have embraced that this is who we are.  It is our desire to do what we have been called to do to the best of our ability.  Hopefully, when it is all done, people will listen to the record and find hope.  This record says that God does bring us through.  We know this because He brought us through.


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