As the history of modern music unfolds, certain albums are obvious landmarks. Those are the times when vision meets talent in a divine appointment that produces a collection of songs that help define an artist's career, such as White Heart's Freedom, Amy Grant's "Lead Me On," dcTalk's "Jesus Freak," Michael W. Smith's Eye 2 Eye, and U2's "The Joshua Tree," among others. MercyMe's new INO Records release, "Coming Up to Breathe," is one of those albums.
The journey toward self-discovery has been a winding, often bumpy road, for Millard and his bandmates. Along the way, it yielded some incredible music, including the poignant anthem "I Can Only Imagine." The song transcended musical barriers to become a multi-format smash, pushing sales of MercyMe's INO debut, "Almost There," beyond double platinum and earning them numerous accolades, including the Gospel Music Association's Song of the Year. The band has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Fox & Friends, applauded in Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New York Times and other prime media outlets, as well as touring extensively and launching a successful organization to aid young people entering the mission field called The Go Foundation.
But along with the mountaintops come the valleys and the band went through a painful time in which several people close to them died in a matter of weeks. "Making the last record was so intense," says Millard. "We had so much tragedy we had to deal with. It was just a very draining experience, and in the next year or two we were kind of reliving that through the live show and explaining what happened. It was very exhausting."
That's why the title "Coming Up to Breathe" holds special significance for Millard and the band. "We just want to take a break and surface and take a gasp of air," he says. "We just wanted to stop for a second and kind of let our hair down."
Millard says there was definitely a lighter mood in the making of this album. "We danced half way through making the record because we hadn't had any major tragedy," he confesses. "So it was really just a blast to go through something like this and not have something real heavy lingering over our heads. I think that every song definitely has a message within itself and they can minister to people in different ways."
Millard is pleased with the success of MercyMe's previous albums, but admits there's a special satisfaction in this one. "We've always joked about wanting to make our Whiteheart 'Freedom' or our Amy Grant 'Lead Me On,' and time will tell if that is ever the case," Millard says, "but we just gave it everything we had. There was no holding back on this record."
The result is a record destined to stand as a milestone in an illustrious career, but what matters most to MercyMe is the impact the music will have on others. "Regardless of what you are going through in life, regardless of what you are consumed with, regardless of what fills up your everyday life," says Millard, "there are times you have to stop and surface and take a deep breath and remember what's important. That's what this album is for us. It's addressing everything we've gone through and realizing the one common denominator in all this Jesus. That's what is worth taking a breath for."