Even after 18 years as a professional musician, Bart Millard isn’t quite comfortable with his rock star status.
“When people calls us veterans of the industry, it feels weird,” admitted MercyMe frontman and vocalist Millard. “We still feel like we’re just starting out.”
Considered one of the Christian music industry’s most popular acts, MercyMe earned eight Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association over the years, as well as an American Music Award and multiple Grammy Award nominations.
“We want to be the best we can at our craft,” Millard said, describing the group’s sound as “pop rock that revolves around Christ.” “We try to be a band with integrity andbe real and true to ourselves.”
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Growing up in Greenville, Texas, just outside of Dallas, Millard once dreamed of becoming a football player like his father, a former Southern Methodist University All-American. Then a crushing tackle during a high school football game broke both his legs, effectively ending his athletic career.
Millard turned his focus to his other first love, music.
“I just loved music,” said the singer, whose early inspirations included Electric Light Orchestra, Queen and U2. “When I found out that, it was like ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ I figured I would work at Home Depot the rest of my life and play with my band whenever I could.”
“Every kid dreams of being a star,” Millard added, but he never anticipated a successful career in Christian music.
Formed in 1994, MercyMe released six independent albums before making its major label debut with “Almost There” in 2001. That album would eventually go double-platinum, thanks to the popularity of the single “I Can Only Imagine.”
The song, a hit with Christian and secular listeners alike, earned MercyMe “Song of the Year” honors at the Dove Awards.
Millard described the sudden influx of fame and attention as “incredibly surreal.” “I’m not in a hurry to have another hit on mainstream radio,” he quipped.
“The two things I was passionate about were Christ and music,” Millard said. “To be able to have a career that involves both passions was literally a dream come true.”
MercyMe has released a total of seven major studio albums, including “The Hurt and the Healer,” released May 22.
According to Millard, the album’s title track was inspired by the death of his cousin, a Dallas firefighter who was killed in the line of duty.
“It had me questioning where I was coming from,” the singer said. “It was hard for me to be ‘strong’ and yet be hurt.”
The experience made him realize “We don’t need contact with God; we need a full-on collision with him.”
Another song on the album, “The First Time,” finds the singer discovering new facets of his relationship with Christ. Millard sings “I thought I knew your face, I thought I tasted grace/But I have never felt anything close to this.”
Although Millard and his band members have gotten older, “Our focus has remained pretty much the same: We talk about our passion for Christ and how much it’s changed our lives,” Millard said. “We don’t want to shove a Bible down anyone’s throat, but people know quickly who we are.”
MercyMe’s current lineup includes Nathan Cochran on bass guitar, Barry Graul and Michael John Scheuchzer on guitar, Robin “Robby” Troy Shaffer on drums and James “Jim” Philip Bryson on keyboards.
In addition to his work with MercyMe, Millard has recorded two albums as a solo artist — 2005’s “Hymned No. 1” and 2008’s “Hymned Again” — and he’s currently working on another album slated for fall of 2013.
Millard said he’s just enjoying life as it comes.
“The best advice we were ever given (as a band) was ‘Don’t ever take for granted what God has given you right now,’ ” he recalled. “You have to treat it as if this was the moment (you) were made for.”
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