"It's probably good to go 'dark' for a little bit....people are getting tired of us," joked lead singer Bart Millard during a recent phone interview.
But now the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling band is embarking on its "Imagine Nation Tour" which stops at Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena Oct. 13 .
The band's trajectory was changed with the release of last year's movie, "I Can Only Imagine." The film, bearing the name of the band's signature song, told Millard's life story involving his early estrangement and eventual reconciliation with his father.
It was a surprise hit, grossing $17 million its opening weekend in theatres eventually garnering more than $80 million worldwide.
"They told me even a failed movie would change things, and I said, 'OK, whatever,'" Millard recalled. "But no one gave me lessons on if the movie would be successful. Nobody saw it coming the way it impacted everything we do."
That included numerous multiple media interviews and public appearances. The band concurrently released a greatest hits album, with a re-cut version of "I Can Only Imagine." Millard also wrote an autobiographical book with the same title.
"I underestimated what goes into making a film and what the results could be," he noted.
Millard said at a recent concert in L.A. they asked the audience how many of them were seeing MercyMe for the first time. "I'd say, two thirds were new," he estimated.
A band with more than 50 multi-format No. 1 songs dotted along a 20+ year recording career is still finding new fans.
Partly as a result of his experience, Millard has been brought on board as an executive producer of the forthcoming film "I Still Believe." It's a dramatized life story of Christian music singer Jeremy Camp, who lost his first wife to cancer. The movie should reach theatres next year.
TAKING THE TIME
The band's latest tour is the fall leg of a run they began last spring. They're on the bill with David Crowder and Micah Tyler. "We love touring with buddies," said the singer. "The actual concerts are such a small part of going out on tour – we've got to live with these guys on the road and we love being around them."
Millard said he re-routed his vacation earlier this year to spend more time in Michigan. When he came to the state to visit a friend whose son was having surgery in Ann Arbor, he sidetracked a bit heading north to visit Mackinac Island.
"It (Michigan) is a beautiful state and everywhere at Mackinac I was saying, 'This place is amazing,'" said the artist, whose band previously played at VanAndel in April of last year. "Michigan has always been so good to us and maybe that's why we keep coming back."
MercyMe's last studio recording was 2017's "Even If." In the interim, Millard recorded a duet with fellow artist Ryan Stevenson ("No Matter What") and co-wrote the Dove Award-nominated "The Break-Up Song" with singer Francesca Battistelli. This year the group already has Billboard Music and Grammy Award nominations.
But now the five-man band is ready with a new song, to be officially released near the end of October. "Almost Home" is the first tune from their next album to debut next year.
"Some bands write a million songs and then pick 10 or 11 for an album," Millard said. "But for us, we'll write 10 or 11 and then be done.
"Writing is not a super enjoyable thing for me...sometime it takes me places I don't want to go emotionally. But I love the result."
The band is hoping have the song ready to perform live at its local concert. "It's an anthem that makes you want to run faster arm-in-arm," he added. "I'm telling people it's something like what you'd hear at a Manchester United soccer game – there's something to it that really gets you going."
Mercy Me with special guests Crowder and Micah Tyler
7pm Sun. Oct. 13 at Van Andel Arena, W. Fulton St. downtown Grand Rapids
Tickets: $24 and up, available at the box office, via Ticketmaster outlets, or online at https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/080056A6C1992565#efeat6916