COURTESY INO RECORDS
MercyMe is, from left, Robbin Shaffer, James Bryson, Bart Millard, Nathan Cochran, Barry Graul and Michael John Scheuchzer. The band members, says Graul, "wear our faiths on our sleeves. ... We're guys doing what we were called to do."
Christian band shows passion
Barry Graul can easily recall the inspiration for his childhood dreams: the posters he had tacked up on the wall of his childhood home in Baltimore. Like many a teenager, the guitarist from MercyMe got his start by imitating the idols from favorite hard-rock bands such as AC/DC and Van Halen.
And Audio Adrenaline with comedian Bob Smiley
In concert: 6 p.m. Saturday at the Waikiki Shell
Tickets: $25, $31.50, $35.50 and $41.50
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It was a phase the then-14-year-old never grew out of; he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: "I wanted to be a rock star," Graul said in a phone call from Huntsville, Ala. "I loved guitar. I'd come home and throw my books on my bed and play until my parents came home. I cut my teeth on old Van Halen and Led Zeppelin."
Though he may have swapped hard rock for other genres of music over time, Graul's passion for playing music never faded. He tried out a stint in a dance band before settling into the music of his choice -- Christian rock music -- and he gleaned bits of information about the music business from the bands that passed through Baltimore on their way to the next show.
"I would do everything I could to get backstage and talk to them," Graul said. With a little encouragement from those professional musicians, Graul made the decision to move to Nashville, where he freelanced as a Christian rock guitarist before eventually being asked to become a part of MercyMe. Graul joined the band four years ago; one of the first shows he played with the band were two sold-out concert dates in Hawaii.
THOUGH THE band crossed over to the mainstream charts based on the appeal of such songs as "I Can Only Imagine" -- a song written by lead singer Bart Millard in memory of his late father -- Graul said he and his other band mates remain connected to the Christian/gospel market.
"I felt a calling for it," Graul said of himself and his bandmates. "That's what we do. We wear our faiths on our sleeves. We are Christians who play in a band and play Christian music. Whenever doors open, that's where we go. We're guys doing what we were called to do."
MercyMe is currently on the spring leg of their tour, and will play some 40-odd shows in support of last year's radio-friendly release "Coming Up to Breathe." The album has been nominated for two Dove awards in the Group of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year categories. A new album is tentatively planned for release in November.
"We haven't even written, started writing for it, or thought about the direction (of the next album)," Graul said. "It's too early."
Downtime for the band members is spent attending baseball games -- in fact, spring shows are planned around them -- and scouting out new surroundings on their Honda scooters and listening to music. Graul said the music played on their tour bus reflects the band members' various personal tastes. "It's our career and we love music. Music is going on all day. We listen to jazz, Sting, Keane. We all like U2. ... We have met Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast last year. He had a little reception area and was shaking hands. He's just a megastar."
For their Hawaii date, the band will join fellow Christian rockers Audio Adrenaline for the latter band's farewell show, a five-day event titled the Aloha Adventure. Their week here includes a barbecue and meet-and-greets with fans. (For information, call (888) 518-7571.)
Incidentally, the Grammy award-winning group was one of the very first bands MercyMe opened for as a group when they started out 12 years ago.
"MercyMe might not have even been if it wasn't for Audio Adrenaline," said Graul.