MercyMe guitarist Mike Scheuchzer knew he had hit pay dirt when he could quit his day job.
The Christian rock group, for several years, lived together in one house, splitting the rent, sharing the expenses, and driving themselves to their own gigs.
“Making it up as we go,” Scheuchzer said with a laugh.
After six years and six independent recording projects, a record deal with INO Records in 2001 launched MercyMe into the front ranks of Contemporary Christian music.
“The day I got to walk into Blockbuster Video, where I was working part-time, and quit, that was the day I realized I was on my own way,” Scheuchzer said.
Today, MercyMe is on its way to Grand Rapids to open its 2016 Christmas tour with the Grand Rapids Symphony at Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, part of the orchestra’s efforts to bring music out into the community.
The very first stop on MercyMe’s Christmas tour is one of only three that will feature symphony orchestra this holiday season. It’s the only one in the Midwest.
“It’s a stunning experience,” he said. “To add what an orchestra brings, it makes it feel that much more like Christmas. It’s really beautiful.”
The ResLife Choir under Ken Reynolds is part of the show at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29. GRS Associate Conductor John Varineau will lead the concert at ResLife Church at 5100 Ivanrest Ave. SW.
So far, the band has only done about eight to 10 concerts with orchestra. But if Scheuchzer had his way, all of the group’s Christmas shows would be with symphony orchestra.
“None of us are classically trained musicians,” Scheuchzer said. “It’s amazing to us to know how much work has gone into these players’ lives. We have huge respect for what these men and women do. We stand in awe.”
Naturally, MercyMe will play some of its biggest hits at Resurrection Life Church. Songs such as “I Can Only Imagine,” which became the first single in the Christian genre to reach platinum status with over 1 million digital downloads, made the group one of the most successful Christian acts of the past two decades.
But the Christmas concert featuring the ResLife Choir led by Ken Reynolds also will be full of holiday music.
“I used to hate original Christmas songs,” said Scheuchzer, age 41, with a laugh. “I want the traditional. I want Bing Crosby. I don’t want anything new.
Holiday music in their show includes “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”
“It’s hard not to get a smile on your face when one of them is playing,” said Scheuchzer, speaking recently by phone from his home in Franklin, Tenn., after wrapping up the group’s standard tour.
“We tried to run through songs we thought would connect live,” he said. “Some songs are beautifully recorded, but when you play them live, you don’t get the same energy.”
But the group that’s a past winner of two American Music Awards will play a couple of their original Christmas songs including “Joseph’s Lullaby” from their first Christmas album, “The Christmas Sessions,” in 2005; and “Our Lullaby” from “MercyMe, It’s Christmas!” released in October 2015.
“They’re both about relationships with what we believe is the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ,” he said.
MercyMe currently is at work on its next album, due to be released in spring. But it’s still too early to know how the album will shake out at the end.
“There’s not a formula to making records for us,” he said, adding, “It would make it a lot less stressful.”
The trick is to inspire fans without alienating them.
“We try not to make the second record twice,” he added. “If you do that too many times, they get tired of you.”
One year ago, MercyMe was riding on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an experience that Scheuchzer remembered as a surreal experience.
Tens of thousands of people lined the streets. Thousands more hung out of window or stood on roof tops.
As the float road made its way down 6th Avenue, Scheuchzer could see people in apartments, celebrating Thanksgiving.
“To ride down the road and see that many people, crammed on the street, it was literally like being in a movie and right in the middle of it,” he recalled. “That was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done in my life.”