“Before the pandemic, we thought we had the album almost finished, and then everything changed,” MercyMe’s Bart Millard tells Apple Music. “So, we scrapped the record and sort of started over.” Thus was the birth of inhale (exhale), the follow-up to 2017’s Lifer. As Millard explains, the band “wanted people to just breathe for a second and realize that we’re going to get through this.” Appropriately, the album is bookended by two short tracks, “Inhale” and “Exhale,” each allowing listeners a few moments of quiet reflection. Elsewhere on the LP, the band is joined by Millard’s own son Sam Wesley on the hit single “On Our Way” and Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox on the uncharacteristically uptempo “A Little Love.” Perhaps the biggest surprise is the appearance of disco queen Gloria Gaynor, who, following in the footsteps of her 2019 faith-based album, Testimony, lends her powerful voice to “Brand New.” Below, Millard walks through several key tracks on inhale (exhale).
On Our Way (feat. Sam Wesley) “My son’s 19 now. He’s been singing some, but he would never let me hear him. When I found he had a voice, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Being a dad that’s in a band that’s somewhat successful, I was really careful to let him find his own line. This is the only time we’ve ever written together. I went and I helped him finish out the verses. And then, when I was trying to sing a scratch vocal of it to show the label, I was sick and my voice just gave out on me, so I had Sam sing the rest of the song. And then, when I sent it to the label, the label was like, ‘Uh, what are we doing here? Your son sounds amazing. Why are we not just keeping him on it?’”
A Little Love (feat. Gary LeVox) “Gary’s done features before, but it seems like he’s always on the next Rascal Flatts-sounding power ballad or whatever and just didn’t want to do that. When we started writing the song, it was written because Sheryl Crow was originally going to be on the record, or she wanted to be. And then the whole pandemic thing happened, and everything changed, and she laid low. I was like, ‘Man, he would kill this.’ And so, I sent it to him, and he flipped out.”
Hurry Up and Wait “When we stopped touring and had no release date and the world stopped, we were like, ‘Man, we’re sitting on this music and we’re going to be tired of this the longer we wait, and we’re going to write more.’ I just thought of the irony that I had a song called ‘Hurry Up and Wait,’ and that just felt like that’s all we were doing as a world during the pandemic—we were scrambling but not sure what we were scrambling for.”
Brand New (feat. Gloria Gaynor) “Gloria did a faith-based album a couple of years ago. She won a Grammy for it. It was this old-school, going-back-to-your-roots thing. We wrote ‘Brand New’ with that same producer that did her album, and it never dawned on me to get Gloria. We were wrapping up the album, listening to what was about to go to mix on ‘Brand New,’ and my guitar player, Mike, was like, because it’s very disco-y, he goes, ‘You know what would make it the perfect song is if Gloria would sing on it.’ On a Thursday, I texted her. And she’s like, ‘I’ll do it on Monday.’”
Say I Won’t “Gary was our first merch guy, 25 years ago. He’s one of our dearest friends. I started having these conversations with Gary. He’s like, ‘OK, explain to me what you’re talking about.’ For a couple of years, it was an ongoing text conversation of just about understanding who you are in Christ. Christmas of ’19, going to 2020, Gary got really, really sick and was put on life support. He had sepsis. We thought that he wasn’t going to make it—and sure enough, he does. From the bridge out, it’s a ‘Rocky’ moment: ‘Keep on saying I won’t, and I’ll keep proving you wrong.’ And so, it kind of took a little bit of a turn, but Gary was a part of it from day one.”
Exhale “The idea is that, if they make it that far on the journey of this album, I think we just want to reiterate that we don’t know what you’re going through, but there’s always hope. We’re going to be OK. Somehow, we’re going to make it. It’s just that last sense of optimism. It felt like, just let your hair down. OK, I’m exhaling now. I just thought, it’s a cool, cinematic way to wrap it up.”