At a time in political and cultural history when “The rejects, the drop outs / Those used to being passed by / The addicts, the burned out / Who’ve lost their way so many times” seemed to get the short end of the stick, Nashville’s Chris Renzema opens his outstretched arms and welcomes those people in, as the lyrics to his new single “Mercy” proclaim. This forgiveness and acceptance that seems to be missing in the world today is what he himself was in need of before he wrote the song.
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“I didn’t have a lot of direction or aim, and I felt kind of just out to sea,” the 2020’s GMA Dove Award nominee for “New Artist of the Year” explains, discussing a point in his life where he was in a mental and emotional lowpoint. “There were a lot of days where I would sleep through the morning after staying up really late. My schedule was just a mess. When I read that verse [Lamentations 3:23 in the Old Testament] that says His mercies are new every morning, I remember thinking, well, I just slept through my whole morning.”
Picking himself up off his bootstraps, he got his act together and launched into the next stage of his life – as a musician. As if by accident (or perhaps Divine Intervention), it seems like every step of his career has ended up unexpectedly in the right direction. He uploaded his first EP to iTunes without any expectations and it landed him a feature in a Christian magazine. A video he uploaded to YouTube landed him a record deal with Centricity Records. Without much promotion or marketing muscle, he’s landed close to nine million streams across multiple platforms. Quite a task for someone who has the unassuming nature of a Heartland Ed Sheeran or a countrified David Gray. Gritty and raw, his vocals have a moldable quality about them, perfect for a campfire but obviously destined for so much more.
The gorgeous acoustic elegy that is his “Mercy” single was essentially a forgotten song that was nearly left off the album, but, like many things in his life, it randomly became a saving grace. “I originally didn’t plan for ‘Mercy’ to be on the record,” he confesses, “but during the recording sessions, I had a night where I had agreed to play a writer’s round. Since I was really tired, I decided to just play some simple short songs that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. One of those songs was ‘Mercy’.”
The a-ha moment didn’t materialize right away, but in fact, manifested itself the next morning when he ended the studio. “I was humming it and played a little bit of the song for my producer [Paul Moak],” he relays. “As I was playing the song, Paul started setting up two microphones and basically said ‘if we don’t record it now, we’ll probably regret it.’ Walking into the tracking room, I think I did two takes of it, and we took the first one.”
Intimate and tender, “Mercy” reaches out to those less fortunate, “the stressed out, the worried / Those terrified of right now / The wandering, the hurried / Who don’t know how to slow down” and reiterates God’s acceptance, singing “There’s room at His table for you.”
The beauty of that sentiment carries through the song, not only lyrically but aurally. Instead of the standard “keep producing it until it sounds” good method of recording, it was done essentially on the fly. “The recording we did was one pass through live, which I think is a really a nice approach to the song,” he says, exposing the divine correlation between the sentiment and the finished track.
Content enough with it that he’s releasing it as the first track for his next EP Let The Ground Rest – B-Sides which is set for release in January 2021, he is presenting “Mercy” flaws and all, which exposes its tender beauty. Reflecting on the track, he concludes, “Certain songs breathe correctly when they are given the space to be slightly imperfect, and I feel that way about this song.”
Pre-add/pre-save the tunes, if you dig em!