Interview: THE MERCY STONE

California-based 12-piece experimental ensemble The Mercy Stone have recently launched their debut album “Ghettoblaster,” and the mainman and composer Scott Grady spoke for Rocking Charts about it and more.

Hey Scott. How are you doing?

Doing great. Thanks for reaching out to talk about our music.

You recently launched your debut album with the Mercy Stone titled “Ghettoblaster.” How do you feel about the release?

It definitely feels great to be finished with the album. Now we are faced with the interesting task of promoting our music which seems to lie outside of any well-established genre. For better and for worse, I feel that The Mercy Stone is doing something completely unique. So, now it feels like we are ‘musical missionaries’ seeking converts.

How much of a challenge was to work on the album?

Though the process of making the album was a lot of fun, it was equally maddening times. There was a lot of excitement to be working on a project that reaches into somewhat uncharted musical territory. But, at the same time, this lack of reference points made certain elements difficult. Getting the instrumentation and arrangements to gel on the mixing end of things took a lot of time and experimentation.

Ghettoblaster

What is your opinion about the current experimental scene?

The proliferation of technology has made the creation and distribution of all types of music easier than ever. So, there is no shortage of artists exploring all types of music and being able to share it with the entire world. To a large extent, it feels like the ‘experimental’ label is meaningless at the moment. I suppose it is helpful to let listeners know that they can expect something that is not mainstream in the ‘top 40’ sense. But, it doesn’t seem like music needs to pass a very high bar to qualify as ‘experimental’.

One of the artistic goals of this album was to see how far we could get ‘outside of the box’, yet still work within a language that could be easily understood and appreciated by listeners who may be coming from a rock/pop background with little in-depth experience of ‘classical’ or ‘concert’ music. This is how our music is experimental. The aesthetic boundaries we are pushing against have to do with stylistic synthesis. The challenge we faced was how to integrate compositional elements that are largely foreign to rock/pop music in a way that was organic and really worked, musically – meaning that the tunes needed to simply rock without the burden of requiring any understanding the underlying processes. There is no shortage of groups featuring classically trained musicians playing rock tunes. There are also plenty of prog rock bands playing in complex time signatures and using varied instrumentation. This project is something completely different.

Can you tell me something about your influences?

My first influences were all rock and pop artists. One of my earliest memories of music is driving in the car and forcing my Dad to play the keyboard intro to “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates over and over again. It was the first time that I really listened to something outside the realm of “Skip to My Lou.” As a teenager, I discovered metal bands and later mainstream classic rock like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles. I picked up a guitar around this time and learned little bits of music by ear and from watching friends play. Later, I studied classical guitar for several years. This opened up my understanding of music and of counterpoint, specifically. I went from almost exclusively playing single-line rock guitar parts and chord patterns to dealing with pieces of music with multiple independent musical lines. From then on, musical counterpoint has been a never-ending source of fascination. As my ears opened, I also developed a taste for music with a higher degree of rhythmic sophistication than I found in most rock/pop music. My obsession with rhythm was nurtured by studying flamenco and West African drumming. Hearing and analyzing the works of many modern concert composers (and some from the very distant past) would, later, open up completely new rhythmic approaches to me. I eventually began studying music composition in an academic setting where I began to apply these elements that interested me in developing my own compositional voice. Many of my bandmates are people that I met in school while completing my master’s degree in composition.

What are you listening to these days?

I’m always on the hunt from great music that I have not heard before. I’ve recently rediscovered the music of Colin Stetson. He’s a fantastic saxophonist/composer whose music I describe as aggressive-ambient. Even though they have been around a long time, I just recently became familiar with Penguin Café Orchestra. They have a completely different vibe than The Mercy Stone, but are also a somewhat experimental classical group.

Your 5 favourite records of all the time?

This is an impossible question for me. But, I’ll give you 5 great albums that I think everyone should check out if they’ve never heard them.

“New Skin for the Old Ceremony” by Leonard Cohen – Simply great songwriting.

“Pitch Black: Music for Saxophones” by Jacob TV(composer) and the Prism Quartet – a collection of pieces written for saxophone(s) and recorded/processed voice(s).

“1-Bit Symphony” by Tristan Perich – Post-minimal composition realized with 1-bit technology. Imagine old-school Atari videogame noises sounding beautiful and masterfully composed.

“Van Gough” by Michael Gordon (composer) and Alarm Will Sound – Text by Michael Gordon based on the letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Normally, I am quite repulsed by the style of singing in used in modern ‘classical’ music. This is a sublime exception.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the gear you use to record “Ghettoblaster”?

The Mercy Stone’s instrumentation consists of: string quintet (2 violins, viola, cello, and double bass), 4 wind players (covering saxophone, flute, and clarinet parts), marimba, drums/percussion, and electric guitar. The majority of this album consists of acoustic instruments recorded without effects. The cello has some added distortion on a couple of tracks and we ran the sax through a wah-wah pedal on a couple pieces. I played a Strat through a borrowed Gibson amp for most of the album– also with minimal use of effects.

Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?

We are actually starting to record tracks for the second album very soon. While we do that, we’ll be releasing tracks/videos from the current album along with polishing some newer tunes as we perform live.

Any words for the potential new fans?

Thanks to all of our new fans for the great response to our first album. We look forward to sharing a lot more music.

For more information about The Mercy Stone follow them on Facebook.