A 12-piece experimental rock ensemble, The Mercy Stone has launched a new studio performance video for the song “Wail Song” taken from their album Ghettoblaster. The video is available on YouTube.
Founder of the project, guitarist and composer Scott Grady stated, “‘Ghettoblaster’ uses many different genres/styles of popular music with elements of classical composition. With ‘Wail Song,’ I was looking to take The Mercy Stone into a jazzy/funky musical space. A lot of the musical ideas come from the fact that I play a little bit of many different instruments. Once I had a good idea of how the piece would unfold, experimenting and improvising on strings, winds, and percussion helped generate many of its melodic and rhythmic elements. This is one of the most challenging and most fun pieces that we play. Much of the piece fluctuates between meters frequently, so it keeps us all on our toes. Getting everyone in the band to really groove through all of the rhythmic challenges definitely took some time.”
The Mercy Stone was founded by Grady in 2016. After spending several years studying music composition in an academic setting, he sought to put his composition chops to work within a project that would have the substance and sophistication fitting for a contemporary-classical concert stage as well as the accessibility that would be palatable to rock audiences. After finishing a master’s degree in music composition in 2015, he spent the next year and a half exploring how to achieve this synthesis. Understanding the pitfalls of music fusion, Grady wished to create a classical/rock hybrid style that was organic, drawing inspiration from his years of absorbing, studying, and performing all flavors of popular music (classic rock, pop, reggae, metal, funk, psychedelic/experimental rock), world music (West African drumming, Flamenco, Eastern European dance music,) along with the Western art music he studied through his years in academia.
The Mercy Stone recently started work on their sophomore full-length release.
“While ‘Ghettoblaster’ was entirely instrumental, this new album will have several tunes with vocals. It will be exciting to share a very different side of The Mercy Stone when all is finished,” Grady commented.
I have to admit, I’ve sat on this review a while. A good while, in fact. The review copy of “Ghettoblaster” dropped into my inbox about two months ago and I thought that I’d have plenty of time to listen, absorb and ruminate. Followed, of course, by a succinct summing up in a review.
In reality, life is often not that easy. It would seem that The Mercy Stone strive to approximate that rather well.
I could trot out the well used “this band is not known for trying to be accessible” line, and for certain, it wouldn’t be wrong. But I’m also not sure that it does them justice. This is carefully honed mayhem. Split succinctly into nine neat servings, each different in flavour and texture. Each with purpose. Some with distinct menace.
Once I had listened to the album the first time, it became rapidly apparent that I had absolutely nothing to compare it against. This did not help with timely delivery of reviews… The fact that this is a debut album by this 12-piece ensemble did not help at all. There’s no foundation for me to build a narrative on.
It’s not that there’s no structure to their music, it just doesn’t often fit within the confines of what we would term as normal, in terms of either time signature, or song structure. Especially song structure. The songs evolve and take different directions, staying within a broad theme, but unafraid to look outside and take a stroll round the grounds once in awhile.
The title track starts this journey with dense, multi-layered string section, almost immediately smothering you with rich, honeyed, sinister analogue emanations. Cut through with focused rhythm section, wailing to the sky in gentle anguish.
Following this is “Triptide.” It starts off following a relatively simple rhythm, accompanied by some relaxed, but fairly sinister guitar / saxophone interplay.
“First Light” continues to explore these strange and broken aural landscapes with stuttering drums and pulsing abstract guitar lines. Running violin lines providing the substructure for the abundant poly-rhythms and key-straddling twists and turns.
“Megalodon” takes on an immediately more crystalline tack. The instruments morphed, thinned into an altogether more bright and brittle sound. The track pulsing and flowing as if in tune with the gravitational waves of the planet it emanates from. While excursions from normality are definitely present here, the way has been smoothed over significantly; weird juxtapositions made to seem commonplace. Easing you into a different mindset and making you ready for the bare fragility of closing “Lazer.” The final, subtle, delicate taste of a feast well finished.
This is not an album for the faint of heart. This is not an album for those that do not want their preconceptions of how music should sound significantly challenged. In places, this is not a comfortable, easy or even pleasant listen.
That is exactly how it is intended.
The Mercy Stone clearly want to challenge us to listen, to accept and embrace their differences. This is their normality, their experience. This is a brief glimpse into their stories from a world that while essentially alien to us, is nevertheless full of intrigue.
The Mercy Stone is a 12-piece ensemble that is breaking the boundaries between the worlds of rock, jazz, and classical music. Performing all original instrumental compositions, The Mercy Stone’s music possesses all the intricacies of a finely tuned contemporary-classical chamber ensemble and the energy of a high-octane rock band.
Back in September, the ensemble released their debut album titled “Ghettoblaster,” and we talked with guitarist, composer and the man behind The Mercy Stone, Scott Grady.
Alright, first thing is first. Before we dive into all the music stuff, how’s life?
Thanks for asking. Things are great – feeling happy to talk about our music today!
Speaking of new music, you have an album. What can people expect from “Ghettoblaster”?
This album fuses aspects of “classical” music composition with a rock-based aesthetic. I imagine that most of the people engaging with this album would be coming from a listening background that was largely rock/pop oriented with most of their “classical” music experience coming from background music in movies or television. On many tracks, I think that the surface elements of the music would quickly convey a good idea of where we are coming from artistically. My hope is that, without any sort of pretense, the raw elements of the music are compelling enough to draw listeners in for a deeper listen. There are elements in “classical” composition that most popular music doesn’t really deal with, generally. While it is not necessarily important to me that anyone hear the music and correctly identify the octave cannon with augmented rhythmic values (sorry to geek out there for moment), it’s fun to think that they might hear it and just feel the tremendous groove it creates.
What was it like working on the album?
We started recording the album with only a few pieces composed from beginning to end. But once the recording process began, the rest of the material really started to flow. Each individual track and the album as a whole came together very organically in what I could jokingly call a very long drawn out stream of consciousness process. Even though the album was written and recorded over many months, there was still definitely an aspect of just excitedly and blindly seeing where the music would lead without an extremely specific plan.
We were fortunate to work with some very patient engineers/producers who helped immensely in getting the sound of the record into its final form. I think mixing was a big headache for all of us. The instrumentation of the group along with the subtleties of the arrangements presented some pretty daunting challenges in this regard. There were moments along the way where I would feel like the entire project was a failure because we just couldn’t get the mixes right. It’s hard to put into words how great it feels to be on the other side of that process with a finished record that you love.
Are there any touring plans in support to “Ghettoblaster”?
Absolutely. At the moment we are polishing the material from the album, along with some new music, for live performance and will start gigging regionally in southern California in the near future.
While we are on the subject of touring, what countries would you love to tour?
I’m looking forward to taking The Mercy Stone to every corner of the globe where we can reach people with our music. The dream of being able to see the world as a touring musician versus simply a tourist is quite intoxicating.
Who and what inspires you the most?
Authenticity in any form is inspiring to me. Lloyd Rodgers was a composer and a composition professor of mine. He once took a written copy of a piece I was working on and threw it on the ground in disgust because he felt that I wasn’t writing music that was true to what he knew of my musical/artistic inclinations. He was enraged at this thought. Any student of Dr. Rodgers would not be the least surprised by this story. I’m still not sure that I agree with him completely in that instance. But, god, I loved that guy. He recently passed and I’m quite sad that I never got to share the music from this album with him. The piece, Conception, was directly inspired by my time studying counterpoint with him.
What other genres of music do you listen to? Have any of the other genres you listen to had any impact on your playing?
Being a lifelong musical omnivore, there is music from almost every genre I have encountered that has been influential and inspiring. Though this album primarily deals with the synthesis of rock and classical elements in an instrumental setting, I’m still a sucker for a great song. I’m way late in discovering the music of Elliot Smith. His music is just brilliant. There’s a lot of classic rock that has a special place in my heart. I just re-listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for the first time in about 5 years and it filled me as completely as the first time I heard it.
I’m also fortunate enough to have creative people in my life that are of great inspiration to me, musically. My bandmate, Emmanuel Ventura-Cruess, has a band called Emael. He is a cellist, singer, and songwriter who is making some of the coolest rock/pop music that I’ve heard in a while. His first album will be out soon and his music is just fantastic. While I was working on my master’s degree in composition, I met another student named Craig Michael Davis. When we met, he was just beginning to compose. He went on to study with the composer, Michael Gordon, in New York and is making some really beautiful post-minimal music. I think we have both taken great pleasure in being friends and watching each other develop as composers.
I really appreciate you giving us your time today. Is there anything else you would like to tell us and the fans before we wrap things up?
It’s been a blast connecting with people who dig our music since we released the album a few months ago. I hope we can continue to excite and surprise our audience with each new musical endeavor.