The Mercy Stone is a brainchild of guitarist and composer Scott Grady, who gathered a 12-piece ensemble to help him ”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.” The project’s debut album is titled ‘Ghettoblaster‘; it is a neo-classical endeavour down to its core which crosses over many distinctive elements.
In a new interview for Prog Sphere, Grady speaks about his project.
Describe the musical vision propelling your debut album Ghettoblaster.
The Mercy Stone was founded after I had finished my master’s degree in music composition. Studying in an academic setting was invaluable for me to develop as a composer. I had some really fantastic mentors and met many of my bandmates along the way. However, I found many aspects of this environment to be extremely negative. The further along in my education I went, the more I became disillusioned and downright pissed off about the entire academic musical culture. As I began to develop an approach that fused my ‘classical’ composition chops with the diverse rock influences that are embedded in my musical DNA, the world of academic music provided the perfect foil to work against, artistically. Channeling my inner angry 15-year-old, Ghettoblaster became a metaphorical middle finger to all the things I found intolerable about this environment.
What made it the right time to pursue that vision?
After finishing my graduate studies, I spent some time working in a group that was started by a couple composer friends of mine. After that group disbanded, I was left with a blank canvas to begin a new project. Sometimes we are fortunate to have creative ideas force themselves upon us. This was one of those cases. The Mercy Stone literally began as a vision that occurred in between sleep and wakefulness one night. All the subsequent work has been an effort to make that vision a reality. It felt as if all my recent musical efforts had been leading up to this project. So, I was quite hungry to bring The Mercy Stone into being.
Tell me about what you’re communicating with the album cover.
As with the music itself, I prefer to allow each person to interpret the art as they see fit. Though the artwork has some personal meaning to me in how it relates to the music, I won’t burden anyone with the tyranny of my interpretation.
What was the creative process for Ghettoblaster like?
In the beginning, there was a lot of trial and error. I wrote several pieces which I abandoned after a while. The title track to the album was probably the first piece where I felt as if I was on the right track, compositionally. However, as much as I love that tune, I wanted to produce an album that also reached outside its metal-meets-classical vibe. There were many different sounds and styles that I wished to explore and it took about a year to write all the pieces that satisfied what I had in mind. From the start, I did not want this group to rely on the novelty of looking like a chamber orchestra and sounding like a rock band. The goal was to create music in which this instrumentation and my compositional approach could achieve an organic synthesis between styles that would be exciting and fresh.
Speaking of the album’s creative process, provide some insight into it. How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
I sketch out ideas by hand at first. Then, I move to notation software once things get going. My composition process is very intensive and it often takes a long time to bring a single piece to completion. I usually begin thinking about the overall form of each piece after I settle on some musical ideas that move me deeply in some way. These often consist of one or two melodic and/or rhythmic ideas. The foundational ideas lead me to set up some formal constructs to work within. This is the point where I start thinking about how long the piece will be, how many sections it will have, and how the sections will function. Next, I compose a ton of variations based on the initial musical material. If I’m dealing with linear, melodic ideas, I write counterpoint around them, experiment with the rhythm, etc. In the final stage, I take a step back and see how my ideas have developed in relation to my original vision and put the whole thing together.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
This is one of the most important aspects of our music. In much of this album, there is tension between the extremely limited musical material and the very fast rate of change of other musical elements. Essentially, what this means is that, even though the listener is often hearing permutations of the same musical ideas over and over again, these ideas are developed and changed so rapidly and dramatically that the result is pieces that are very minimal and yet very dynamic at the same time. This is all accomplished with traditional compositional methods: orchestration, rhythmic alteration, additive layering, transposition, fragmentation, etc. Since I’m trying to make music that flows and grooves, all these processes ultimately need to pass the listening test. No matter how clever I may think something is from a compositional standpoint, it gets trashed if it doesn’t serve the music.
Which bands or artists influence your work?
I’m influenced by far too many artists and styles to list. While this album could be considered primarily the result of synthesizing ‘classical’ and rock elements, I draw on a many diverse influences including jazz, flamenco, electronic music, traditional folk music from around the world, and more. I’m always on the hunt for great music. Recently I’ve been checking out the work of Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf. They’ve made some great music that fuses classical and jazz elements. I also really dig Sufjan Steven’s newest album, Planetarium, on which he collaborated with Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly. There’s lots of classic rock that I like to revisit from time to time. I just spent some time with Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy recently.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
Music has, historically, served a wide range of purposes across many cultures. The use of music in sacred rituals has always been a point of interest for me. Though religion plays no direct part in my life or art, I see music as providing an avenue for transcendence which, I believe, is central to our human experience. Music may draw us into quiet, meditative spaces or compel us to freak out and dance ecstatically for hours. My hope is that our music reaches people in some profound way.
What are your future plans?
This is a very new musical project. I look forward to developing the group from an artistic standpoint and hopefully building an audience along the way that digs what we’re doing. Even though we just released this album in September, we are already at work recording tracks for our second album.