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Meet MRCY, the UK soul group destined for greatness

Blending classic soul sounds with contemporary sounds and storytelling, MRCY are already finding a captive audience.

By Nick Reilly

MRCY (Picture: Press)

It feels almost too cliched too be true: a truly great band step onto the stage of a dingy basement venue and blow away the darkness with a talent that feels too monumental to be contained in a tiny room.

And yet that’s the situation that Rolling Stone UK encounters when we see MRCY perform at the Komedia Basement in Brighton on a damp Thursday in May. “Oh, you sent my soul sinking like a stone, I thought I’d never get up,” comes the powerhouse, room-silencing vocals of singer Kojo Degraft-Johnson on the bewitching ‘Lorelai’ – a classic ode to relationships doomed to failure.

Elsewhere, the heartbreaking ‘Flowers In Mourning’ is a heartbreaking, soul-soaked manifestation of loss that will cause even the most stony-hearted of souls to stop in their tracks.

It’s all evident on their debut record MRCY Volume 1, but seeing this pair live – Degraft-Johnson and producer Barney Johnson – feels like a genuine *I was there* moment.

You can read our whole Q&A with MRCY below.

It’s been a matter of months since you arrived as MRCY with ‘Lorelei’. How’s the reaction been to everything so far?

Barney: It’s been fantastic. We’ve been enjoying seeing people listening to the music and appreciating the music, especially when we’ve been playing live. We’ve had the best time so far.

I saw your stunning set at The Great Escape last month and it felt like you’re one of those bands where seeing you live is to truly understand the essence of what you’re about. Is that true?

Kojo: Yeah I think so. We want people to gain a better understanding of who we are as people through our records, but when we play live we want to invite people into our world and show them what we’re about.

And as someone that goes to a lot of shows, I love falling in love with music more when you do that. Sometimes you listen to a record and these tunes might not be your favourite, but when you hear them live you definitely understand it more. If we can do that for people, then great.

How did you come to form MRCY? Were you aware of each other in musical circles prior to that?

Barney: We didn’t really know each other at all. I’m an absolute studio body and I spent my time in small rooms with no light, so I don’t get out much. But I got to know Kojo’s voice when my manager sent me a clip of him singing. I thought ‘That is a truly great voice’ and was instantly ready to meet him and see if we had the vibe to make some music.

From the moment we met we just clicked instantly, we got on really well and there was no unpleasantness. We just vibed, we got each other’s sensibilities and we love the same music so it was really easy to be honest.

I think part of the reason that we jumped in so deep together is because there was instant synergy with the music. We made ‘R.L.M’ on the first day we met and we’ve been banging out tunes since then. We found common ground to talk about and common sounds to enjoy together. It can be a bit like speed dating at first, when you walk into a random room with someone and it doesn’t work. That can be horrible! But we didn’t have that issue at all. It was just very, very fun.

It feels like soul is finally having something of an overdue moment in the UK at the moment, if you look at the success of Olivia Dean to name but one person. Why is that the case?

Barney: Well, I personally put it down to the fact that we’re living in a world where everything is based on a lot of automation, a lot of like electronics and lacking of human personality. You go on Instagram and it just feels like another world. It doesn’t feel real.

I think that soul music and music with live instrumentation and organic sounds in it speaks to a lot of human nature. People want to connect to that more and soul music is about the soul. It’s spiritual!

Kojo: I’d agree 100 per cent. When you asked that question, I was just thinking about what life is like in general for society over the last couple of decades. I’ve always felt that this current age might be seen as an experimental age or just an age where people are really explorative in future.

As a musical world, it feels like we’ve been looking at different sounds that might make more sense going forward, but ones that are also artists and and sounds from the past.

In my opinion, soul is the best music that you can listen to, and as Barney said, with live instrumentation and real stories and real life, you know, issues that that we talk about in our music, I think it’s bound to resonate with people.

That’s why soul is having a real moment right now, and I think it’s gonna continue to do that.

How do those real stories manifest in your music?

Kojo: ‘Flowers In Mourning’ is about loss and there’s a lot of sentiment there, and a lot of sentiment in the whole record I think.

It just makes perfect sense for us to touch on these things because it’s the stories we want to tell and the insight we want to give people with our introductory record. We want people to understand that this is where our heart is and I think it’s also about understanding who you’re listening to.

We found great importance in talking about these things, where it’s loss in your family or personal life, or even just the struggles that people deal with mentally. This is what makes us who we are and this is what shapes us not just as musicians but as human beings. For a first record, it was definitely important to talk about that.

MRCY Volume 1 is already out too. Why did you want to release a debut album at such an early juncture in your story?

Barney: For me, it’s about making and releasing music. People are scared to release music and it’s the fear gets you. We just made a lot of music and we wanted to share it.

I feel like people deserve to hear a spectrum of what we’re about. This isn’t our debut album, it’s a collection of songs rather than a full conceptual album. And I think we’re gonna do another one of these next year. I like the idea of making as much music as possible because life is short and music is is life, so why not?

Is there anything you’ve learnt from making the first album that will propel you towards the second?

Kojo: The foundation of the first record is always going to be the topics that we talk about, which are topics that we’ll continue to talk about.

But there’s definitely gonna be growth for sure. My favourite sessions that we’ve made are the ones that have just gone with the flow. Where a song is built naturally into this whole song and taken shape and the nucleus is there. That’s what we’re going to do for the second record.

And finally, this is our PlayNext series where we get readers to know all about you guys. What’s your elevator pitch.

Barney: We’re saying soulful, psychedelic and sexy! That’s what we’re saying!