In Session: DJ Mercy!!! on His New Project, Natural Classics

TROY – Working in and around the local scene, it’s no strange fact to see a person wearing a dozen different hats, so-to-speak, in a dozen different projects. This is definitely a reality for Joshua Gruft, who goes by the name of DJ Mercy!!!. Recently, he not only began a new project, Natural Classics, but released their debut EP, I Want It All, on February 25th. Featuring vocalist Brittany, and using his strong knowledge as a drummer, the EP is one hell of a dance record.

Often times, when listening to certain productions within that genre, one might hear a drum fill, for example, that just doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t happen on I Want It All; each piece of the instrumentation is brilliantly layered. When a fill occurs, it does so greatly within the available sonic space of the song, and in a way that not only inherently makes sense, but feels like a sort of “musical home.” The title track, “I Want It All,” is a great example of Brittany’s abilities as a vocalist. On top of that, the synth tracks that develop over the course of the song are a great addition.

The following track, “Temperatures Rising,” can be described in many ways – surely some more eloquent than others – but sometimes it suffices to keep things simple; it’s a damn sexy number. The ostinato-type patterns one hears in the synth part when listening to this song give credence to Joshua’s ability at arranging and exemplifies the essence of: sometimes simple is best.

Their final tune, “Waiting,” features a laid-back synth and vocalization intro that is blended with minimal percussive sounds. Soon after, the song opens up with a distinct, almost disco-type drum pattern, mixed with dance aesthetics. As the vocal sifts through the mix steadily during the entire song one thing becomes clearer and clearer: the song – and the EP as a whole – was arranged and produced very well.

I had a chance to catch up with Josh this week. We had a nice discussion that dealt with the idea behind the new project, his music going forward, as well as other projects in which he’s currently involved. Continue on to read the interview!

Lucas Garrett: Hey, Josh! Glad we caught each other tonight. I hear you have a lot of stuff going on, including your new band, Natural Classics. How’d that start?

Joshua Gruft: Yeah! Natural Classics is a new band that I started with local singer, Brittany. It’s been a long time coming. Fans of my last project with Wavy Cunningham will recognize Brittany’s voice; I’ve been using her as a background singer for the last three albums I’ve done with Wavy. That started our working relationship – bringing Brittany in. If we don’t have a chorus or want to add to a chorus, we’ll bring Brittany in and then the song is extra good.

While working with Wavy Cunningham, I started making my own beats. It evolved into making dance music. The one person I had in mind to bring into the project was Brittany; we worked together so well in the past.

LG: Those around the area probably know you as DJ Mercy!!!.

JG: Oh, yeah.

LG: You play drums; that’s your main instrument, correct?

JG: That’s correct.

LG: When I had a chance to play with you, we talked about your R&B influences. How do you feel those influences tie in to your new sound?

JG: It definitely does. Playing drums has helped me in production. As a drummer I’m kind of set in the metronome time frame, already. When you jump into a program like Logic, it’s kind of set up for drummers – it’s a drummer’s playground. In that aspect – rhythmically as well – you’ve got to throw in a fill; hit a crash cymbal. A lot of the drums I program are modeled after something I’d actually play on the drums. My background on playing different styles of music adds a funkier touch to my house and techno songwriting.

LG: Mhm. I feel like a lot of that genre gets rooted in the elements often sounding the same, though written by different people. When I heard Natural Classics, I heard a lot of influences that probably came from playing drums.

JG: I’m glad it came through. Mostly, people know me as a drummer, so if the drums didn’t hit hard on this record… hahaha.

LG: Right.

JG: Also, using my background in playing piano, bass, and playing in different bands, I know there needs to be a bass, rhythm, lead guitar – I have that in mind when writing a song. Instead of thinking of players, I’m thinking of synthesizers.

LG: When you go from acoustic drums to writing programmed drums, is that a hard thing to go between?

JG: Yeah, definitely at first. But, also being able to read music as well; a lot of the Western notation, definitely helped. Knowing what a fill sounds like, I build it using MIDI.

LG: I think a lot of times when people make these types of records – I’ve certainly heard it even not being a drummer, myself – when I hear a fill, I’m like, “That fill doesn’t make sense.”

JG: Ha, yeah.

LG: But, it’s nice hearing this type of music being made from a drummer. What else is on the horizon for Natural Classics?

JG: We’ve got some gigs coming up; we were lucky enough to play gigs even before the record.

LG: How do you pull it off in a live setting?

JG: Live was interesting; how to figure out how to do that. I was influenced by local beat-maker, Mike Larry Draw. He uses a Roland SP 404 in his performances to play hip-hop music. I was really influenced by that so I use a Roland SP 404 in my set; I load the instrumentals. I run Brittany’s vocals through two guitar pedals: a reverb pedal, and a delay pedal.

LG: Oh, wow.

JG: Yeah. I can add those robotic and trippy, delayed effects that you hear on the record.

LG: Very cool, man.

JG: Yeah, thanks. Other than that, we’ll be playing more gigs – getting out to venues we haven’t played before. We’re also planning for a second EP; recording towards the beginning of the summer for a summer release. I’m excited about that.

LG: You’re doing the DJ Mercy!!! Project, you have the band, Natural Classics, and filling in as a drummer here and there. But, that’s not all you’re doing; you’re a very busy guy. What else are you working on?

JG: I started this magazine, called Hypersaturation, with Courtney, the creator of Nullvoid. This is a really exciting project for me as a comic book fan; as a musician whose been a comic book fan for a while and kind of wanted to get into publishing. I wanted to see what the publishing world was all about. I looked around a saw a gap in the area – there’s been a lull in local zines. There are some, but I wanted to add our own flavor.

I met Courtney last year through my podcast, Give the Drummer Some. She’s very cool; we definitely hit it off pretty quick as far as taste levels. We had a meeting in the summer, last year. I let her know about my project I wanted to do and in December we released our first issue!

LG: Awesome.

JG: It’s been a very great work environment.

LG: How has the reception been on your maiden voyage into the whole publishing world?

JG: The reception has been great! People are definitely looking for something they can hold in their hand; something different. The number one thing we can provide is the creativity; the one surprising thing about this project is the amount of people who were submitting to us and how great the art was. It hasn’t been hard at all filling these issues – there’s a lot of great local art happening.

LG: Where can we get Hypersaturation?

JG: You can go on to our Instagram page. There’s a link to not only purchase an issue; you can also submit to be in a magazine. We’re currently in open-submission for our fourth issue. It’s going to be a local food issue.

LG: Oh, nice.

JG: We’re going to Troy; Albany; Schenectady, highlighting restaurants from each area. We encourage people to send in writing about their favorite restaurant or if they have any photos from their favorite restaurant. Issue 3 is about the 420 party. 

LG: Nice. Would you like to talk about anything else as we wrap this up?

JG: I think we are all good! Thanks so much!

LG: Well, I hope you’ve been well. I always look forward to hearing and seeing more from you!

JG: You, too, man! Your music is always bluesy and rocking.

LG: Thanks, so much! Have a good one!

JG: You, too! It was good seeing you!

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