MRCY's Kojo Degraft-Johnson and Barney Lister on their debut project 'Volume 1'

Interview MRCY: “If you can dream, you can make it happen”

A collaboration between two established behind-the-scenes figures, with MRCY, Kojo Degraft-Johnson and Barney Lister are stepping into their own spotlight.

MRCY is the soulful collaboration from two minds who have found an outlet for their most authentic work to date. Both musicians have established skin in the game; producer Barney Lister is a two-time Ivor Novello nominee who has worked with Obongjayar and METTE, while vocalist Kojo Degraft-Johnson has sung with stars including Little Simz. Having connected during lockdown, however, the evident ease of their rapport can be heard all over the warmth of their recent debut project ‘Volume 1’. “The kind of fun we have and the fact we have a similar energy makes it a joy,” Lister says.

Despite their different backgrounds (Degraft-Johnson grew up in South London, Lister in Huddersfield), their shared love of Motown and Northern soul immediately proved ripe common ground. Lister explains how his hometown opened his eyes as to why these genres are still so popular in the North. “The North of England has a lot of soul about it,” he suggests. “I’m from a very white place and I think Black music has a draw because it’s unique and it feels like you can live in that world. I love the heart of the music, the honesty, the emotion. That, to me, is genius.”

Degraft-Johnson, meanwhile, found his voice and his love of soul in church. “I didn’t realise how odd it was to go to two different types of [church],” he notes. “My mum’s church was a very different energy to my dad’s. Having both of those sounds was imperative to my ear and it made me explore a lot of different kinds of music.” ‘Volume 1’ is what the pair have to show for their combined passions rolling into one: a project dominated by a sleekness that switches between gospel sounds, soul and soft psychedelics. Within this, Degraft-Johnson’s vocals cut through, establishing him as an engrossing storyteller who uses narrative to reflect deeper into his sense of self.

“The North of England has a lot of soul about it.” – Barney Lister

Lister explains that the name MRCY represents how music can set us free. Throughout ‘Volume 1’ the duo sing of their doubts, their worries and the losses that they’ve experienced along the way. However, allowing yourself to be a dreamer is a theme that pops up throughout and, for Lister, it rallies against the expectations of young men, especially from the North. “I’m a short, blonde guy from Yorkshire and I’m living in London which, when I was younger, seemed impossible to me,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me I can’t be on the front of a magazine. Don’t ever put the aspersion on me because if you can dream you can make it happen.”

MRCY, then, is a space for the pair to emphasise who they really are. “My favourite thing about music right now is being able to talk about who I am as a person,” says Degraft-Johnson, “and to be able to have MRCY as evidence for that.” 

MRCY's debut project, 'Volume 1', is out now. 

Tags: MRCY, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the June 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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