Tasty Times: Mercury Salad Explores Delectable Life Experiences on “Volume 3” EP
Brooke Ratliff says she’s no good at writing traditional love songs because “they’re either really mushy, or they’re really sad”—so she doesn’t even try on Volume 3, Mercury Salad’s latest EP.
Instead, the Ypsilanti folk-rock trio of Ratliff (vocals, guitar, percussion), Kurt Bonnell (guitar, harmonica), and Kyle Kipp (bass) explores the uncertainties of a promising relationship on “Best Guess,” the EP’s spirited opener.
“To me, this song could go either way. It could be that it’s unexpected, or it could be that the person is being overly optimistic,” said Ratliff with a laugh. “I wanted to do something sweet-natured and slightly romantic, but I couldn’t go all the way there. That’s why it’s my ‘Best Guess’ this is gonna work out great.”
She sings, “I can read your mind / When I say ‘I love you,’ it doesn’t mean you owe me anything / So take a breath and let it go / We’ll get there slowly / I know I got it right this time.”
“If you think of the line, ‘I can read your mind,’ that’s really jumping the shark,” Ratliff said. “It still could go either way.”
While the track’s outcome remains open to interpretation, “Best Guess” still provides a savory introduction to Volume 3. The seven-track EP blends folky and funky flavors with jazzy, bluesy, and reggae-like ingredients to create a delectable listen from beginning to end.
“I wanted to make sure there was variety on the [EP] and that the musicians were showcasing what they do well. I like a live sound … my favorite albums are all live ones,” said Ratliff, who’s inspired by the indie-rock band Heartless Bastards.
“They’re kinda messy, like there might be a note off here or there, or somebody’s yelling in the back, and the intro is a little long. I wanted [the EP] to be kind of fun and messy sounding like it’s a party.”
Mercury Salad also brings a party-like feel to “Hot Sauce 2.0,” a fiery ode to a former Detroit-based funk master and a tasty tale about risky relationships.
Spicy electric guitar, bass, and drums ignite alongside Ratliff as she sings, “I’m gonna make a tragic prediction / That everything you say is nothing but fiction / We can pretend your intentions are good / And everything is shiny, just don’t look under the hood.”
“It’s supposed to be a tribute to [George Clinton’s] Mothership, and it’s supposed to be something you play really loud at the block party,” Ratliff said.
A previous acoustic version of “Hot Sauce” originally appeared on Mercury Salad’s 2017 debut album, Volume 1. The band opted to revisit and rerecord the track for Volume 3 after working up a fuller arrangement that reaches beyond the trio’s stripped-down sound. (An abridged radio edit of “Hot Sauce 2.0” also appears on the latest EP.)
“First of all, we could have a real drummer, and second of all, if you compare the two, I think we were kind of overplaying, and it was faster,” Ratliff said.
“That came from learning how to play the music a little better … you just play less. I don’t think we got it the first time. It was more like a demo, but I think we got it this time.”
After optimizing “Hot Sauce 2.0,” Mercury Salad identifies its next life-changing move on “The Road.” The track’s lyrics encourage finding the right path in a complex, directionless world, supported by breezy electric guitar and soft drums.
Ratliff sings, “I start walking, but I know / There is no place for me to go / I have been here before, I know this place / It’s a quiet, empty space / In my dreams, there’s nothing but the road / In my dreams, there’s nothing but the road.”
“I would actually have dreams or meditations about standing on a straight path … and at the time, it seemed like everything was so chaotic. It’s one thing to be at a crossroads, but it’s another thing to be at a five-way stop in a traffic jam with people yelling,” she said.
“That’s the way my life felt. To me, having a straight road was just a dream of mine. I just wanted this quiet place … without anyone having to say, ‘But wait, there’s more.’”
Ratliff also evokes a serene feeling in the band’s video for “The Road,” which features nature-filled footage and inspirational quotes from yoga and meditation teacher Swami J.
“He inspired the video, and I don’t think I really put it all together when I wrote the song,” she said. “He has some interesting online classes, and it’s just a simple meditation where we’re talking to ourselves and asking, ‘Mind, Will you be my friend?’ And then listening to what the mind says.”
Mercury Salad tapped into a similar mindset while writing and recording Volume 3. The band thoughtfully rehearsed and recorded with engineer-producer-drummer Taylor Greenshields at Ypsilanti’s Fundamental Sound Co. in 2021.
“[Taylor] brought some ideas about effects,” Ratliff said. “And there were times when there would be a mistake, and the mistake sounded better. He would bring his two cents about that. He has different amps, equipment, and mics so that we could experiment a little bit with the sound.”
The band also experimented with different collaborators, including Sara Gibson (cello), Sabbatical Bob’s Ben Green (trumpet, trombone), Hullabaloo’s and J. Michael & The Heavy Burden’s Shannon Lee (backing vocals), and Greenshields (drums).
“Ben Green did all the horns. He came in, did a track, and was like, ‘Back it up, I’m gonna lay another, and I’m gonna lay another,’” said Ratliff, who collaborated with Green on the reggae-inspired “Coming to Rescue.” “He just created this symphonic orchestra, and he just let us edit it down.”
After spending time in the studio, Mercury Salad will share tracks from Volume 3 during its October 1 show at Ziggy’s with the Kate Hinote Trio and Jackamo. The band also will feature percussionist Greg Sauceda in its set.
“We’re definitely going to keep it more acoustic because the Kate Hinote Trio and Jackamo are pretty ethereal and in the classic folk genre,” Ratliff said. “We’re gonna be a little less funky, and we’re definitely gonna play some unreleased material.”
Looking ahead, Mercury Salad plans to release a new EP, which will include four tracks that were previously recorded with Greenshields during the Volume 3 studio sessions. The band is also working on some music videos and writing new material.
“It will be a while, and then we’ll drop that one,” Ratliff said. “I’m getting more into video, and I want to do some actual music videos. I do have some snippets of new songs, but I haven’t strung anything together yet.”
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.
Mercury Salad performs October 1 at Ziggy’s, 206 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti, with Kate Hinote Trio and Jackamo.