They’ll heavily ingest the tasty “acoustic funk” tunes of the burgeoning folk rock and Americana quartet from Ypsilanti, Mich., during their 4:30 p.m. Sunday set on the Pond Jam Second Stage.
It’s also the first time northern Michiganders will sink their teeth into Mercury Salad Sandwich’s delectable music, said Brooke Ratliff, the band’s vocalist, guitarist and percussionist.
“Some of our fave local bands, like Dragon Wagon and Fangs and Twang, are regulars at Pond Jam. There’s a notorious video from Pond Jam of Fangs and Twang playing their jamming song, ‘Big Foot,’ while people in Yeti costumes dance,” she said. “It just seemed like a great time, so we sent them some music, and they let us in.”
A private event, the fifth annual Pond Jam will boast more than 60 bands on four stages today through Sunday at a family’s Rapid City wilderness getaway located about 20 miles east of Traverse City, Mich.
Pond Jam festivalgoers will see an eclectic set from Ratliff and her three Mercury Salad Sandwich bandmates, Kurt Bonnell (acoustic and electric guitar), Dan “Ozzie” Andrews (acoustic and electric bass) and Kyle Kipp (drums and guitar).
“We are playing our folk rock and acoustic funk tunes and debuting one mellow original called ‘The Road,’” Ratliff said. “We are Mazzy Star fans, and the song is our tribute to them.”
Sandwich’s Scrumptious Start
Formed in 2015, Ratliff and her bandmates changed their name from The Hawks to Mercury Salad Sandwich after realizing the original moniker wasn’t well-suited for SEO purposes. By that time, Bonnell had joined the band and helped coin their new name.
“You gotta have that built-in SEO because there’s nothing else that comes up,” said Bonnell, who’s influenced by Patty Larkin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Warren Haynes and Jimi Hendrix. “I guess tuna has mercury or something so we thought, ‘Well, if you’re eating tuna, then you’re having a Mercury Salad Sandwich.’”
For Ratliff, Mercury Salad Sandwich seemed like the perfect way to sum up the band’s new lineup and “acoustic funk” approach, which incorporates elements of funk, folk and country into an acoustic-centered sound.
“He wanted to raise awareness about the plight of tuna,” she joked. “He says stuff like that all the time where it’s just this random stuff. I had a choice of Mercury Salad Sandwich or Informed Croissant.”
Luckily, the band opted for unique “sammiches” instead of enlightened baked goods before heading into the studio to record their debut EP, “Volume 1,” last year. Recorded by Jim Roll and mastered by Dave Feeney, “Volume 1” was released in October on Detroit-based Assemble Sound.
The EP features eight tracks nicely wrapped in slices of folk, twang, country, Americana, funk and rock topped off with an ode to whiskey. It’s the ideal combination of personal storytelling mixed with folklore about man-eating grizzlies and unconventional neighbors.
The band’s latest single, “Welcome to My Life,” addresses the daily challenges people face with mental health issues and is one of Ratliff’s favorites.
“I didn’t write that song academically, I wrote it because I liked it,” she said. “I’ve become more confident in my songwriting, and our next album or EP is going to be more original stuff like that. While the song isn’t about me, it focuses on when people come into your life, then you get to deal with their issues, too.”
Mercury Salad Sandwich also recently released a new video for “Welcome to My Life,” which features colorful, mind-blowing fractal image stills and animation by Benevolence Messiah’s Mike Collins. Ratliff discovered Collins’ animations and music on Facebook and decided to collaborate with him on the video.
“The attention to detail was so stunning and rare. I was an instant fan,” she said. “I’m a huge animation geek as it is and wanted something special for the band. When Benevolence was contacted, we gave him free rein. The 3-D fractal rending took many months to complete. We lost count of how many frames after 5,000.”
While Mercury Salad Sandwich focuses mainly on original material, there’s one cover song on “Volume 1” that complements their eclectic sound – the 1976 Gary Wright hit single, “Love Is Alive,” taken from his eponymous “The Dream Weaver” album.
“I think that’s my earliest memory of digging a song,” said Ratliff, who’s also influenced by Patty Griffin and Robert Plant. “I remember pulling it out and reading the liner notes. I must have been 10 at this point. I did not realize ‘til decades later that the album was groundbreaking because it was all done with keyboards at a time when nobody knew what they were.”
Flavorful Live Shows and New Musical Morsels
After this weekend’s Pond Jam, Mercury Salad Sandwich will perform Sept. 7 at Original Gravity Brewing Company in Milan, Mich. It will serve as the next evolution in the band’s live performances.
“This is another ‘first’ for us, and this is a big turning point,” Ratliff said. “We will have two hours of originals and covers. We’re even paying tribute to a few of our heroes who passed away, like Chris Cornell and David Bowie.”
In the past, the band focused on playing one-hour sets filled with original tunes and a couple of covers before building out a longer live set. Playing bigger venues like the Ann Arbor Distilling Company and Original Gravity Brewing Company now allows Mercury Salad Sandwich to double their set times.
Ratliff and her bandmates also have appetizing new material to share with fans soon. When the band recorded “Volume 1,” they also recorded a second EP, which will be released later this year.
“It needs to be mixed, and I need to recut my vocals,” Ratliff said. “We don’t want to sit on it too long because we already have material for a third one. My styles and tastes have changed again. I’m not writing academically anymore. It would be interesting to see what it’s going to be like when we get to the third.”
Hopefully, we’ll get a second and third helping of Mercury Salad Sandwich soon. Like the Pond Jam festival goers, we’ll be eagerly awaiting our first bite of their new musical morsels.