26 Feb SAVOR THE INDIE ECLECTIC WITH DRINKING MERCURY’S MIND-BENDING SELF-TITLED ALBUM
With more than a decade of band synergy, Drinking Mercury’s mind-bending self-titled album is the product of four freethinking artists—Kevin Adams, Michael Boyes, Tommy McCord, and Timmy Rodriguez—retreating to a rustic cabin in Northern Michigan to deliver twelve songs that will vivify your soul and your playlists. The album’s blissful, custom blend of indie—encompassing elements of folk, psychedelic rock, alternative, and dream pop—will quench the palates of those seeking a savory, eclectic sound. (Really, it’s the album we’ve been craving.)
I’ve kept Drinking Mercury in heavy rotation while writing in my studio and escaping into nature. The often soothing but at-times trippy sounds will massage your mind. On many of the tracks, the vocals feel mysteriously intimate, as if you’re WITH the band, not merely listening to a recording. (Goose bumps, check. Spine tingles, check.) This is particularly the case with “Weathered,” “Delightfully Lonely,” “Hypocrite Collector,” “Stay Home,” and “Salted Sea.”
I also experienced a peculiar phenomenon with the album’s last track. Twice—on separate, foggy coastal hikes—golden rays cut through the stubborn gray riiight at the entrancing start of “The Bright Side.” Given the song’s potential, weather-altering properties, I am partial toward it; but, for me, the affectionate energy of “Green Eyes” and the grounding effect of “Catching Up To Me” tie for album favorite. (Listen to ALL twelve tracks while you read + choose your own songcrush.)
Each bandmember’s role will soon be revealed in the Q + A, but it’s worth an early note that two serve the group in additional capacities. Tommy McCord—Engineer at Lansing’s GTG House—records, mixes, and produces Drinking Mercury’s music. Band photographer Michael Boyes snapped and arranged the pastoral photos that form the album art—an eye-catching collage that’s both a picture window to their music and a nod to the behind-the-scenes moments spent in the serenity of Bitely, MI’s Blue Lake Cottage. (It also makes me want to cook and consume pancakes…I’ll be right back…)
In this full-length interview you’ll learn: a little bit about Kevin, Michael, Tommy, and Timmy—and their roles in Drinking Mercury; what late-90s alternative song inspired the band name (that finally stuck); why the group ventured to Blue Lake Cottage in Northern Michigan to record this stirring, self-titled album; which crispy snack proved to be the band’s favorite on this musical excursion; where Drinking Mercury prefers to create and critique their lyrics; how Tommy exercises his engineering and mixing moxie in Lansing’s GTG House and beyond; why the band focuses more on song than sound; which track is each member’s fave on the new album; what separates Drinking Mercury from other bands and artists in the same space; why you should treat yourself (and all your friends) to one (or all) of their upcoming live shows; and where to pre-order the vinyl edition of the album (slated for an April release).
BONUS: Creating an authentic, eclectic sound requires connecting with a full spectrum of influences. Once you’ve conquered the Q+A, vibe our exclusive Spotify playlist, MMM: Drinking Mercury, which mingles the twelve, repeat-worthy tracks from the band’s new album with a whole host of other songs—ten from each band member—that contributed in some way to their wide-ranging sound.
The conversation from our interview is chronicled below in a pure Q + A format.
Q + A:
We want to meet the band! Break down each member’s role in Drinking Mercury and tell us something about each that fans should know.
Kevin Adams: I’m Kevin and I’m the drummer.
Michael Boyes: My name is Michael and I play guitar and write and sing songs. Something interesting about me (maybe not so much interesting as it is something about me) is that I am a bird enthusiast.
Tommy McCord: I play guitar, sing, and write some of the songs, as well as take on the surely enviable task of recording, mixing, and producing our recordings.
Timmy Rodriguez: My name is Timmy and I play the bass, sometimes play keyboards (among whatever instruments I feel like playing), and sing in Drinking Mercury. The second show I ever played was on a bill with Drinking Mercury in 2002. I ended up befriending these gentlemen until I eventually joined the band in 2008. Besides being a member of this band, I am also a father of two, husband, semi-novice poultry farmer and an art teacher.
The band’s name. It’s cool. Whose brilliant idea was it and how did it stick?
Tommy: Well, Kevin and I had a bunch of different names we tried out when we first formed the nucleus of the band (circa 2000-2001)—some of which may or may not have included “heavy” words like “dark,” “burn,” “hollow,” “Fuckwitches,” “stale,” etc.—and one day I just randomly selected the phrase “Drinking Mercury” from the lyrics to “Ava Adore” by Smashing Pumpkins, which was still a relatively new song at the time. Kevin didn’t say “no,” and neither Michael nor Timmy objected when they joined. Perhaps something clever about how properties of the element Mercury combine with the astrology of the planet Mercury would probably be cooler, but, nope, random lyric from another band that we’ve just gone along with for almost 20 years!
This isn’t the band’s first album. You’ve been making music for over a decade. How has the band evolved over the years AND what propelled the group to venture to Blue Lake Cottage in Northern Michigan to record this stirring, self-titled album?
Tommy: This band really is a labor of love for all involved. Kevin and I started playing music together when we were about 13 years old. We basically learned how to play music together. Once we started getting into writing our own songs and playing shows, Michael—who is my slightly older cousin and someone I casually jammed with for a little prior to this—joined up with us and really made it into an actual band as opposed to two teenagers jamming and playing Weezer songs at backyard parties. We drifted along with no bass player for some time, then alternated guitar and bass duties between us. And when we were all out of high school, we sort of fizzled out for a while.
In 2008 we wanted to make a serious stab at recording an album with some new songs that Michael wrote, and we were arranging these songs for at least two guitars—so we finally needed to find someone to play bass. Timmy, our mutual friend whose band had just broken up, was available and that made it all come to life. Everything before that is pretty much just prologue as we didn’t settle into our folky-psychedelic-space rock sound until Timmy joined, allowing Michael and I to both play guitar. But our comradery and chemistry come from spending all of those formative years together.
We put out the album Orcades in 2011, steadily contributed songs to compilations, and did a few split albums in the intervening years before stockpiling the songs for this album. The Blue Lake Cottage is a cabin that my grandpa and some of his friends built in the early 1950s, so it’s been a fixture of my entire life. I definitely daydreamed about recording up there as soon as I became seriously interested in music. In early 2018 we all pulled our calendars out and picked a weekend to start making the album—and it finally happened!
What were the days and vibes like inside the cabin in Bitely, MI? How integral were the two stretches spent in this tranquil escape to achieving the warm sounds listeners are treated to on the new album?
Kevin: The Bitely cabin session was a really great time. I mostly spent my time working on parts and playing drums. I felt a little bad for the neighbors on vacation with all of the drumming. Sacrifices had to be made, you know.
Michael: Recording this album was my most pleasant recording experience to date. We were all familiar with the songs and were able to take a pretty relaxed approach when we recorded. Being cut off from the outside world definitely helped us focus on recording.
Timmy: We set out and planned for months to do this recording excursion. It was a pretty interesting experience to be away from my everyday life and to focus solely on music. We immersed ourselves in it completely. The weather was nice, so when it wasn’t our turn to do a scratch guitar, we’d sit on the porch and watch the lake. Sometimes we’d walk out to the dock, put our feet in the water, and just bask in summer. It was bonding with your band at its finest. This excursion also proved that Drinking Mercury really likes to eat chips.
When it comes to writing lyrics, does each member participate? How are your lyrics reviewed and approved inside the group?
Michael: I think we’ve always written the songs on our own and then brought them to the band when they were either finished or almost there. There’s always a transformation once we’re all playing it together, and that’s where any critiques or changes come in.
Tommy, tell us about the album’s mixing process at the GTG House.
Tommy: Mixing the album itself was fairly simple—I would make a mix, post it in a shared google drive folder, get notes from the other guys, and do another pass until we were all happy with it. Having engineered the album myself I had a good handle on what was going on. I’ve had a project studio setup at GTG House for almost 15 years, so I’m pretty comfortable working on things there.
The interesting thing was actually doing the engineering. It’s essentially a joke between us that we’re all hardly ever available at the same time—Kevin and Timmy have young families, Kevin operates a small business with his wife and Michael works for him, and I live further away from the other guys, play in multiple bands, and work several bar and music jobs. So when it came time to do overdubs (vocals, extra guitar parts, keyboards, etc.) we just had to make it happen however we could. Timmy would record his vocals and keys at home and then post them in the drive. Michael and I did several sessions with just the two of us for vocals and guitar. I brought a stripped-down recording setup to our practice space and to different houses to get Kevin’s vocals, and we eventually got it all. Bringing in another engineer to mix it probably would have been madness.
How would you define the album’s sound and meaning as a whole?
Kevin: I’d say our album sound is another example of our “little bit of everything” approach. Each song has a unique mood and style. That’s part of the fun contributing to this project. There’s less focus of a sound and more on the songs. If I had to pick, I’m most proud of our vocal performances.
Tell us about the songs that appear on Drinking Mercury.
Tommy: Most of these songs we played live for quite some time before recording them. “Salted Sea” was the only song that was “new” when we went into the studio. I wrote the lyrics and basic music for “All In” and “Stay Home,” Timmy wrote the words and music for “A Nordhouse Night,” and the rest of the songs were primarily written by Michael.
Which track is each member’s fave on the new album?
Michael: I think my personal favorite song is “Catching Up To Me.” I wrote it after my girlfriend’s daughter came in from playing outside in the snow and said, “I can feel the wind catching up to me….”
Tommy: Probably “Catching Up To Me” and “Stay Home.” “Catching Up To Me” is one of my favorite songs that Michael has ever written, so getting a recording we were all happy with felt great. “Stay Home” is a song that I’ve tinkered with for years; finally getting it together with such great drumming from Kevin and excellent singing from all the other guys felt like a personal achievement.
Timmy: The first time I listened to rough mixes of this record, I knew I was in love with all these songs. I am not trying to toot my own horn here. This stuff is the best thing I’ve ever done as a musician, so it is hard to choose just one. With that being said, “Salted Sea” is one of the finest pieces my friend Michael has ever written. “Stay Home” is another one that is up there. “Hypocrite Collector” is another one.
How do you individually fuel your creativity and then bring that fire back to the band?
Timmy: I am involved in other projects besides Drinking Mercury; and, with those, I can be pretty dominant in what I want to do. Drinking Mercury is a challenge because all of us look for what is best for the music. It took us a long time to get there—pretty much once we started this record. It became easy to tell someone, “This doesn’t sound right, maybe let’s try it this way”—and no one would become offended. Other than that, I am lucky enough to have recording equipment at my house, so I take a lot of the material we create and work on it at my place. I’ll share it that way, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t.
What separates Drinking Mercury from other bands and artists in the same space?
Timmy: The first time I saw Drinking Mercury in 2002, I was in a pop punk band. Pop punk or metal were the only style of bands you would see in the area. Drinking Mercury was neither. They performed a slow ballad sung by Kevin on guitar, switched instruments, did an 8-minute trippy jam, switched instruments over and over again, covered The White Stripes, rinsed, and repeated. They were way different than any other band my naive 17-year-old self had seen. They weren’t that formula that I knew. They’ve never been a formula. So when I joined, the eclectic styles meshed so well. Everyone has their own tastes, but everyone has a mixed love for some. We don’t set out to be an “Indie” band or “Folk” band. If I had a metal song and brought it to these guys tomorrow, it wouldn’t be out of sorts. I love that.
What will fans experience at Drinking Mercury’s live shows?
Tommy: Since we’ve been together for so long, we have a lot of material to work with. It’s fun to stretch out the live songs a little more and add bigger, psychedelic moments to some of them. We have an almost equally-powerful folky side that we like to bring to shows, too. At some of our longer sets we drop in songs by artists as varied as Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, The Carter Family, The Byrds, Nirvana, Neutral Milk Hotel, Neil Young, and The Rolling Stones. Depending on the vibe a lot of different things might happen.
What’s next for Drinking Mercury (and its members)?
Tommy: We have a lot of regional shows booked through the summer (see all of our upcoming shows here) and a vinyl release of the album slated for April. People can actually pre-order the vinyl here and get a bonus download of some live recordings and alternate takes on some of the songs. So, it’s all about working the album for us this year, but we’re slowly building up a new batch of songs. I think it would be safe to say another album of original material *could* happen sometime next year.
Connect with Drinking Mercury:
Listen to Drinking Mercury:
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/album/drinking-mercury/1486937228
Listen to what Drinking Mercury Listens to (our exclusive Spotify playlist):
MMM: Drinking Mercury
Photo by Michael Boyes Photography